Timothy J. McCarthy’s portrait of the Reverend George Crossley Jr. provides a largely one-sided take on the publicity hound’s life going as far back as 1992. In that year, he led the charge via Christian radio station WTLN to boycott Universal Studios for releasing the “disgusting” The Last Temptation of Christ, imposing his moral standards on the entire citizenry of Orlando, Florida. All that was accomplished (beyond momentary attention on broader-based media) was the refusal of The City Beautiful’s cinemas to show Martin Scorsese’s thought-provoking treatment of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel.
Four years later, temptation (adultery) and video (undercover surveillance) once again figured prominently in Crossley’s life. The pastor’s cheating had been brought to the attention of Agnes, his long-suffering wife (stoically living both aspects of “for better or worse” for over four decades) by the ex-husband of his mistress. No worries. A hitman is sought and an unregistered gun provided (Crossley’s) only to have every detail caught on tape, making the District Attorney’s case a walk in the park. Tellingly, the soon-to-be-convict protests his innocence like a Sunday sermon (“I will fight “ the tape was fixed”), only to slip into feigned contriteness during the sentencing (a rather lame admission regarding his sudden, improved understanding of intelligence and common sense).
After forty-one months he is back in the electronic pulpit (notably The People Power Hour where his guests are frequently fellow board members from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union).
Undaunted by his past transgressions, the plight of society’s underdogs provides fodder for the remainder of Crossley’s life (he died soon after collapsing at the studio September 9, 2010). Defending the rights of the families of sex offenders (a public registry of all offenders from flashers to rapists causes equally public humiliation for spouses and children) is the most ironic of all the white-haired evangelist’s attempts “to do good in this community.” How can a known fornicator lead his followers down the path of moral righteousness? The next thing you know, lauded golfers will be caught with a misplaced wedge!
Other struggles on behalf of the downtrodden include the right to mass-feed the homeless in a city park and videotaping police officers as they go about their business of law enforcement, at times, with more zeal than those being arrested should have to endure. Astonishingly, when the cameras go on the prowl and one officer is undeniably seen to be using excessive force and then having the gall to lie about the incident in court, a sense of déjà vu (and more than a bit of physician heal thyself) once again detracts from Crossley’s one-incident victory.
Despite hundreds of hours of footage to work from, McCarthy’s edit lacks a sense of balance on a number of fronts. The talking heads of ACLU lawyers (especially Jackie Dowd whose tenacity had much to do with the legal successes) and Crossley largely overshadow the victims (the courageous comments of a young man whose dad is a sex offender whetted the appetite for more; the homeless did get a bit of screen time but that served more as set dressing for the media event that was in progress. Reported on a couple of occasions was the “fact” that parole officers were telling their clients that the only place they could live was in the woods or under highway overpasses. Having that directive caugt on tape from the source would have been a journalistic home run. The other side of the stories were mostly told second-hand rather than witnessed, leaving the civic politicians and law enforcement community without a platform with which to explain their actions in detail.
A competing organization, the Florida Civil Rights Association and its leader, Jay Willie David, are vilified as crooks in front of the media when Crossley takes centre stage to inspire Orlando’s cabbies to strike for justice. David“s money trail is never followed in any detail nor are the the financial affairs of ACLU brought to light.
Finally, all large cities have a number of organizations dealing with these same issues (from the Salvation Army to various missions to the YMCA). None were seen or heard, which unintentionally reinforced the notion that the good-works reverend’s sense of self drove his actions rather than the grim realities of the disenfranchised “misfortunates.”
How else to explain showing up for work just hours after his devoted wife died? As previously agreed, that was the day McCarthy’s camera started rolling—nothing could stand in the way of such an important documentation of God’s servant on the job. JWR