Five Films: Religion

Salesman

salesmanfivefilms.jpgThe Maysles Brothers are considered by many to be pioneers of the Cinema Verite style, or as they prefer to say…’Direct Cinema’. Salesman is a prime example of their knack at remaining almost completely un-intrusive while still capturing beautiful images and honest moments. The film follows a small group of Boston bible salesman as they try to meet their quotas by any means necessary. When the main subject, Paul ‘The Badger’ Brennan starts to lose his touch, he struggles to remain on top of his sales while sharing stories on the road with his salesmen buddies. The film is a pretty striking look at how easily people can be manipulated and taken advantage of when using their commitment to religion as a source of guilt, ultimately leading to another sale.

Marjoe

marjoefivefilms.jpgThis Academy Award winning film features the flamboyant Marjoe Gortner, a child protégé who was bred by his evangelical parents from birth to become a preacher. In the film, a grown up Marjoe has lost his faith and given in to the seductions of living life as a young adult in the 1960’s. Now Marjoe has decided to get back into preaching, re-establishing himself with the Pentecostal audiences with his ‘Farewell to Faith Tour’, charming them with his Mick Jagger inspired swagger. Directors Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan inter-cut candid moments of confession as Marjoe discusses his true intentions as he fills us in on his manipulative tactics he bestows upon his devoted followers. The funny thing is, he’s so charming and his audience is so naïve that I don’t feel sorry for them one bit. Check out my review here for more on this film.

Devil’s Playground

devilsplaygroundfivefilms.jpgThis is a great film that deals with freedom of religion and the choices someone makes when confronted with temptations that may contradict their personal beliefs. More specifically, the film is about ‘Rumspringa’, an Amish tradition which when translated means ‘running around’. When the kids turn 16, they’re given an opportunity to shed their plows and spend time in the outside world driving cars, getting drunk, partying, and most importantly…using electricity! This is truly a test of faith. How a 16 year old kid can expose themselves to all of these modern conveniences and then willingly choose to go back to a 19th century lifestyle is both unimaginable and admirable. But as the film shows, the rush of new experiences can be somewhat overwhelming to someone who’s suppressed their temptations for 16 years in favour of honouring their religion and their community, and ultimately the over-indulgence can lead to disaster.

Hell House

hellhousefivefilms.jpgHell House is the perfect example of what many people find wrong with the church. The film centres on the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Texas and their unusual yearly tradition. Every October, members of this Pentecostal Church construct, write and perform Hell House, a Christian take on the traditional haunted house. In this case, ghouls and goblins are replaced by brutal scenes of rape, suicide, spousal abuse and drug addiction. In the ‘school shooting’ section of the tour, a bullied teen named Jeremey (apparently they’re Pearl Jam fans) pulls a gun on his class and proceeds to shoot himself. In another room a girl with a ridiculous amount of fake blood between her legs accepts Jesus as she dies due to her botched abortion. Right next to her the Devil hovers over a gay man dying of AIDS. He rejects Jesus and is dragged off only to re-appear at the end of the tour: the Hell room. The faith expressed by the films subjects is truly sincere and somewhat admirable, but heavily outweighed by the ridiculous. Watching these people perform what they think is an accurate representation of a drug deal gone wrong or the dangers of a rave ends up turning their hard hitting material into unintentional parody. It’s just a bunch of good-hearted folks ‘play acting’, living vicariously through their characters bad sides.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

eyesoftammyfayefivefilms.jpgI’m sure you’re familiar with the story. Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim make millions with the most successful television ministry in the world, the PTL. Eventually the Bakker’s life of luxury comes to an end after a much publicized scandal exposing Jim Bakker’s affair with Jessica Hahn. Jim is convicted of fraud, racketeering and tax evasion and sent to prison. But even through all of this, Tammy Faye remained positive and recovered. This film is as much about Tammy Faye’s own personal philosophies as it is her scandals. Her high pitched giddiness can be annoying at times, but you can’t help but like her and sympathize with SOME of her woes. But by the end of the film, it’s clear that Tammy Faye should be thankful that she’s best known and remember for her heavy eye make-up and not her lies.

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