Mel to make a misstep?
I have repeatedly backed Mel Gibson against charges of anti-Semitism and theological error over THE PASSION OF CHRIST, to the extent one can from the POV of not having seen the film. Neither Jewish groups nor self-appointed theologians’ circles have either the moral entitlement to final cut or the right to issue moral imprimaturs. But he may be about to make a mistake.
The latest talk in the entertainment industry is that federal authorities are investigating the New York Post over its forum on THE PASSION OF CHRIST, possibly for piracy and copyright violation, and there is other word that Gibson may sue the Post himself over the forum, which I blogged on last week.
There may be a theft issue here — which the Post denies. And I understand that if we’re gonna make a big flap over Academy screeners, studios and distributors have to defend their copyright (after all, that security is what allows more-than-homemade movies to be made at all). There is something a little off about writing about a film based on an unfinished rough cut. Professional critics sometimes do it reluctantly, but almost always with the caveat stated explicitly (and thus implicitly saying: “readers, adjust accordingly.”) The Post did state that caveat in this case, though you had to bring along your magnifying glass.
Further, there are rough cuts and there are rough cuts. There are quickly- and cheaply-made videos used just to check final continuity issues (is a character’s collar buttoned the same way and are the props in the same place throughout a scene — that sort of thing) at one end of the spectrum and the actual work prints sans title credits or subtitles at the other. I would like to think that at least Post critic Lou Lumenick would be sensitive to these matters of print quality and how they affect the aesthetic experience of THE PASSION OF CHRIST or any other film. The Post merely said that “the rough-cut version of the film that we screened – with temporary English subtitles, no credits and further editing changes likely.” And if you read the wording of the Post’s intro carefully with this thought in mind, you realize that never did the paper originally say whether the five viewers saw the movie on videotape or on film.
So all these criticisms of the value of the Post forum are perfectly fair to make, and I added my doubts about what the viewers said last week. But I think Gibson would be making a prudential mistake to pursue legal action against the Post. It would just look too much like he’s suing over a bad review. And that would just be fodder for Leno and Letterman. Yes, there are other issues, but appearances matter and Gibson would just be giving too much and too easy ammo to people eager to interpret his actions in a bad light. Of which there is no shortage.
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