An Early Herzog Documentary Mainly Worthwhile for its Subject Matter
This probably isn't one of Herzog's best films -- and it certainly doesn't compare to some of his other documentaries, including "My Best Fiend," "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," "Lessons of Darkness" or even "Gesualdo." However, the subject matter is fascinating. I won't attempt to explain the late Dr. Gene Scott -- he needed to be experienced to be understood. For a while I was privileged to live where I could hear Dr. Scott on the radio 24 hours a day, and I have to confess that I found him compulsively listenable. Sure, he was a preacher, but in my experience he rarely really talked about religion. When he did, he preached strictly to the choir. The upshot is that Scott never really seemed to be trying to communicate with anyone, but carrying on a tortured inner dialog in a kind of code. The many flashes of paranoia and anger (usually directed at the government and his audience) and his borderline-abuse of his co-workers (constantly ordering his music director -- what was his name again -- to play the same song for the umpteenth time) further suggested that we were just watching or listening to a man struggling with himself.
The problem is that the best and most unbelievable Scott documentary would simply be to present a 90 minute segment of him doing his usual show -- I don't think even Herzog would dispute that. Here, we get a bit of Scott doing that, but also a lot of time is spent watching his volunteers answer phones, hearing from his parents and hearing Scott talking, very lucidly, in the back of a car. Scott also modestly described himself as just an employee-at-will reporting to some unseen church board of directors (likely only in the sense that Hank Greenberg was one). While it was interesting to hear where his anti-government diatribes came from, the movie was very tame and restrained compared to the man himself.
Still, anyone who had the longevity Scott had (yes, he's still on the air, albeit posthumously, and you can hear him streaming over the internet 24/7) can't really be a raving lunatic, and Scott was far from one. This comes across strongly in the documentary. What Herzog succeeds in showing us is not so much anger as extreme isolation and detachment. Scott was a brilliant man (we're reminded of his Stanford pedigree a couple of times) whose disdain for the world the rest of us live in caused him to build and occupy a startlingly persistent mirage. In this sense, the film is of a piece with Herzog's other documentaries that explore the many points of articulation between sanity and madness, reality and dream.
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