'God’s Angry Man' Review: The Crusade for Cash
Being a documentarian is hard. You’re never just coming up with a story whole-cloth; you have to build it from the truth and the reality on which you report. Sometimes you might think you’re going in with a certain spin on events or people, only to find yourself moved in a different direction. You have to cut and paste from what you gather to make a story come alive, make it have flow and purpose and speak to the nature of an audience. Do you inject yourself and your biases, or do you simply stay removed and just report on a finding without judgment? Sometimes it’s even hard to just make the whole thing believable.
Enter this week’s Herzogian offering, God’s Angry Man, from 1981. Following the story of Dr. Gene Scott and his Los Angeles televangelist show, we’re treated to a brief slice of his life and work, simply arranged around a few short interviews and clips from his daily sermons. There’s a brief piece from the pastor’s parents to talk about a few anecdotes from his childhood, but it’s an otherwise intimate affair between Herzog and Scott.
The film appears to contrast the man’s words with his actions, showing and summarizing bits of music and preaching only to cut to more direct questions with the man, himself. Herzog translates most of Scott and company’s speech to his native German, but it is curious what pieces he leaves untouched, especially during the doctor’s animated rants at his viewers while trying to bring in funds for the church and television station. Really, it’s the interesting sub-textual dialogue between the languages which is the most interesting and appears to have the most to say – the original title translates to “Faith and Currency,” which speaks more to Herzog’s possible leanings than its American counterpart.
Though a brief 45-minute affair, God’s Angry Man is not an easy film to watch. One minute we are shown Scott clamoring to get over a quarter of a million dollars from donors incessantly lighting up his phones, the next we’re in his townhouse, being told that he’s a poor man with virtually nothing to call his own – no scams, only money to the church. He’ll be screaming at his viewers about “a measly $600,” then he’s telling the interviewer that he’s not a rage-filled man. He’s not a fighter, but he calls for war on the FCC. Scott proves to be a manipulator of words and situations, but there’s still an earnest truth to him that one can’t help but be enchanted by. He’s wholly human, like any of us – and perhaps that’s what makes him so frightening. It’s not for the faint of heart, or those already overtly jaded to the abusive televangelists and mega-churches of today, but if you’re looking for a quick but brief dive into a man of pure passionate rage and ego, it’s a masterful bit of film.