For decades, this cast of women has been reduced to a series of unflattering, often unfair, stereotypes based on the reflexive misogyny and bogus logic of the late-night monologue. Now a new generation of filmmakers are ready to set the record straight. There are biopics of Bakker and Tonya Harding. Mini-series with fictionalized versions of Marcia Clark and Monica Lewinsky. In streaming documentaries, Lorena Bobbitt, in stark contrast to her status as an object of amusement for “Saturday Night Live” and its ilk, is revealed as a tragically ignored survivor of domestic violence; a star like Britney Spears is not cropped as the madcap of her infamous Daily News collapse, but as the longtime victim of greedy junkies and the neglectful music industry.
After decades of reckless misogyny in the media, this is understandable, if not necessary, penance. But by applying our modern cultural lens to past events, we inevitably obscure their complexity.
Take Chastain’s Tammy Faye, for example, portrayed as a largely blameless naive despite her husband’s equally infamous mistress, Jessica Hahn, twisting at the mercy of the tabloid press, challenging her character and attempting to discredit. Hahn’s rape charges. Or even someone like Spears, whose martyrdom in the New York TimesThe celebrated documentary “Framing Britney Spears” obscures her own agency and flattens the cultural landscape of the late ’90s in a way that ironically infantilizes the star she seeks to defend. (Spears herself posted after her release that she was “embarrassed by the light they put on [her] in.”)
That’s not to say that a more compassionate reassessment of those numbers comes soon – especially in the case of someone like Bobbitt, who has suffered long-term trauma and abuse, and has tried to play down as much as possible its tabloid fame. Applying today’s social norms to past events, however, is a difficult process. The result can be an image that is just as simplistic as, although it is ostensibly nobler than that which was previously held in the cultural imagination, instead of the richer, more just and ultimately more human understanding than distance and perspective. might otherwise offer.
The most publicized of the group is still their biggest commercial and critical success: “Me, Tonya”, the 2017 film by Australian director Craig Gillespie who revisits the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal that rocked the figure skating world of the 1990s . In it, Gillespie uses a distant and somewhat ironic approach that is both a mock documentary and a loving tribute to Scorsese to tell one of the more ready-made tabloid scandals of the time, linked to problems of class, gender and high level athletic competition. .
The overall result is sort of both deliberately wacky – sending both the sticky excess of the end of the Reagan era and the terror of the working class of Harding – and confrontational, as it is disturbing. depicts her years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother and husband. The approach intensifies the impact of both, treating its subjects humanely but without sentimentality – even, or perhaps most importantly, in the case of Harding’s tyrannical husband, portrayed in Best Career Performance by Sebastian Stan as a lost man. in the abyss of his. pathetic insecurity.
Of course, even a film that mixes sweet and sour as skillfully as âMe, Tonyaâ isn’t immune to Hollywood’s narrative demands. After the film’s release, Christine Brennan, the veteran sports journalist who covered the real saga of the Washington post in 1994, reminded viewers in his column that Harding “gave information about the Cape Cod practice rink in Nancy to the” contract killers “” who assaulted Kerrigan at the behest of Harding’s husband, “and more tard pleaded guilty to the crime of conspiring to obstruct prosecution. “As satisfying and unusually savvy as” Me, Tonya “is, he’s not quite willing to fully consider Harding’s role in his own downfall, and one wonders how much more convincing (or stimulating) such a film could have been.
Re-imagining a personal story is one thing. There is a whole other degree of difficulty when such a character becomes the substitute for an era or an entire cultural phenomenon, as frequently occurs in this new genre. Take, for example, the titular pop star of “Finding Britney Spears”: The Emmy-nominated Documentary Times does a valuable and fascinating job interviewing members of the star’s inner circle and interrogating the series of events that led to a bizarre multi-year guardianship dispute with her father.
But it becomes cutesy and contradictory when placed in a sneaky, misogynistic pop culture of the late 1990s: Was Spears the perfect victim of the imperial extractive music industry of that era, or the quietly crafty storytelling mogul? of his collaborators, with whom the documentary filmmakers obviously sympathize? (To 2003 Squire feature reveals the answer was likely ‘both,’ as Spears submits to an undeniably kinky cover shoot while declaiming, scholar-style, a remarkably modern take on female sexual empowerment.)
Where these accounts could have been erroneous in their ambition, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” suffers from its stilted traditionalism. The film is based on a 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, two of RuPaul Charles’ creative collaborators, and its treatment of Bakker borders on North Korean-style hagiography. (The film was part of his first public reinvention, as a camp icon and unlikely champion of the LGBTQ community in the 1990s; his full participation gave Bailey and Barbato plenty of access but little room for consideration. meticulous.)
Chastain, who clearly shares his affection for Bakker, bought the dramatic rights to the documentary in 2012 and has been trying to bring the project to screen ever since. The effort shows: Chastain’s performance is virtuoso and feels experienced in a way rarely performed in such prestigious biopics. The world of TV-era religion of yesteryear that the film portrays rings true to anyone with even little exposure to it.
But the film is a painfully conventional biopic, to the point that it sometimes bears little resemblance to the semi-forgotten 2000s comedy gem that parodied the genre, “Walk Hard.” The predictable narrative dulled much of the film’s emotional impact, aside from a few scenes where Chastain taps into the unfathomable naivety of his alter-ego. One recreates Bakker’s controversial – and genuinely daring for the time – 1985 interview with Steve Pieters, a gay reverend living with HIV at a time when public health officials were just beginning to recognize the problem. pandemic. This is an actual recreation of the interview almost line for line, shot for shot, as well as many scenes from the film that directly recreate footage from the 2000 documentary, with generally less impact.
Given this loyalty, the film curiously skims over the events that made the Bakkers most famous to secular audiences: the daring financial crimes that earned Jim 45 years in prison, and his rape charge. by Jessica Hahn who poured tabloid gasoline on an already raging fire. As national media categorized her as “the year of the bimbo,” Hahn gave a heartbreaking interview to Playboy in 1987, where she described the 1980 incident in question in which Bakker and an associate allegedly drugged her wine and forced themselves on her.
We see the aftermath of these events and the gleeful disdain that late-night comedians, stand-ups, and novelty t-shirts have piled up on the Bakkers. But for a film otherwise devoted to discovering Tammy Faye’s inner life, he is strangely silent, if not contradictory, regarding his response to financial malfeasance or Hahn’s allegations. We see Tammy Faye visiting Jim in prison in 1994 before his parole, sympathetically referring to Hahn as that “poor girl.” In real life, two years later, she described Hahn in her memoirs as a “professional” who “knew what she was doing.” There is no doubt that the historical miniature of Tammy Faye Bakker as a clingy, cowardly boor is incomplete. But the same goes for any account of its history that doesn’t include this episode, which is just as laden with questions of cultural misogyny as the rest – though considerably less flattering.
People are contradictory and there are a number of very human explanations why Bakker would have felt the need to defend her then ex-husband in the print media. (By all accounts, Hahn and Tammy Faye reconciled around the time of the latter’s death in 2007.) But we don’t see any of that in the film, which gives the whole effort a cast. strange considering that a character like Hahn was just as maligned and could endure, and deserve, as much of a reassessment as Bakker.
Of course, the film is not titled “The Eyes of Jessica Hahn”. But the asymmetry between giving charity to a woman while masking her messy relationship with the other illustrates the difference between correcting her story and setting the record straight. The former is much more difficult and sacrifices emotional gains for precision and insight – while the latter, for all of its potential virtues, runs the risk of distorting history in the same way our original, naive misconceptions do.
Social norms, especially those expressed in media and pop culture, have changed at a dizzying rate in the two decades since the release of the first “Eyes of Tammy Faye”. The documentary was ahead of its time in this sense; its flaws too. The implicit, or often explicit, social criticism of revisionist tabloids should not be ignored. But the messy details that tend to complicate these stories also shouldn’t reveal how reality rarely fits these standards.