EYES OF TAMMY FAYE, THE(directors: Fenton Bailey/Randy Barbato; cinematographer: Sandra Chandler; editor: Paul Wiesepape; cast: Tammy Faye Messner, Roe Messner, Jim Bakker, RuPaul Charles (narrator), the Rev. Mel White, Pat Boone, Steven Chao, Jim J. Bullock, Charles Sheperd (reporter for the Charlotte Observer); Runtime: 79; Lions Gate; 2000)
“I came away with the same trashy opinion of her I had before I saw this “mock” documentary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A poorly done documentary: it is superficially entertaining; it suffers from blurred camerawork; it fails to get hold of its subject in anything but a self-promoting manner; and, it’s witless. The campy way of playing with the facts in the criminal scandals and lawsuits presented, does the film no justice. It left me scratching my worldly head about why this farcical film was made, or why it thinks this would make Tammy Faye, the subject of the film, look better than the national joke she is. The only thing this film clearly revealed about Tammy Faye is that she loves to be in front of the camera, is terribly vain, is addicted to Diet-Coke, wears tons of makeup and wears her emotions on her sleeve, foolishly thinks she’s an old-fashioned girl who likes real things when we clearly see otherwise; and, most importantly, it shows she wears Loreal mascara and has permanently false eyebrows (which is her trademark) and that her lips are permanently lined.
This upbeat religious parasite was born in humble circumstances in International Falls, Minnesota. She went on from there to make a lot of money by exploiting the Christian thing, evoking Jesus’ name at the passing of a hat, preaching that God is on her side while she clawed her way to the top of the heap as a televangelist, greedily scheming and manipulating to make a fortune and living a very luxurious life-style. Since I didn’t care for Tammy when she was riding high in the 1960s and 1970s and early 1980s and I didn’t care for her when she was banished from Christian TV because of her disgrace, I wondered what this documentary would present that would change my mind about her. But it failed to get me to see Tammy in any other light than that of a self-absorbed publicity hound and someone who is superficial to the point of being a caricature of someone who is superficial; though, if Tammy is compared to those other hypocrites — like her ex-husband Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robinson — she passes the likability test with flying colors. Tammy might be in the same league with them, but she’s not cut from the same kind of dirty cloth they are. Tammy’s more of a goof than the hateful persons conveyed by Messrs. Falwell and Robinson, whose biases are couched in their belief it is God who tells them what is right and anyone else’s interpretation is the work of the Devil. Tammy spent a longtime in the company of such men and her sudden realization of how cruel they can be, seems to be only because they did her dirty in business. Tammy certainly knew what her husband was doing even if it wasn’t her scheme, yet she did nothing to prevent innocent people from being ripped-off.
The film’s aim seems to be nothing less than a rehabilitation project in the public image of Tammy Faye Messner, the once queen of televangelism but the now exile in the world of Christian televangelism. She is now trying to go secular to get back into showbiz by using her calling card resume that she was the only televangelist to be nice to an AIDS victim on the air and has always struck a friendly chord with gays; therefore, she’s such a wonderful person, merely a victim of the media who were out to get her. She goes on to say that the real culprit in televangelism is the Judas, Jerry Falwell, who stole her television station. She says he is just like the shadowy Pat Robinson, who previously stole her 700 Club. This reasoning on her part does not wash with me, since it seems to be based purely on her personal and business disputes.
But at least Tammy deserves credit along with her slimy husband, Jim Bakker, for being business pioneers in Christian broadcasting. They reached a broader audience by making Christianity into a lighthearted show where she sang and performed with hand puppets, while he raised tons of money from his TV audience. They started The 700 Club, Trinity Broadcasting, Heritage Park USA and PTL, before being forced out of each of these very financially lucrative ventures by those who were more cunning.
Their downfall came from an indiscretion on the part of Bakker where he had a one night stand with future Playboy centerfold Jessica Hahn and when she tried to bribe him, he tried to get his friend, who oversaw construction on Heritage USA, Roe Messner, to pay her off to hush things up. Falwell used this nine years later to get Bakker to turn the PTL over to him. After the reporter from the Charlotte Observer ran a series of stories of how the money raised for Heritage Park was going into Bakker’s pockets instead of it all going into the project as advertised, Bakker received a long prison sentence. In court, the prosecutors showed that he kept at least $3 million.
RuPaul Charles does the narration, honing in solely on Tammy’s point of view. Tammy’s main events in her life are introduced by hand puppets singing out chapter titles in a most facile manner, copying the way the children’s movie “Babe” was presented.
We don’t know much more about Jim Bakker from this work, other than a few trivial crumbs of polished gloss Tammy throws our way.
The film shows Tammy as a survivor even through misfortune: divorcing Jim, marrying his friend Roe, going on Roseanne’s talk-show, trying to freshen her image for secular TV by going to a Hollywood photographer, getting her own talk show with a gay co-host Jim J. Bullock, unsuccessfully pitching a ridiculous TV series she wants to call “Terrific Teens” to USA network producer Steven Chao, and trying to get us to believe she is suffering so much because of the injustice done to her. She tells us she is leading a lonely life in her mansion in Palm Springs, California. That is the house she got from Jim in her divorce settlement.
I didn’t buy into Tammy’s act and I didn’t find the film funny, when it should have been both a scream and a much more informative piece than what was presented. I came away with the same trashy opinion of her I had before I saw this “mock” documentary.
The best line in the film came from Bullock, the co-host from that now defunct show, who states “She is a survivor. After the Holocaust, all that will remain will be “roaches, Tammy Faye and Cher.” He might be right, I’m sure Tammy will even survive this failed movie about her.
REVIEWED ON 10/18/2000 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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