Self-pity can always find a sympathetic ear. How else to explain "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," in which the producing/directing team of Bailey and Barbato depict Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner -- the infamous televangelist's moll and false-eyelash abuser -- as an innocent dupe of corrupt forces?
Their puzzling but highly entertaining documentary traces Tammy Faye's rise to the top of the electronic church and her subsequent fall from grace. It's an odyssey that allows the filmmakers to open up a storehouse of vintage broadcast footage and interviews with their fascinatingly otherworldly subject.
But Bailey and Barbato appear so tickled by Bakker-Messner's outrageous personal style (and her history of making nice with AIDS patients) that they do everything in their power to excuse or ignore her possible hands-on involvement in wrongdoing.
As a work of cinematic journalism, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" barely deserves a passing grade. It isn't just a puff piece; it's a powder-puff piece. The producers allow Bakker-Messner herself to send notes to her enemies soliciting their participation in interviews, then expect us to be outraged that most decline. (Would Pat Robertson really respond in the affirmative to a missive from Tammy Faye? Would you?) What makes the film watchable is its priceless medley of clips from the Bakkers' early days as the vaudevillian proselytes of regional TV. The evangelical puppet shows alone are as jaw-droppingly bizarre as anything you'll see in "Midnight Shorts."
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