One day in 1926, a well known evangelist went for a swim and didn’t come back. For a month, the world thought she had drowned. But then she appeared with a story of having been kidnapped. What really happened? Was she really kidnapped? Had she run off for a tryst with the person running her radio station? It was the celebrity scandal of the day.

AIMEE SEMPLE McPHERSON

(2005) Film Review

This page was created on August 9, 2005
This page was last updated on September 6, 2005

Overview
About this Film

 

CREDITS

Directed and written by Richard Rossi

Cast (in credits order)
Mimi Michaels .... Aimee Semple McPherson
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Laura Anderson .... Leita Mae
Carl Ballantine .... Realtor in China
Teres Byrne .... Minnie Kennedy
Kiera Chaplin .... Myrtle Ste. Pierre
Barbara Kerr Condon .... Sister Maria
Angela de Malignon .... Speakeasy dancer
Etienne Eckert .... Emma Shaffer
Joe Gonzalez .... Ralph Jordan
Charles Gorgano .... Asa Keyes
Melissa Greenfield .... Louise Weick
JoAnn Green .... Waitress
Rance Howard .... James Kennedy
Charles Hoyes .... Harold McPherson
Anjenique Hughes .... Sister Susannah
Rex Kerr .... Bartender
Brandy Maddox .... Rosalee
David Mattey .... The Enforcer
Michael Minor .... Kenneth Ormiston
Chad Nadolski .... Robert Semple
Roy O'Reilly .... Judge
Linda Pitak .... Speakeasy Dancer
Joshua Rossi .... Rolf McPherson
Karis Rossi .... Roberta Salter
Richard Rossi .... David Hutton
Sherrie Rossi .... Juror
Laurie Shaw .... Reba Crawford
Jenny Tallent .... Sister Jane
Randy Toews .... Defense Attorney
Suzanne Tsai .... Aimee's Chinese Housekeeper
Jose Vega .... Mexican Man
Selah Victor .... Lulu
Laura Voethe .... Mrs. Brooks

Produced by
Frank Carvajal .... executive producer
Connie Fleishauer .... associate producer
Jeff Griffith .... executive producer
Richard Rossi .... producer

Original Music by Richard Rossi

Film Editing by Adam Lightplay and Jaime Prater


Not Rated
Runtime: USA:112 min

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

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SYNOPSIS
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One day in 1926, a well known evangelist went for a swim and didn’t come back. For a month, the world thought she had drowned. But then she appeared with a story of having been kidnapped. What really happened? Was she really kidnapped? Had she run off for a tryst with the person running her radio station? It was the celebrity scandal of the day. To this day, this may be one of the things Aimee Semple McPherson is best remembered for – her scandal.

Richard Rossi opens his biographical film, Aimee Semple McPherson, with her disappearance, then takes us back to Aimee’s early life on a Canadian farm and lets us discover who the person was behind the headlines.

Rossi has had an interest in McPherson for some time. He became interested in healing ministries when he was growing up by way of the ministry of Katherine Kuhlman. A few years ago he made a documentary about McPherson, getting stories from the surviving people who had been around her. This film gives us a chance to see her life as we are used to seeing stories told in film.

Rossi made this film through a Screen Actors Guild experimental film program that sponsors very low budget films. Although the low budget is obvious at times, he has created an artful telling of the story that has always seemed to capture our attention.

Films about people who fascinate the filmmaker often go one of two ways: they make the subject out to be near perfect, or they show us so many of the warts we can hardly bear to look. In the case of McPherson, the story could have been about how wonderful she was as a healer, a preacher, and innovator. She drew crowds to Angeles Temple each week. She opened soup kitchens for the hungry. She was a pioneer in the idea of the megachurch. She also pioneered using radio and drama to share her message. She was the first woman to own her own radio station. She opened a show on Broadway sharing biblical dramas.

Or, a film about her might also be character assassination. It could paint her as a charlatan preying on her followers and bilking them for their money. It could focus on her love life – she was married three times, twice ending in divorce. It could focus on the scandals like her disappearance or the suspicious circumstances of her death (she died of a barbiturate overdose, which the coroner ruled was accidental.)

Rossi has chosen a middle road. He admires the work she did. But he refuses to turn a blind eye to the problems she had. He never offers definitive answers to the questions about her death or her disappearance, but he offers the possibilities for us to consider.

Throughout the film, he treats McPherson with respect by never doubting her sincerity, her faith or her commitment. The Aimee Semple McPherson we meet is determined to do God’s work because she has been called to do it. There are those in the film who are less noble – especially her mother and third husband.

At the same time, Rossi makes it clear that McPherson had all the problems and needs that are common to us all. He frequently shows her depression and her sense of being alone, even when so many people revere her. Around the time of her third marriage she says, “I’m not like other women, but I’m still like other women.”

There is a discrepancy between her private life and her public persona. In one scene she struggles with her depression, in the next she charms the congregation with her sermon. This difference isn’t treated as a sign of hypocrisy, rather of the struggle to do her ministry in spite her personal difficulties.

She is portrayed as a wounded healer. People come to her for healing, but she is unable to find the healing she needs herself.

In this, we are shown a common problem that faces many in ministry. It is easy to become consumed with the work we are called to do, but fail to take care of our own needs. In professional ministry, especially, the distance that one has to keep with those to whom we minister can often lead to depression and feelings of abandonment.

I have known of Aimee Semple McPherson for a long time. This film gave me a chance to know her not so much as the cultural icon she was and has become, but more as a very human figure trying to serve God as best she could.

I saw this film at a special SAG screening. There are no plans as of yet for a theatrical release. For information about where it might be screened, or to get a copy of the film, consult the film’s website.

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