Beneath the pancake

Bring Tammy Faye Bakker your poor and your lonely

It’s easy to laugh at Tammy Faye Bakker.

Big, bad make-up, able to produce mascara-smearing tears on cue, former wife of TV evangelist Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye is a parody of herself.

Yes, it’s easy to laugh at Tammy Faye and gay filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato don’t miss an opportunity to poke fun at the queen of the tacky spiritual empire, PTL (Praise The Lord) Club.

In one priceless scene, an unsuspecting make-up artist tries to prepare Tammy for a classy photo shoot, only to find out that most of her look (eyes, lips, lashes) is either tattooed or glued on permanently.

But Barbato and Bailey’s feature documentary, Eyes Of Tammy Faye, doesn’t stop at easy mockery.

This is the duo’s second of three campy documentaries. They made their feature debut with Party Monster two years ago, an insider’s look at the life of Michael Alig, founder of club kid culture in New York City and convicted murderer. They have also worked together to produce 101 Rent Boys.

The couple’s lack of finesse as filmmakers is exactly what makes their films so entirely engaging. Their work lacks analysis of the issues and context. In each of their three films, they merely choose an enigmatic subject who worships the camera almost as much as the camera seeks them out. Then they befriend and idolize their subject to the point that the person exposes themselves entirely. I hope it’s intentional ’cause the results are brilliant.

Halfway through Eyes Of Tammy Faye, the filmmakers love for Ms Bakker starts to shine through. They move away from easy mockery, to fascination with the bizarre and, eventually, admiration for a scrapper.

Mapping her and Jim’s rise from public access television to founders of modern day televangelism, Barbato and Bailey expose Tammy Faye as an honest to goodness believer without a cynical bone in her body. Whilst challenging the homophobic culture that she helped found, the filmmakers still sing her praises for fighting in a male dominated world and for eventually speaking out in favour of gay rights and respect for people with AIDS.

(The PTL ministry collapsed in the 1980s after it was revealed hubby Jim Bakker had an affair with his secretary. In 1989, he went to jail for five years after he was convicted of defrauding followers of $158 million. The couple was divorced while Jim was in prison.)

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is a problematic, funny and totally enjoyable film – one in which the lines are not drawn for you, where you will both love and hate the centre of attention – immensely worth watching.

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye opens Fri, Aug 11 at the Carlton Cinemas (20 Carlton St); call 598-2309.


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