Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frisbee: The Life & Death Of A Hippie Preacher

In the surreal environs of mid-60s California, an elfin naif by the name of Lonnie Frisbee walks out of the desert and into conservative evangelicalism. Serving as a one-man catalyst for charismatic phenomena, this bizarre little man inexplicably generates a series of conservative charismatic religious movements which continue to ripple throughout the world to this day. By 1993 Frisbee has died of AIDS in near-obscurity, while the religious figureheads who capitalized on his appearances grow to be well-known "pillars" within American christendom.
Frisbee, doing some dunkin'
Filmmaker David DiSabatino's provocative documentary is a straight-forward bit of business that untangles what it can from a rather twisted sub-narrative in recent American church history. His technique is rudimentary -- people talk as the camera rolls -- but his approach is strangely unique. DiSabatino is genuinely friendly with his interview subjects, and (I'm guessing) sympathetic to Pentecostal Christianity. Fortunately, while his love and loyalty to these people and their church is evident, his deeper love is for the story and its complexities. The camera lingers over little details that speak volumes: during an enormous sea-side revival, a young preacher's hand rests on the bare thigh of the girl he is baptizing.

Watching the footage of Lonnie Frisbee's Crystal Cathedral funeral, the viewer quickly gets a sense of how relieved these people are to have him gone from the scene. No-one knew what to do with Lonnie Frisbee, with his cultivated naivete, the strange occurrences that happened wherever he showed up, or his sexual history and yearnings -- least of all Frisbee himself. DiSabatino restores some much-needed humanity to a narrative that is often methodically purged of just such character.

A quick end-note: potential viewers whose lives have crossed into and out of this sort of church experience should be forewarned: the skeletons in your closet will certainly have something to say about all this. Book your shrink in advance. And it seems DiSabatino is working to release a documentary on the life of the late Christian rocker Larry Norman -- despite the Norman family's very personal (and legal) antagonism. If this is any indication of the film's potential, I can't wait to see it.

Links: Lonnie Frisbee wiki; DiSabatino's Frisbee site is here (hey -- the soundtrack cooks, too!); and here is my brief obit for Larry Norman.

No comments: