In 1948 Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner of Long Beach, California became an ordained preacher for the pentecostal church. He was four years old.
A gifted preacher, Marjoe reached some fame and notoriety in the American South and earned his parents an estimated $3,000,000 before the novelty had worn off in his teen years. It was around this time that Marjoe became part of the Hippie movement and took stock of what had happened to him, his childhood and the money he never saw.
At twenty and struggling to get by, Marjoe fell back on his greatest talent and again began to preach. He wasn't a true believer, but they believed in him. They flocked to see his Jagger swaggering sermons and paid well for the privilege.
This documentary joins Marjoe in 1971 when he is 23 years old. A crisis of conscience has led him to not only give up preaching for good, but also to show us the preaching racket as it really is. We follow Marjoe for one final tour with a documentary crew under the guise of promoting the church. The film introduces the real Marjoe through a series of interviews interspersed with footage of the sermons he holds. The contrast between the two sides of his character is quite startling and to have this captured on film is quite special, some might say it's a small ironically occurring miracle. The content here was so powerful that at the time it wasn't distributed in many of the southern states. That didn't stop it taking the 1972 Best Documentary Oscar and although it did fade into obscurity for a while, in 2002 the original negative print was found and recaptured for digital release.
Marjoe is a charismatic lead, talking us through his life story and giving us a window into this world. He has an implicit understanding of preaching techniques and the lucrative business behind the scenes. What is shown here feels like full disclosure, we see Marjoe briefing the crew on how to act when in church or that they should cut their hair to fit in. We see his home life and relationships, his real life outside the church and his on stage persona. I read that he was looking to become an actor (and did, sort of) and to leave this life behind him and game some publicity this film was made. Utterly unique and as relevant as ever. Even today it embarrasses the born again crowd better than Jesus Camp and that's saying something. Of course when it comes to the religious right nothing has changed, it's only gotten bigger.