“What God? Whose God? Yours?
This isn’t a house of God – this
is a meeting place for hypocrites.”
(Soundtrack: Holly Golightly – The Good Things)
There’s a brief follow-up post on Elmer Gantry that helps to anchor the discussion in a 20th century pop culture context. It’s a great movie (and if you got to know Shirley Jones through The Partridge Family, all I can say is that you’re in for a surprise!):
Still, when it comes to films that explore the strange intellectual world of the charismatic American figure who (to borrow from Courtney Love) “fakes it so real, they are beyond fake”, you still can’t beat Frank Capra. Meet John Doe may be the most penetrating study of the “ungroundability” of messianism ever produced, and The Miracle Woman (an earlier attempt to deal with the same problem) features an even more nuanced look at the evangelist than Gantry, because Stanwyck eschews Lancaster’s snakeoil salesman mannerisms:
Her Florence Fallon is, in fact, far more aware of the contradictions inherent in her “inspired imposture” than Gantry is, and this is evident from the very beginning of the film, which erupts immediately into one of the most intense Jeremiads ever committed to celluloid (the title of this little post is taken from one of its milder moments, but it’s not really the words that are important, it’s all in her delivery, and in her wild rampage up and down the aisles, abetted by Joseph Walker’s amazing camera!), as Stanwyck excoriates her dead father’s congregation for their worldliness. She drives them all out of the church, but it’s clear that, with her gift, she could easily reverse the polarity of her zeal and draw them in.
This is exactly what happens when she joins forces with promoter Sam Hardy (whose motto is “the only way to lick a mob is to join ’em”). The Capra film is no cheap expose of “fake religion”–it’s a dramatization of the nightmare of communication. Perhaps the only “true statement” that can be made about “the human condition” is that no one “understands” anyone else–everyone, no matter how well-intentioned, is guilty of ruthlessly transforming others into symbols, and capitalizing upon their own “availability” (in the political sense) as fetish-objects. Melville was absolutely right. In a liberal-democracy, the problem of “confidence” is EVERYTHING.
Good Evening Friends!