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Norman disappeared from public for years after that, and there were rumors he was living in a cave in the Hollywood Hills. After he reappeared, the film shows several people saying Norman blamed his former bad behavior on a head injury he suffered in 1978 when the middle section of an airplane he was sitting in fell on his head. Newman adds that Norman told her his family had a history of mental illness—but not him because he had Jesus. The most heart-wrenching Norman story that Fallen Angel follows involves him having fathered a child out of wedlock in the late 1980s. Stonehill breaks down as he recounts being approached on tour in Australia in 2005 by then-17-year-old Daniel Robinson, who claimed to be the son Norman never took care of—despite the Father of Christian Rock running a charity that sponsored abandoned children. Fallen Angel tries mightily to resurrect Norman’s character near the end, and a segment near the end of him strumming a guitar and pouring his soul out before a large cross is steeped in haunting poignancy.
It is a story that is told well, based on the “rich and intense” rough cuts of Fallen Angel Stonehill has seen.
“I just applaud the integrity with which the whole story has been approached,” he says. “David is committed to telling the truth—that’s of vital importance to him—and the sense I get is he has tried to capture the big truth, which can be tough at times and has some sharp edges.”
Stonehill sees in the film “Larry’s brilliance, his vision, and you see us with our youthful folly and brokenness, and ultimately, this is really a story of God’s grace because the Gospel message got through and it was communicated in a really crucial way—the musical vernacular of the day—at a crucial juncture in our culture.”
Though it was difficult “re-examining old wounds,” he’s glad he sat through four hours of interviews with Di Sabatino. “The beautiful thing about the film is it’s really about God and what he does through us, around us and in spite of us. I wish Larry knew, ‘Randy is telling the truth because he loves God and he loves me.’ That is going to break my heart the rest of my life on this side of heaven.”
Charles Norman has not seen Fallen Angel, but if it is anything like the messages he accuses Di Sabatino of spreading on the Internet, the filmmaker can soon expect to find himself on the receiving end of slander and defamation-of-character lawsuits.
“I have amassed lawyers in California and up here [Oregon] to look into this,” Norman says. “This guy is an asshole. He has a reputation in this field for being totally incorrect in what he’s saying.”
None of this surprises Di Sabatino. The film, he says, is “my attempt to understand why [Larry Norman] was doing this to me.” He found that Norman had a “30-year track record doing this sort of thing. . . . And his family seems to sadly be following in Larry’s footsteps.”
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As an assistant burns DVD copies of Fallen Angel in the garage for submittal to the Sundance Film Festival, Di Sabatino is upbeat about the documentary’s prospects. It had taken 18 months and $60,000 to get to the point where the film was at that mid-September day, when it awaited color correction, professional narration, and some tweaks here and there. Fortunately, Frisbee created many friends in the business whom the filmmaker is confident will give Fallen Angel aserious look. Di Sabatino never imagined the project would take such an emotional toll on him.
“My conceit or naiveté in beginning this whole ordeal was that there was a rational person somewhere in there that you could reason with,” he says. “‘Larry, your career is in the toilet. You are playing concerts to 100 diehard fans in your own back yard. Let me tell your story in such a way as to rehabilitate you. You are going to have to admit to some stuff . . . but do it, take your lumps, and people will respond favorably.’ I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a rational bone in his body.”
Audiences love happy endings. Di Sabatino swears Fallen Angel delivers one. “The positivity is in the fact that the music overrides everything and inspires despite the man.”