The Cross: The Arthur Blessitt Story
The numbers are staggering. 315 nations visited. 38,000 miles walked. 76 million steps putting over 16 billion pounds of weight on the feet of one Arthur Blessitt, the man who carried a cross 1.5 times around the world. "This wood," he says, caressing a pitted, dented, darkened beam, "is my friend."
The Cross, directed by Matthew Crouch, gives Blessitt a platform with which to tell his story in his own words. Perhaps the plural "stories" is more accurate, because it's as if even Blessitt himself can't grasp the enormity of his endeavor. His mission from God, which began 40 years ago, can only be expressed through the thousands of people whom Blessitt encountered, each of whom made a lasting impression on his heart.
As a fresh-faced, hopelessly conservative young man, Blessitt heard about the burgeoning hippie movement and headed straight to Southern California to win hearts for Christ. He began passing out tracts and preaching the gospel in Griffith Park, where his sincerity led him to be dubbed "The Minister of Sunset Strip."
Blessitt built a vibrant ministry reaching out to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the criminal, but in 1968 everything changed, when he says God told him to pick up a cross—a physical cross—and carry it to the ends of the earth. Puzzled but amazed, he accepted the call, only to suffer a near-fatal aneurysm shortly thereafter. In the hospital, he was told that he should refrain from physical activity, so he figured he would have to give up his task. But then he had a profound realization: "The circumstances don't alter the call." Off he went.
The Cross opens by following Blessitt through New York City's Union Square, as he drags his cross (it's wheeled, to save on wear and tear) up to various denizens. We see no hostile encounters. Many are mildly indifferent. Some, however respond to Blessitt with an openness that's almost embarrassing. One such encounter with a hardened man ends with the sinner's prayer. After the "amen," Blessitt holds the gaze of this new convert, tracing the tattoo of a crucifix the man has emblazoned on his arm, connecting the two crosses in a physical sign of God's sovereignty.
Crouch includes a few more conversion moments, and they're among the most powerful in the film. Blessitt is charismatic, warm and approachable, the cross towering over him, lending him an air of vulnerability. He's bound and determined to share the love of Christ with every single person he encounters, be they beggar or world leader.
As a person, Blessitt is captivating. He leaps off the screen. But as a movie, The Cross suffers under a lack of structure. It's a formless mass that fawns over Blessitt's stories and fails to give them a proper setting. At a certain point, Blessitt's tales become so much noise, which the filmmakers even acknowledge, creating a montage scene comprised only of tantalizing snippets of bigger stories.
The film is dominated by Blessitt's voice. Occasionally, we hear someone give a response, but invariably their voices are muted, softened, no match in volume or intensity to the prophet himself. As counterpoint, Crouch offers up himself, in a clumsy voiceover where he tells the audience that he made the movie to find out what makes Blessitt tick. Crouch fails to recognize that his personal interest in Blessitt, however fascinating he may be, is simply not enough to justify a film, unless the purpose of the film is purely promotional.