Paul's Review of Marjoe
It occured to me a while back when I was writing the review for [i][url="http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=13186&entryid=146192&view=public"]Food of the Gods[/url][/i] how little I knew about Marjoe Gortner. I knew he was a child preacher turned actor, but that was about the extent of it. So I was happy to finally track down a copy of[i] Marjoe[/i], a documentary made just before Gortner got into the acting game, and even happier to find out what an amazing film it is.
The documentary follows Gortner during a tour as kind of a "guest star" preacher on the big-tent evangelism circuit in 1971, when Gortner was in his late 20's. Having been brought up to be an evangelist by his parents since he was 4 (!), Gortner dropped out of the child preacher game in his mid-teens, as the gimmick had gotten old and the gigs were drying up. Much of the film is composed simply of Gortner preaching, and as in most revivals, the emphasis is on testimony rather than scripture.
The big problem on the tour is that Gortner doesn't believe a thing he's doing. Long having abandoned any faith in organized religion (though he says he prefers Pentacostals as they've got the best music), Gortner now sees what he's doing first as a business and second as showmanship, giving the audience something to get excited about like a rock concert. Religion, he's come to the conclusion, has nothing to do with it. The footage of the revivals is interspersed and narrated by Gortner himself, carefully mentioning various scams and ways that the folks onstage can convince their audience that the "spirit" is within them.
Now, all of this might seem like a big, nasty, downer of a movie if it wasn't for Gortner himself. Despite his upbringing, in which he describes his mother smothering him with a pillow if he failed to rehearse his act correctly (hitting him would leave a bruise that wouldn't look good on stage), he's surprisingly upbeat, enjoying what he does even he seems genuinely bothered by his own hypocricy. He's a likable guy and is very eager to sort things out, and seems to be using the documentary itself as a form of therapy. Even his girlfriend, the only other person interviewed, is surprised at how bizarrely normal he seems.
The filmmakers seem to occasionally want to poke fun at those at the revivals who really believe in what's going on, but thanks to Gortner, the film itself rises above that. It's a lot more emotionally complicated than you'd expect, and in the end, it leaves you to figure things out for yourself.
"Can God deliver a religion addict?" Gortner asks near the conclusion, and that question is just left there to lay, offering something to ponder for anyone the least bit interested in religious faith.
Gortner still acts occasionally (he played a preacher in 1995's [i]Wild Bill[/i]), and I'd love to see [i]Marjoe[/i] re-issued on DVD with a commentary by him. He seems like a terribly bright, introspective guy, and I'd love to see his thoughts on the film and his life as a whole three decades later.