Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Eyes of Tammy Faye, The (2000) **1/2

Produced and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Photography, Sandra Chandler. Editing, Paul Wiesepape. Music, Jim Harry. With: Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, Roe Messner, Jim Bakker, the Rev. Mel White, Pat Boone, Tammy Sue Bakker Chapman, Steven Chao, Jim J. Bullock, Roseanne, Greg Gorman, Charles Sheperd, James Albert. RuPaul Charles narrates. A Lions Gate Film. 79 minutes. PG-13

One of the major banes produced by the media revolution is so-called celebrities of all kinds. They are the good, the bad and the ugly; the objects of cult, of paparazzi and groceries' check-out counter tabloids, of most glossy magazines; they fill the airwaves; they regularly elbow out substantial news items; etc.

Per se, the "celebrity"-mania may not cause any major harm. But since human life and time are finite, the frills of the excessive documenting of mostly entertainment figures has to be at the expense of more important knowledge and information. A vivid example of this is the Jay Leno show's sadly funny "Jaywalking" segments. (They are edited interviews, of course, and require that the people in them give permission --sign releases -- but is it not horrible that they accept to be idiots in public for the sake of being on TV?

On a more elevated level, too many college students who might be smart, and who almost all know by heart the names, performances and trivia of "celebrities," have lacked the time to learn (even slightly) general culture: history, geography, current events, literature, the arts and so on.

In fairness I must add that it was ever thus. College education is time-consuming; it offers limited opportunities for students to go beyond certain specialties. But then, this state of things has reached exponentially abysmal proportions with the exponential rise of the media. Sadly too, while TV, the most influential of all, can also be also a major boon, an amazing and vivid source of learning, this very positive aspect of the media is far too little exploited. In fact, any polling of persons "being educated" reveals that the small percentage of those who profit from educational/informational television consists overwhelmingly of older persons.

The same tragic situation applies to books, magazines, etc. You name it. And, alas, not only to the United States but to most, if not all, other countries.

Having gotten this off my chest I'll turn to "The Eyes of Tammy Faye." It is a documentary about "celebrity" Tammy Faye Bakker, now Tammy Faye Bakker Messner. Its two directors (who seem to be Brits) are experienced in the genre. They are not impartial. They set out to redeem Tammy--or at the very least to induce in their public second thoughts about Tammy. The film goes overboard. The information that comes with it shows this clearly.

Examples: "Tammy is one of the most adored and reviled women of her time." Do the makers really believe that she was/is a concern of most Americans, not to mention the rest of the planet? They admit to having drawn an " affectionate portrait." But documentaries of this sort should not be partisan and take no sides openly, even though subliminally or indirectly documentaries always have a point of view (That's the old argument about "cinema verite") Tammy is "both surprising and endearing." Says who? "The Bakkers were crucified in the court of public opinion for their supposed greed and corruption." If this is not a partisan opinion, what is? And so on.

Entertaining the film certainly is --and this is what makes me give it 2 1/2 stars. But it also falls between two stools. At first it seems to be akin to the satirical exposes by film-makers such as Michael Moore ("Roger and Me," " The Big One," et al.) But it rapidly evolves into a gentler, kinder portrait of Tammy and her adventures.

"Celebrities" can be, and often are, ridiculous figures. Make your own list. Tammy was and remains a Class A oddity who cannot be taken seriously as she recounts her life from its beginnings to the Odyssey of the Tammy-Jim Bakker duo, its rise and fall, to developments and updates through recent times.

The movie follows her mostly through interviews in which Tammy speaks to the camera. Her interviewers are mostly unseen and unheard but many other "names" do appear and add their favorable, pro-Tammy opinions.

For many members of the movie's audience the main interest will be the light shed on the aspect of Americana known as televangelism. The couple's debut, in the 1960s, was when almost unknown Pat Robertson had them create for his own TV program in his one-station "network" a Jesus-based puppet show. (The puppets are in the film as chapter-announcers). Then the Bakkers invented "The 700 Club," the first Christian talk-show. Jealous of their success Robertson dumped the couple.

Moving to California the couple co-founded TBN, and were betrayed again. Moving on to North Carolina, they founded PTL (Praise the Lord), which became the jewel in their crown and was one of the very first 24-hour satellite networks. Its thriving televangelism business culminated with the creation of the first Christian theme park, the mammoth Heritage USA.

Eventually came financial troubles, irregularities, deficits, money problems. Added to them was Jim Bakker's one-night stand with his employee Jessica Hahn (who later told her side of the story in Playboy). There also came research and exposes by the Charlotte Observer's reporter Charles F. Sheperd. All that spells scandal.

Hard-right televangelist Jerry Falwell now enters the picture. He had his own empire. Apparently he hated PTL because (among the reasons given by Tammy) he was against its all-embracing nature, its acceptance of all denominations, of gays, addicts, and so on. And he had no satellite.

Oddly (on the surface only) when PTL became a sinking Titanic, Falwell offered help, flew in to the rescue (in his private jet), made an offer that the Bakkers could not refuse: he promised money --and to get more funds, he said he would take over PTL for a short time only, to fix things, and so on.

As per Tammy, he cheated. Within a month he declared PTL's bankruptcy, exposed the Bakkers' financial tangles, attacked Jim for his "homosexual audiences" and dishonesty ---and added one more betrayal to the J & T saga. Falwell is the arch-villain of this story. There's no honor among thieves.

Soon after Jim was sentenced to 45 years in prison. The marriage dissolved. Tammy married their friend Roe Messner, the contractor of Heritage USA. Messner was also tried and sentenced to a sojourn in jail.

A tawdry tale, it keeps its steady focus on Tammy, a monument to bad taste in makeup and vestimentary horrors. (At one point, her huge rings reminded me of gladiators' shields.) The camera and microphone show her as freaky but gutsy, pathetic (in both senses), with a meowing baby voice that matches her celebrated (in effect a huge joke to all but Tammy) treatment of her eyes. She speaks of her private troubles in an endless, often lachrymose litany :her betrayal by Jim, her drug addiction, her fight with colon cancer, her formerly alienated children, and much else. We follow her undaunted search for (un-realized or failed) Tammy-starring, outlandish TV shows (such as "Medicine Today with Tammy Faye") ,her singing, her recitations of her doggerel-plus poetry, her "beautification" for cameras, her visits to Oral Roberts University where she warbles ( the radio guy calls her "a fabulous singer" --sic) her determination to pull on heartstrings.

If this movie plays in Europe, where televangelism is still a rarity and a novelty, whether or not understood by non-Americans it is bound to become a mega-curiosity. That's another reason I rated it **1/2 .

Tammy takes herself so very seriously that one might (or not) doubt her faith. There is a notable, disturbing passage when job-seeking Tammy talks about switching to "secular TV." Quote: " I am a very secular person. Christ is only part of me." And from start to finish, with the word "God" kicked around as incessantly as a ball in a soccer game, one can't help thinking of the Commandment:

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. "

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel