The Eyes' Have It
Tammy Faye's rise and fall... and rise
By Rob Bricken

When one is discussing the life of Tammy Faye Bakker, one can't help but also discuss sock puppets at the same time. Or rather, one shouldn't mention Tammy without sock puppets. It's a simple truth that the filmmakers behind the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye have taken these props to heart and used them to impressive effect.

But it should first be mentioned that yes, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is in fact a documentary/biography of the former first lady of televangelism, Tammy Faye Bakker. Second, she knew she was in it, so she talks a great deal and with surprising frankness about her past and her experiences, and yes, believe it or not, she cries.

The movie is a biography of Tammy Faye, beginning with her birth, but largely concerned with her tumultuous relationship with good ol' Jim Bakker, from marriage to public humiliation and imprisonment. Which is really to say, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a documentary on the rise and stumble of televangelism, since, as the documentary points out (with considerable evidence) Jim and Tammy made televangelism what it was. They had the millions of viewers, they had the satellite, they tried for decades to achieve their vision of bringing Christianity to the masses through TV and their PTL (praise the Lord!) vision.

On both the biography and documentary levels, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an amazing success. The documentary is well-informed and well-presented. It's fascinating to watch Jim and Tammy's long road to the top as Christian King and Queen of the airwaves, and Lord, did they have their share of troubles.

You'll catch yourself having a little sympathy for Jim Bakker, insanely enough. From their start with a children's program in the 60s (where Tammy would provide naughty sock puppets that Jim would educate about Christian living) to the slimy Pat Robertson and his deception and takeover of their network during their financial woes, it's a riveting tale, or at least a great facet of American entertainment history.

On the biography front, Eyes is a masterpiece. Tammy Faye Bakker has been/is an object of so much scorn and public ridicule that one would expect this to be a savaging of her tacky fashion sense and troweled on make-up, her emotional... instability, shall we say, and her marriage to Jim Bakker - any and all of it able to induce gut-busting laughs.

But Eyes doesn't play it that way. The movie simply presents Tammy Faye for who she is - a very loving, spiritual, albeit extremely goofy, person. You'll see her devotion to her husband's dream, her love of her family, her desire to help others. Her reaching out, as a Christian, to AIDS victims, when almost no other Christian group or leader would touch them. You'll see her forgive Pat Robertson (belatedly) for destroying her world, as well as the journalist who helped break PTL's financial troubles, with a bit of dignity even.

Moreover, you'll see that as much as Tammy Faye cried, she's had a lot to cry about. She's had more than her fair share of problems, both in the personal and public levels. If you don't accept the film's unspoken premise that Tammy Faye had little to no understanding of the financial nonsense of PTL, you'll still see a woman who gave her life in order to reach people, who gave her entire life up to television to help bring love to other people's lives, and who was slammed, smeared and destroyed for it; it's pretty damn poignant to see her leading a choir in a small California church after what she had.

Hell, even Jim Bakker comes off kind of OK. While the filmmakers never once legitimize what Bakker was doing, they do indicate he wasn't bilking the public of millions for his own benefit, but for his deranged vision of PTL and his Heritage USA theme park. While that might have been dumb or ill-conceived, you really get the idea Jim was doing it with good intention. Consider this the triumph of the movie: you can sympathize with Jim Bakker. And Jim, for his part, comes out in full defense of Tammy Faye, no sniping or blaming or anything. It's rather touching.

And it's hard not to love any movie that makes sock puppets, for the audience, the spiritual guides to Tammy Faye's life. They introduce the chapters of her epic saga with a (mostly) solemn gravity. Once you see the world through the eyes of Tammy Faye, you'll be better off for it.

Praise the Lord!