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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Universal Home Video

Starring Tammy Faye Bakker

Produced and Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

What is it about drag queens that makes them love Tammy Faye Bakker so much? Is it the mascara? I mean, the reasons behind the idolatry of Judy and Liza and Cher and Barbra are obvious: that whole diva-ish Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive" thing is easy to understand, context-wise. But Tammy Faye? Directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey introduced their RuPaul-narrated documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye on opening night of the 2000 Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, OUTFEST. When asked why in the world a gay film-fest was opening with a movie about Tammy Faye, one of them reportedly exclaimed, "Because it's Tammy Faye!" Well ... 'nuff said.

For starters, the former puppeteer/gospel singer/preacher's wife/talk-show host appeals to a gay audience because she is a Christian and gay-friendly. She claims not to make judgements (and, indeed, she welcomed a gay Christian pastor with AIDS onto her show when no network program, much less a Christian show, would touch the subject with a ten-foot pole), saying, "We're all made of the same dirt and God didn't make junk." And she really seems to believe it.

To be fair, in the Gloria Gaynor category, Tammy Faye is one hell of a survivor. Using a nifty blend of clips and interviews (with sock puppets introducing the chapters of Tammy Faye's life, eerily echoing the Greek chorus of mice in the movie Babe), the filmmakers re-explore the various stages of Jim and Tammy Bakker's broadcasting career, from serving as the hosts of a Christian children's puppet show to creating "The 700 Club", the Trinity Broadcast Network, and eventually, their own Christian satellite network, the PTL Club. They created the multi-million-dollar Heritage USA theme park which became, in its day, the third most popular theme attraction in America (after Disneyland and Walt Disney World). They essentially created the entire concept of electronic evangelism.

Then their business ventures began to rapidly run out of cash. Jim spent more and more time sucking money out of their disciple's pockets to pay for their theme park and lifestyle, Tammy became addicted to tranquilizers, Jim had a hotel encounter with one Jessica Hahn... and then Jim was thrown in jail.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye works overtime to make a case that Tammy Faye is a sympathetic personality. And, for the most part, it succeeds. The film documents how, in each of the Bakkers' successful business ventures, they were forced out by smarter, smarmier Christian partners. In the end, Jim ends up in the clink because he's been set up by a Mephistophelean Jerry Falwell, who cons Jim out of control of PTL Ministries and Heritage USA, then declares bankruptcy and sells everything off at ten cents on the dollar — making himself immensely wealthy and driving the Bakkers into insolvency. Is it true? Who cares — it's a great story.

And one that's easy to believe. In the words of the Charlotte Observer reporter who broke the Bakker story, "The Bakkers were manipulative and scheming, but Falwell was cunning ... and I think that 'cunning' trumped 'scheming,' there." In the end, it does look like the Bakkers were less evil than they were simply greedy, and that they naively put their Christian trust in the hands of the wrong sort of Christians.

While a lot of fun, The Eyes of Tammy Faye swings awkwardly from a camp expose (featuring clips from the Bakkers' early puppet show days, Jessica Hahn's Playboy video, and TV's Fall from Grace — in which Bernadette Peters played Tammy Faye) to an earnest plea for forgiveness. The last half-hour of the film, dealing with Tammy Faye's more recent past and current doings, is overlong and at times almost painful to watch. After building us up to root for Tammy Faye as a survivor, who wants to see her embarrass herself as she pitches horrible TV show ideas to the creator of "Cops"?

Yet by the end of this blowsy, kitsch-laden love letter, you might be surprised at how much you like Tammy Faye, and how much you find yourself rooting for her — and wondering where she'll pop up next. In the words of her former talk-show co-host JM J. Bullock, "After the holocaust there will be roaches, Cher, and Tammy Faye."

Universal's DVD edition of The Eyes of Tammy Faye is presented full-screen (1.33:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. The transfer is crisp and sharp, with varying qualities of picture depending on the source of the clips — much of the film was shot on video, restored from old archive footage, or taken from television news broadcasts. Includes the theatrical trailer.

— Dawn Taylor

Fun Tammy Faye Fact: Her son has a pierced eyebrow!

Fun Tammy Faye Fact: Her mascara? L'Oreal Waterproof Lash-Out!

Fun Tammy Faye Fact: In the made-for-TV movie "Fall From Grace," Jim Bakker was played by Kevin Spacey!

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