Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Eyes of Tammy Faye

By Marjorie Baumgarten

SEPTEMBER 11, 2000: 

D: Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey; with narration by RuPaul Charles. (PG-13, 79 min.)

After the holocaust, three things will remain, says Tammy Faye Bakker Messner's most recent TV co-host, gay comedian Jim J. Bullock: Roaches, Cher, and Tammy Faye. The well-documented public life of this Christian televangelist is the subject of this film profile by the makers of such documentaries as Party Monster: The Michael Alig Story and 101 Rent Boys. With narration by pop personality RuPaul Charles and segment introductions by sock puppets, The Eyes of Tammy Faye has a definite camp quality that accentuates the film's genial attitude and gently mocking perspective toward its subject. The film recounts Tammy Faye's meteoric career, first as an itinerant evangelist with her first husband Jim Bakker, then by parlaying her homemade puppet show into a TV co-host position with Jim. Together they helped found three different Christian television networks; launched one of the first satellites for broadcast use; and co-founded the massive Christian theme park, Heritage USA, near Charlotte, N.C. She stood by her man through his scandal over the affair with Jessica Hahn and his imprisonment for financial irregularities at Heritage USA. Also part of this portrait of a survivor is Tammy Faye's subsequent divorce from Jim, her marriage to Heritage USA's master builder Roe Messner, Messner's imprisonment for bankruptcy fraud, her addiction to the sedative Ativan, her bout with colon cancer, and her estrangement from and reconciliation with her children. It's a good thing this modern martyr had her strong sense of religion to prevent her from becoming blue. Religion and a vivid flair for make-up. Perhaps this is what qualifies RuPaul to narrate this documentary. Embraced by members of the gay community for her warm acceptance of homosexuals and people with AIDS, Tammy Faye has long stood out for her exceptionally tolerant attitudes within the evangelical world. Yet, this film mistakes its freewheeling conversations with this motormouth star for insightful conversation. Part of what is so fascinating about Tammy Faye is her oblivious sense of self-awareness. The things we learn about her come as the result of what the viewer brings to the story rather than from any self-revelations. As her mascara and multiple beauty products attest, Tammy Faye is an invention held together with glue and gloss. By letting her babble on and become a somewhat risible figure, the filmmakers display a somewhat mean-spirited attitude, despite all their fuss about finally appreciating this put-upon survivor. As Gloria Gaynor wails "I Will Survive" over the closing credits and Tammy Faye recedes into our memories as just another iconic figure from a bygone decade, we begin to realize how much of our recent history has been reiterated here and how little has been learned.

2.5 Stars

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