During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Aimee Semple McPherson was arguably America's best–known preacher. For seasons at a time, hardly a week went by when this glamorous, West Coast Pentecostal, often referred to simply as "Sister," did not make the front page of national papers.
McPherson preached an old–time gospel message, but two decidedly modern qualities riveted the jazz–age public, churched or not. The first was her use of media techniques. She was the first woman to own and operate a radio station in America, and her services took their cue from both the film industry and the Salvation Army, using every trick of music and pageantry to draw crowds and save souls.
The second quality was her Hollywood knack for scandal and rumor.
All of this makes McPherson a natural subject for a film treatment. Not surprisingly, her life has hit the screen before. The 1974 TV movie The Disappearance of Aimee was a Faye Dunaway/Bette Davis romp that never penetrated beyond her life's most sensational aspects. Auteur Richard Rossi's new direct–to–video film, Aimee Semple McPherson, goes much deeper.
Rossi, who wrote and directed the 2001 Motion Picture Council Best Documentary winner Saving Sister Aimee, uses McPherson's psyche as his palette. The movie opens with Aimee's notorious disappearance in 1926 during a swim off a California beach. It then traces her life from her teen years of doubt, conversion, and calling, to her eventual death under suspicious circumstances.
Throughout, Rossi probes the loneliness of this charismatic (in all senses) figure, etching her struggles with herself, her God, and those around her. In scenes so tightly shot as nearly to induce claustrophobia, Rossi depicts McPherson's relationships—and ...