Monday, March 13, 2006

God's Angry Man (Herzog, 1980)

Werner Herzog's short documentary, God's Angry Man, is a brief introduction to fiery televangelist Gene Scott. Herzog's film was made before the high-profile scandals invovling Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and is a delightfully absurd look at a man who is highly intelligent, emotionally unstable and frightfully intense. Though he claims to only have one private possession to his name -- a mysterious black bag with contents he will not reveal -- Scott rides around in a limousine, dresses in expensive suits and commands hundreds of thousands of dollars from viewers in a single evening of programming. Initially, we laugh smugly as Herzog shows us Scott counting the enormous amount of money that has been pledged. But later, as we get to better understand Scott's situation, it becomes clear that despite his notoreity, he is essentially entirely dependant upon the church for his livelihood -- and that church is deeply in debt. In the film's most startling scene, Scott refuses to talk on air until viewers send the necessary $600 to reach his target. He glares viciously into the camera as members of his staff quietly weep. What happens next I will not reveal, but it reveals a man whose occupational needs have bled dangerously into his personal needs. By the time Scott introduces his viewers to a chorus of animatronic monkeys, you'll think this guy must know he's in a Werner Herzog film. But the key to Herzog's success, as evident here as in Grizzly Man, is not only his witty edits, but his skill as an interviewer, putting his subject at ease and coaxing responses that are thoughtful, honest and occasionally bizarre. As with Timothy Treadwell, Herzog does not just observe -- he finds the poetic meaning in his subject. His quest is a search not for objective truth, but subjective understanding. Without a broad explanation of Scott's precise situation, God's Angry Man feels a bit incomplete, but it is certainly worth tracking down to see Herzog grapple with one of the more mystifying aspects of American religious extremism.



Anonymous A. Wolf said...

God's Angry Man is an excellent, though short, Herzog film. It's nice to find an article about it, although I really want to know who the two singers are in the film, especially the rubber faced guy.

12:15 PM  

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