The Eyes of Tammy Faye

on July 21, 2000 by Francesca Dinglasan
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   Touted as the most buzzed-about film to come out of this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" follows the trials and tribulations of Tammy Faye Messner, the infamous mascara-loving ex-wife of televangelist Jim Bakker, who together were the center of highly-publicized sex and finance scandals 12 years ago.

   Born and raised a devout Christian, Tammy Faye met and married Bakker while still a teenager. The young Tammy Faye convinced her husband that the best way to spread the Lord's message was through the medium of television, thus beginning a small-screen career that would span more than two decades. From their humble beginnings running a puppet show on Pat Robertson's tiny local station, the Bakkers would eventually go on to form the North Carolina-based PTL (Praise the Lord) empire, which at its height included a round-the-clock satellite network as well as the highly successful Christian theme park dubbed Heritage USA.

   All this came crashing down in the late '80s when the Bakkers' supposed friend and fellow-Christian Jerry Falwell stepped into the picture. According to both Tammy Faye and Jim, the couple asked for assistance from the Reverend Falwell for two reasons: Charles Shepherd, a local journalist, had discovered and published an article about a one-night stand Bakker had with a PTL secretary named Jessica Hahn, and the network was facing financial difficulties due to outstanding debts. Tammy Faye and Jim imply that instead of helping, Falwell used the opportunity to steal PTL away from them. Worse yet, he allegedly fanned the flames that led to Bakker's adultery being brought to national attention as well as framed him, it is claimed, for funneling donated funds into private accounts. Bakker was sentenced to prison for the misappropriation of PTL finances, and his marriage to Tammy Faye ultimately ended.

   Presented in a style parallel to cable channel VH-1's "Behind the Music" (subject of documentary amasses fame and fortune; subject suffers tragedy and loses everything; subject learns from experience and comes back happier and stronger), "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is entertaining, campy fare, although its adherence to conveying the truth, and nothing but the truth, of the whole sordid matter should be viewed with some healthy skepticism. Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, however, readily admit their clear bias in favor of Tammy Faye and, strangely enough, their partiality is infectious, despite the implausibility of her and her ex-husband's story of complete innocents who simply trust others too much.

   Certain players in the PTL scandal, most notably Falwell and Hahn, declined to appear in the documentary, and their presence is notably missed and would have most certainly helped to provide a more well-balanced view of the events. However, these holes do not detract from the overall pleasure of the film, and by the time "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" presents its subject's "comeback," including a brief stint co-hosting a talk show with Jim J. Bullock, the viewer is definitely rooting for the big-hearted, big-eyelashed woman. Narrated by RuPaul Charles. Starring Tammy Faye Messner, Roe Messner, Jim Bakker, Tammy Sue Bakker Chapman, Jim J. Bullock and Charles Shepherd. Directed and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. A Lions Gate release. Documentary. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references. Running time: 79 min

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