08 April 2013

Marjoe


United States – 1971
 Director – Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1983, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 25 minutes

The first impression one gets while watching Marjoe – the man, not the movie- is that you’re being conned. Marjoe the film is about the man of the same name, Marjoe Gortner, whom I was introduced to, as I suspect most people within ten or so years on either side of 30 who watch movies were, by way of Starcrash. He was in a few other choice exploitation films of the late 70’s, but the Luigi Cozzi Star Wars rip off is probably his greatest work (and Cozzi’s.) Before he entered low budget cinema however, Gortner was a Pentacostal revival preacher from the age of four.

The difficulty, if it can be called that, for it is something more akin to suspicion and contagion, is in deciphering which of Gortner’s personalities is real; the speaking in tounges version, or the turned on tie-dye version, for each seems equally genuine. True, it’s unlikely that many of us has been to a revival the likes of those seen in Marjoe, but they bear a striking resemblance to the stories, and if the conviction and feeling of the attendees is anything to go on, Gortner is both effective and affective. Gortner is as convincing in his spasmic and gesticulating Haleilujah’s as he is counting the cash afterwards and explaining the intricacies of the faith healing scam to the documentary crew. Therein lies what I suspect is the convincing factor for so many fans of Marjoe (The Academy deemed it Best Documentary, 1972); its protagonists bizarre lack of duality. There is no difference outside context.

Gortner is not at one time a preacher and at another a hippie, but at all times Marjoe. To me this is what reveals the great lie in religion, for the pious man, the mouthpiece of God, the very conduit of the Holy Spirit (and thus the source of experiential faith) is merely a skilled and practiced (and it appears, weary) man at a job. He preaches because he knows how and it is lucrative, called to it as much as a plumber is “called” to fit pipe. The devout need him to confirm their faith in God as much as his long-haired pals need him to confirm their belief that it’s a sham. And of course, Gortner needs Marjoe in order to prove that he has a moral soul. It is fortunate for us, and I assume for Gortner that he can see and point to the difference between truth and fiction. It’s even more so to those like myself who are unbelievers, that Marjoe (the man and the movie) doesn’t clearly distinguish between the two because to do otherwise would be to rely on a common, but false dichotomy. Whether or not religion or science can be empirically proven is, for most of us, irrelevant. Each exists primarily to affirm through varying methods, our desires rather than any objective reality.

 We're gonna save this here pup, show him the kingdom of the almighty and bring him to Jesus!

Image 2 from MOMA
Image 3 from Jarrett's Blog
Image 4 from Awkwardboyhero

2 comments:

the-scandyfactory said...

I have the DVD but I've never seen a VHS for this! His story is one of my favorites, and it reminds me of the footage of Sam Kinison doing the same sort of thing in his early days.

The Goodkind said...

I deliberately got this tape because I love those side-opening tabbed boxes that RCA was putting out. Unfortunately the person I bought it from did not mention that the bottom flap had been cut off to let the tape slide out in the more "modern" fashion.