| The Eyes of Tammy Faye
In the 1980s at the height of the boom in televangelism, Tammy Faye Bakker was
an easy target. A petite, buxom woman with a penchant for heavy makeup coupled with
a sweet-bordering-on-saccharine personality coupled with an earnest, naive demeanor
she was almost a walking caricature. Savvy comics poked fun at her double eyelashes,
her singing and her earnest religiosity; some of it was affectionate, more often than not,
though, it was mean-spirited. In spite of trials and tribulations that might have fallen a
lesser woman, though, Tammy Faye persevered and remains a cultural touchstone.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbarto, who previously collaborated on a portrait of
convicted killer Michael Alig (who was a denizen of Manhattan's club scene) in
PARTY MONSTER and a behind-the-scenes look at Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom in
THE REAL ELLEN STORY (both 1998), turned their attentions on the "Queen of
the Eyelashes" in the appropriately named THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. In a
breezy 79 minutes, the filmmakers cover a lot of ground and create a portrait of a
survivor. Partly because of time limitations and undoubtedly because this was an
"authorized" documentary, though, some of the more intriguing material is glossed
over. For example, we are told Tammy Faye was born into a large, poor family, but
only one of her siblings appears briefly. Her children -- a daughter and son (whose
dark looks and pierced eyebrow give him the cast of a slightly nefarious type) --
make oblique references to family problems but little more is revealed. Bailey and
Barbarto seem more concerned with maintaining an upbeat, slightly campy, tone
to the proceedings.
Some of the facts are glossed over quickly. At age ten, she underwent a spiritual
experience that made her decide to devote herself and her singing to God. By age 16,
she had discovered makeup and, unlike some devout Christians, saw no conflict in
combining the two. Shortly after her 1965 marriage to Jim Bakker, the newlyweds were
given air time on Pat Robertson's UHF TV station for a children's puppet show.
Surprisingly, their efforts proved a hit and eventually Jim started a Christian talk
show called "The 700 Club". Robertson eventually pushed the Bakkers out and
they launched their ownnetwork with another couple, Paul and Jan Crouch. Not having
learned their lesson with Robertson, Jim and Tammy Faye again met the same fate
-- TBN flourished but with the Crouchs not the Bakkers. Eventually, the pair struck out
on their own with the PTL (Praise the Lord) Ministry which went on to garner them
Jim Bakker dreamed big dreams and set out to build a Christian theme park, a sort
of Disneyland for Jesus. Scandal brought them down when Jim was caught with a
church secretary (the now infamous Jessica Hahn). In order to cope with the stress
Tammy Faye became addicted to prescription painkillers and she was committed to the
Betty Ford Center for treatment. Fallwell appeared as a white knight and offered to assist
the Bakkers in their time of need -- usurping their ministry and leaving them with nothing.
By this time, Jim Bakker was in jail, her daughter had run away and her son was dealing
with his own drug issues. Tammy Faye's Job-like trials were far from over, though. Her
second husband also landed in jail. She faced a life-threatening battle with colon cancer.
A shot at mainstream success with a talk show that teamed her with openly gay comic
Jim J Bullock failed.
In watching all this fly past (with appropriate narration by RuPaul), one can only be
impressed with the woman. Her faith and a sense of humor have seemingly carried her
through very difficult times. In her interview segments, Tammy Faye comes across as
genuine, if slightly disingenuous.
The film, which premiered at Sundance and was screened at the New Films/New
Directors festival in New York City, has also found a cult following in the homosexual
community, having been screened at several film festivals (including the 12th Annual
New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival). In an odd way, Tammy Faye is akin to a drag
queen (hence it makes perfect sense for RuPaul to serve as narrator) but more so
because she is one of the few Christian televangelists who proved accepting of gays
The filmmakers know how to manipulate their audience and as they are clearly in
Tammy Faye's corner, a positive spin prevails. Their take on her life is enjoyable, campy,
funny and moving. Somehow, though, the real story, which would be equal parts romance
novel and Russian tragedy, remains untold.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.