The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

***1/2

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Tammy Faye Bakker was, with her husband Jim, one of the most successful televangelists of the 1970s and 80s. After twice being used by other preachers who used the Bakkers' innovations to build up their own organisations but then ousted the couple, the Bakkers set out on their own with the PTL (Praise The Lord) ministry.

An inclusive, ecumenical approach - acrhive footage shows Tammy talking to a gay AIDS sufferer, where someone like Jerry Falwell would simply have said "serves you right" - established their difference from the competition, while their use of a TV satellite gave them an edge. At its height, PTL also established a Christian holiday resort, Heritage USA.

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But then a series of scandals led to the collapse of the Bakkers' empire. Tammy went public about her drug addiction (the consequence of inadequate medical counsel). Meanwhile, Jim had been secretly paying off a model, Jessica Hahn, to keep her quiet about their night of passion. Then financial irregularities were uncovered in the Bakker organisation, struggling to pay for the ambitious holiday development.

Jerry Falwell, a conservative Southern Baptist, emerges at this point as the real villain of the piece. Apparently using the threat of Hahn to persuade Jim Bakker to let him have use of the Bakker organisation's resources for a few weeks, he comes across as a machiavellian monster. The Hahn story broke anyway and Jim resigned. Then Falwell offered the Bakker's posts in his organisation and used their lists of requirements - made in good faith - to suggest that the Bakkers were greedy and unapologetic contrite.

Soon, Falwell had the satellite, while Bakker was a broken man on his way to jail.

Tammy Faye - the innocent party in all this, at least as far as the documentary is concerned - divorced Jim, and remarried. Unfortunately her new husband - long connected to their PTL ministry - was also jailed for financial misdemeanors. If this wasn't enough, she battled with cancer.

What this long synopsis does not convey is how entertaining this documentary is. Whether its footage the televangelists at work, Tammy Faye's ruminations on life, or the sheer trashiness of the whole enterprise, it is a laugh a minute.

Drag queen Rupaul provides the voice over and chapters in the story are introduced by glove puppets. Clips from the TV movie Fall From Grace (starring none less than Kevin Spacey) and a Playboy video of Jessica Hahn, used to add colour, only add to the kitschiness.

Tammy Faye's faith throughout all her tribulations seems unwavering. Either she's utterly genuine or she's been sustaining a De Niro level performance 24/7 for 25 years.

Entering the film one was predisposed to think the worst of Tammy Faye. Leaving it one has a new respect for her, and many moments to fondly recall.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A thoroughly entertaining romp through the life and times of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.

Director: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

Starring: Tammy Faye Bakker, Roe Messner, Jim Bakker, Rev. Mel White, Rupaul Charles

Year: 1999

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: USA

Festivals:

EIFF 2000

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