Saturday, August 04, 2007


THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (USA, 2000, Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato)
I think gay people like Tammy because Tammy likes gay people, and she's one of the only Christians in the world who seems to these days. (Mel White)

One of the things art does is makes us bigger. And one of the main ways it does that is by shaking up our perceptions, taking a piece of the world and holding it up at an angle that makes us see it differently. That reversal of expectations is the real accomplishment of this unpredictable documentary about "the First Lady of Religious Broadcasting" created – who would have predicted? – by two gay film-makers and narrated by infamous drag queen RuPaul.

You can see the appeal. All the camp is there, from the infamous mascara, big hair and even bigger personality to the tackiest trappings of TV religion. But even at the outset, the tone isn't mockery so much as a certain ironic celebration. And by the time we've realized the radical truth that "Jim and Tammy's gospel of fun was for one and all," we've been moved from skeptical mockery through a kind of pitying compassion into something remarkably like respect. When Jim J. Bullock, an openly gay man who co-hosted a later TV show with Tammy, says "She has been judged by other people and she knows what that's like," the words resonate deeply, and we are very close to the heart of the gospel.

To get a sense of the way this film succeeds at reversing audience perceptions, compare the IMDb user comments on this film to those posted for Fall From Grace, the 1990 made-for-TV biopic about the Bakkers that starred (unbelievably) Kevin Spacey and Bernadette Peters. Maybe what looked so tacky and artificial all those years was a remarkable, unashamed authenticity – authentically tacky, yes, but also authentic in ways that matter. Viewed from this bracing, queer perspective, maybe Tammy's biggest appeal was her wildly unapologetic "outness" as much as it was her radical inclusivity.

Available at Videomatica

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