Arthur Blessitt is a Mississippi-born evangelist who wanders the globe toting a 12-foot wooden cross on his shoulder. He's been doing it for 40 years, starting in Los Angeles, where he had a Sunset Strip ministry, and he's carried that cross on every continent, walking every country on the face of the Earth — more than 300 in all.
You've probably seen him on your local news at some point, a solitary man (his support team is rarely seen) rolling a weathered, worn and much-traveled cross through your state or town, or on the national news.
Blessitt is the focal point and pretty much the only voice in Michael Crouch's engaging documentary, The Cross: The Arthur Blessitt Story.
Crouch occasionally pipes up as narrator, noting, "It's almost conveniently easy to write him off as a wacko." But that's the last thing this affectionate documentary does. Blessitt comes off as a perfectly sane, good-humored, emotional and tolerant pastor who discovered, as a young man, his unique style of ministry and has stuck with it for 40 years.
Blessitt has a million anecdotes about odd meals, touching streetside conversions and dangerous moments from that trek. Walking through 52 war zones (he's full of self-verified statistics) will give you those. There was the time street fighters threatened him in Northern Ireland, the near robbery and murder in El Salvador and a CNN-captured visit to Beirut during the 1983 Israeli invasion. A clearly bemused but also touched Yasser Arafat lets Blessitt pray over him.
People ask him, "Arthur, are you making a difference?" Blessitt says, asking and answering his own question. And that's the serious short-coming of the film. As sweet as the guy plainly is, by not questioning anybody other than Arthur, the film lacks credibility. It's a "take it on faith" documentary, a term Michael Moore's most ardent fans can appreciate. Putting words in skeptics' mouths and gently shooting them down is classic "straw man" propaganda, something any Rush Limbaugh listener will recognize. And by not giving us details of how the ministry is financed or the simple logistics of all this travel, the film leaves questions hanging.
True believers will take more inspiration from this story than others. But Crouch has filmed and edited (much of the footage was Blessitt-provided) a lovely if repetitive and overlong appreciation of the way one man decided to put his faith into action.