Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1972. Cinema X, Mauser Productions. Cinematography by Ed Lynch, David Myers, Richard Pearce, Thomas Reichman, Michael Shea, Kenneth Van Sickle. Produced by Sarah Kernochan, Howard Smith. Film Editing by Lawrence Silk. Academy Awards 1972. Golden Globe Awards 1972.
As a child, Marjoe Gortner was a sensation on the revival circuit, preaching the word of God in articulate and charismatic ways that belied his youth, even performing such ridiculous stunts as performing marriage ceremonies when he was barely five years old. Years later as an adult, Gortner decides to get back into the swing of preaching because it’s a great cash grab, taking his skills to the stages of churches throughout the American south and whipping up masses of devout Pentecostals into singing, clapping and foreign-tongue-babbling furies. What the crowds don’t know is that the film crew following him is part of his plan to expose the fraudulent nature of popular evangelism, himself no longer a believer and willing to discuss how most of the preaching he did so effectively as a child was the result of gross abuses by his mother and father. Directors Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan can hardly take their cameras away from this fascinating, real-life Flannery O’Connor character’s angular face and lean body, and it’s easy to see why: he has rock star appeal when he’s up there drawing brimstone and fire down on to the people, and despite his willingness to take part in a scam, there is a sense of affection and consideration for his followers that keeps him from being a villain. The film was not released in the south to avoid a scandal, but was successful enough to ignite a relatively successful career for Gortner in Hollywood films following its release.