Rightwing Film Geek

Hollywood rallies behind Gibson … mostly

The LA Times has a good piece on celebrity friends coming to Mel Gibson’s defense, including Jodie Foster and several producers who have worked with Gibson. Other outlets reported support for Patrick Swayze, and I especially liked this remark from Dean Devlin:

I consider Mel one of my best friends in Hollywood. The day this happened, my wife had gotten this long letter from Mel full of congratulations [for the birth of the Devlins’ first child] and talking about the joys of being a parent. She’s Jewish. I’m Jewish. If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense. But he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man.”

And the LA Times notes a good sign for his career:

“There have always been stars, like Sean Penn or Russell Crowe and before that Kirk Douglas or Frank Sinatra, whose tough-guy personas on screen allowed them to survive bad behavior off screen,” says one longtime publicist. “It’s not like he’s ever been Mr. Nice Guy.”

Apart from one producer, the most prominent named “I’ll never work with Gibson”-declaration came from comedian Rob Schneider. And I’m not sure it’s 100 percent serious. Not simply because Schneider is a comedian, but because the specific language contained in the ad sounds like there’s a subtext of sarcasm running through it. Also, there’s the pomposity of the very concept of *Schneider* taking out a Variety ad to say he’s never work with *Gibson.* I mean, without at the time knowing any of the specifics, my immediate reaction when I heard that Schneider was saying he’d never work with Gibson, was “durn it … that ruins my hopes for seeing THE PASSION OF DEUCE BIGALOW.” Check out the language of Schneider’s at the right.

southpark1.jpgIs it not at least as plausible that Schneider is making fun of the repetitively-named Bernie Brillstein? And can any reference¹ to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST 2 or hypotheticals involving a time machine or speaking ancient Mayan be taken completely seriously?

UPDATE: Looks like my bud Bilge Ebiri had the same wtf-is-this-a-joke? reaction to the Rob Schneider ad.

But as always, SOUTH PARK gets the best line, though Comedy Central insists it was a coincidence. At the Daily Texan when I was in college, a fellow conservative columnist named Corey Birenbaum proudly took the “of course we run the world”-attitude.

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¹ Ali G once mused aloud to Pat Buchanan’s endorsement of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST that they’d just bring that character back to life for a sequel.

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August 7, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Mel, Mel, Mel …

I spent a few trillion 0’s and 1’s a couple of years ago defending Mel Gibson against the anti-Semitism charges over THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. I love the taste of egg on the face. Gibson was officially charged Wednesday on three counts — including an open-container charge.

Obviously, as a religious and purely-moral matter, Gibson has apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks — “Fucking Jews … The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world … Are you a Jew?” Gibson knows how to apologize properly (i.e., without any “if I offended” conditionality) and with due deference given to the need to make amends — best comment-field post is at Beliefnet: “Mel ranted like a maniac but is repenting like a mensch.”

And many Jews have responded well. The ADL accepted the apology (Gibson’s second). Gibson has been asked to speak at a synagogue on Yom Kippur — a good idea if it’s consistent with Jewish liturgical rules; and I have to assume the Rabbi in question knows them.

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My bud Rod Dreher already has noted that the Jew Michael Medved, while speaking from within Judaism, has a sounder grasp of Christian teaching on grace and forgiveness than the Catholic Andrew Sullivan, who has acted like an opportunistic little git. (The Photoshop above is the work of Allahpundit). Sullivan says: “I’m not interested in hounding human beings for their personal demons. We all have them. We have all behaved in ways we regret at times. I sure have.” More on that below, but Sullivan has an odd way of showing it. Eleven of his 12 post-noon posts on Tuesday were about Gibson, (Ace of Spades said his “true feelings for Andrew Sullivan would be better expressed by Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back.”) And the left more generally has taken to the story like catnip — check out the commenter runninute noting that the story is taking up half of the Huffington Post). Some of the parodies produced have been funny, some lame and others downright wicked (I won’t link to the one called “Mel Gibson resigns from the Nazi party”; that’s enough info for the curious to Google.

But some earthly consequences will happen — ABC has put the kabosh on a Holocaust miniseries it had been planning with Gibson’s company, although the stated reason wasn’t the arrest. Nevertheless …

ABC spokeswoman Hope C. Hartman … wouldn’t comment further or say whether the decision was related to Gibson’s remarks.

A “no comment” is often a comment.

There’s also talk in the industry about Gibson’s future career (though there’s obviously double standards galore here). The word is still that APOCALYPTO will be released on schedule in December, and Hollywood always forgives you if you make enough money. But if the film flops, Gibson might not get another chance. There’s no point in pussyfooting around here. There is no Vast Jewish Conspiracy, but Jews (note: not “the Jews”) do have a “disproportionate”¹ amount of influence in the film industry. The way I would put it is that in the film industry, the kulturkampf bias finds its currency in the reaction to flops. If you’re one of the good guys, your failures will be forgiven; if not, you’d better bat 1.000.

But there’s also the matter of those of us, like myself, who defended Gibson back in 2003 and 2004 against the anti-Semitism charges, saying among other things, that it was unfair to quote Hutton Gibson’s (nutburger) opinions against his son, that no way exists to make a film of the Gospels that doesn’t engage in what liberal theologians and liberal Jews construct as “anti-Semitism.” Or as some asshat put it:

In any faithful adaptation of the Gospels, almost all the characters, on both sides of the crucifixion, would be Jews. Only the deranged, looking to stroke a pre-existing prejudice (and they can’t set the standard), could see a Jew being killed, to the grief of His Jewish mother and His Jewish followers, by Romans at the behest of a different group of Jews — and come away blaming the Jews.

and

[I]f I were Gibson, I’d see no point to cooperating with [Paula Fredriksen] or the ADL, since they’re coming from a theological perspective that’s not mine and one I want no part of. But that perspective also has the gall and presumption to claim to be the arbiter of reason and to claim at least a moral right to be my editor and script doctor. (Is it necessary to do anything more than laugh at an essay in A.D. 2003 that claims to know, in some dispositive sense, about Pontius Pilate’s thought process, while slagging the Gospels as unreliable historical documents because their [disputed] date of authorship [supposedly] lags several decades behind the depicted events?)

In other words, we said there was no or flimsy evidence Gibson was an anti-Semite. That kind of statement can no longer be operative, though obviously, this has nothing to do with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST as an artistic text and thus all considerations of quality (I have thought it a marvelous film through five viewings).

Now while “anti-Semite” is obviously not an ontological status, it now becomes reasonable to infer that anti-Semitism is part of the ragout of Mel Gibson’s personality, in a way that was not reasonable merely because he had made a film that the ADL and modern biblical scholars didn’t like. Someone on a Catholic site (I forget which one) said “Gibson is an anti-Semite who knows that anti-Semitism is wrong.” Which now, paradoxical as it seems, strikes me as about right. In fact one of my closest Church friends is, to use the same formulation, “a homosexual who knows that homosexuality is wrong.”² As I said above, this doesn’t mean that Gibson (or David) should be hounded to the ends of the Earth for the sin of anti-Semitic words/actions (or homosexual acts). And Gibson has done everything that can be publicly required of him, according to the Church’s teaching and correctly.

But what cannot be inferred is that Gibson’s anti-Semitic words say nothing at all about him. That they are as accidental as eye color. That reasonable suspicion will not rightly attach to anything he says having to do with Jews for quite some time. Or that drunkenness is an excuse, or a mitigating factor. Indeed, some Gibson critics (like the ADL’s first response) have gone so far as to suggest the opposite of this latter — that the fact that Gibson made his anti-Semitic comments while drunk prove what he “really” thinks (“in vino veritas” and all that).

Ironically, two Catholic bloggers with whom I drank frosted malt beverages in the past week have both posted on this latter point in reference to past sins (Rich Leonardi in somewhat vague terms,³ Dale Price much more specifically). Indeed, a commenter on Rich’s site denounced the “static and simplistic view of human nature” that “anti-semitism — among other demons — is something that one is, rather than a malign influence that one can yield to or not, or struggle with.” Contra Sullivan, denouncing someone vigorously for words of drunkenness very much could be “hounding human beings for their personal demons.” Particularly if, as is obviously the case, Mel Gibson was raised by a raving anti-Semitic loon. Who knows what thoughts about The Perfidious Jews were pounded into Mel’s head as a boy?

I would certainly also agree largely with Dale, that “in vino veritas” as an unqualified statement, leaves much to be desired. The American Spectator essay by Clinton Taylor that he links to is very good, and places the whole fight in the context of political philosophy and the implicit anthropology that underlie any such set of ideas deserving of the term “political philosophy”:

There’s a larger question underneath this controversy: let’s assume there does exist an “inhibited” version of us, and also a chemically uninhibited version. Which one is the “real” person, and which is the artifice? … As both a Christian and a conservative, I believe all men are fallen and flawed. The institutions of civilization — Church, family, the law, civil society — help us steer away from our hearts’ jagged shoals. Each of us struggle with our own foibles, and our much more sinister demons — the impulses or attitudes we know to be wrong but cannot exorcise. But out of self-interested careerism, out of love for our families, out of religious obligation, or simply out of a fear of looking at ourselves in the mirror if we fail, we learn, most of the time, to work around the baser angels of our nature.

Then there is the alternative view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the ultimate progenitor of modern leftism. … Rousseau believed that man’s true character manifests itself in a state of nature — a pre-civilizational state. He wanted to get back to that authentic, primitive expression of our true selves and rejected the constraints and conventions of civilization as impediments to this goal. Hence the modern left’s emphasis on the virtue of “authenticity,” and on the need to escape from the cruel expectations of society in order to liberate our true being.

While some inhibitions are damaging or irrational, most of them are there for a reason. Our inhibitions are part of us and we ignore them — and suppress them, chemically or otherwise — at great peril. Me, I like my inhibitions. They’re part of me, and they usually keep the rest of me out of trouble.

There’s also two different things to consider specifically about drunken behavior, and they tend to pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, if one were sufficiently drunk, and ill-tempered or nasty in general, one might see that an arresting officer has a Jewish name or otherwise infer that he is Jewish, and, sensing a target, proceed to call him a kike or an effing heeb or say “you lot are the problem with the world today.” And to do so without harboring any general animus toward Jews. It’s not a matter of sobriety exactly, it’s just that you’re handed at that moment a convenient club to wield at that moment against someone whom you have relatively good reason not to like at that moment, i.e., an arresting cop. Such a person could be denounced as a contemptible asshole, but not as an anti-Semite.

But there’s a more-telling detail for me, and it pulls in the other direction: Gibson’s blood-alcohol count was .12. Now I know a thing or two about the effects of alcohol. (See Father Martin Fox for the All The Scandalous Details. And I’ve been told that I can drink my weight in Heineken without losing articulateness.) At .12 BAC, you’re legally intoxicated (which is retarded, but that’s another matter), but you’re not fit-shaced. I know, I know … alcohol affects people differently and sometimes unpredictably, as Taylor notes. But .12, which is the approximate equivalent of three beers, is not a close call. Not for an experienced drinker. It won’t turn him into a frothing incoherent maniac who doesn’t know what he’s doing or saying. And Dale stipulates that on the night he’s describing, he was “blind, stinking drunk.” A .12 BAC will lower one’s inhibitions, tact and “social self.” Relevant to driving, it’ll slow reflexes. But he’s just “buzzed.” He’s still himself — a lower and uglier self, to be sure. But not out of control or blind, stinking drunk.

Point being that only if somewhere in the darkest recesses of his mind, Gibson harbors anti-Semitic thoughts, which he struggles against when sober, would his drunkenness express itself in THIS particular way rather than invitations to fight or a torrent of obscenity. In fact, what has not been noted since the earliest news reports is that Gibson was tossing around the F-bomb as liberally as … well … some drunken Aussie. And yet Gibson can give TV interviews and red-carpet appearances without … um … “fucking” it up. Which makes the same point, by analogy, as I think needs to be made about Gibson and anti-Semitism. It’s part of the specific shape that the “uninhibited personality” and “baser angels of his nature” take in his case. But Gibson seems to recognizes that and so deserves both the prayers of all, the forgiveness of the Jews, while recognizing that sins have temporal consequences, including loss of trust, that cannot be apologized away.
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¹ I hate that word, BTW, but no very good alternative comes to me. The reason I oppose any and all racialist “diversity” efforts, including affirmative action, is that I reject the notion that a just society will have every potentially identifiable group represented “proportionately” in every institution in society. I don’t care whether Jews (or Hottentots) have “disproportionate” influence in the film (or any other industry) because I reject the notion in the first place that there is such a thing, morally speaking, as “proportionate” influence.
² David would object to my use of that noun, for reasons I well understand and sympathize with. But please indulge me for the sake of the parallellism. In fact, David’s objections that the use of “homosexual” as a noun is reductive (well-grounded in Church teaching) even reinforce the similarity between calling someone “an anti-Semite” as simply and reductively as referring to someone as “a homosexual.” Neither is an ontological category.
³ Which is certainly Rich’s reasonable privilege, lest I come across as saying otherwise. Speaking personally, my worst alcohol moment was being given a field sobriety test after having been pulled over for speeding, when I was unquestionably legally intoxicated. I kept my poise and passed it easily — I would have spent at least the night in jail (for starters) if I had not.

August 1, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Passionate paranoia

passiononesheet.jpgParanoiacs can still create justified enemies. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is hacking off a lot of journalists. Apparently professional critics are being stonewalled and generally aren’t being allowed to see the film until a couple of days before the Ash Wednesday opening.

I’ve said here before that I believe pro critics had their knives out for the film long ago, but the press agencies’ paranoia is generating (semi-justified) ill will that won’t make things better. Just because they dislike you doesn’t mean you can’t make it worse. And it’s not just film critics, it’s also religion writers. A while ago, I got this note from the religion writer at a conservative daily paper who is an orthodox Christian, much more inclined to sympathy for Mel over the ADL, about the difficulties she had. She was treated like the enemy. Here it is, reprinted with her permission:

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You would not believe what I had to go through to do the 2 stories that ran last week. A Larry Ross’ folks (the press agency managing the Gibson film) gave me permission to sneak in – they even told me how to sign up and get access. They said any confidentiality agreements would not apply to me. So I told my bosses 2 weeks ago everything was all arranged. But when I arrived in Orlando on Wednesday, I found everything had changed. People had to have their hands stamped to get in (the mark of the beast as it were) and they had these draconian confidentiality agreements everyone had to sign. This included the Mel Gibson “interview” in front of 5,000 pastors a few hours before the film was shown. Nothing could be written on what he said and the ushers were told to eject anyone caught with a tape recorder. This was totally unexpected. I signed the stupid form and walked in; took notes on Mel Gibson’s speech (he had nothing new to say), filed my story, then made the mistake of calling Larry Ross’ s folks to say I was in town. Ross’ folks panicked and they flooded my cell phone plus the newsroom with threatening calls – this was all 6:30 p.m. and later – So I called the managing editor and we discussed the legal aspects – we decided to go ahead and run the story on A1. But 3 hours later, Larry Ross was still putting in frantic calls to the newsroom to try to stop the story. WHY they thought Icon Productions (Mel Gibson’s production company) even cared at this point is beyond me.

Finally my immediate boss called me on my cell to find out what was going on – this is 9:20 p.m. minutes before the film is to start – I was in the middle of the church – as I went out into the hall to tell my boss on my cell phone what was going on, Larry Ross himself was standing there, reading to pounce. Being that he’s well over 6 feet tall, he’s hard to ignore. I was caught like a bug in a net, berated by Larry and then kicked out of the church. Standing next to him was the employee who had encouraged me to sneak in. I didn’t want to say much as I was afraid she’d lose her job.

As I was standing there, shivering (January nights in Fla. are cold), pouting and asking God what to do next, I walked around the church – all the doors were locked cept the main doors from what I could see. Went back to a plaza in front of the church where I could at least hear the soundtrack (all in Aramaic and Latin)- this guy (an angel in disguise) came up to me – asked if I was OK – I said no – he asked what I needed – I said I needed to get into the church but not through the main entrance which was under guard.

So he took me around to another door which was unlocked. This let me into a hallway next to a door right in the front of the church (where no usher would dare kick me out as everyone would hear the racket). Then I dashed into the auditorium and watched the rest of the film. (Missed about 20-25 mins but that’s all).

The next day, I bumped into an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter in my hotel lobby – we were laughing about how stupid the whole secrecy thing is as he too had wormed his way in on a false ID. He had not filed a story for Thursday’s paper like I had, tho. He then introduced me to the 2 guys from the ADL who also snuck into the film under the guise of being from the “Church of Truth” in Brooklyn. The ADL guys were very happy to give us quotes. They were quite inaccurate in terms of certain things the New Testament says – which I called them on – but most reporters do not know and will just repeat all these guys’ accusations of anti-Semitism. Larry Ross called me *back* later that day – didn’t apologize for kicking me out, but was tearing his hair over the ADL folks whose remarks by this time were on the wires.

I think “The Passion” is a great film but the way Icon is going about the security – while at the same time showing it to 5 zillion Christian groups and telling them not to talk about it- is nuts. There was a ton of media people there Wednesday afternoon trying to talk to him after his speech to the pastors – one producer flew down from New York and got nothing – Gibson just ran past the cameras and jumped into a car. I understand he’s got an exclusivity agreement with Diane Sawyer.

February 19, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Passion updates

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A bunch of news on THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST these past few days (while I struggle over my Top 10 post), not including the latest words from Abraham Foxman and Marvin Heir, on whom I will waste no more bandwidth as their latest words (especially the former’s) are inexplicable except as an unadulterated blood libel from anti-Christian bigots.

ITEM! I’m surprised I haven’t seen more about this at St. Blogs. A Texas theater chain is refusing to run a pre-film ad, timed to coincide with THE PASSION, from the state Baptist Convention. According to the church spokesman, AMC Theaters has said the 30-second ad is, among other things, “too Christian.” Um, yeah. The Pepsi ads are too capitalist too, I guess.

This is a common demand made of Christians — that our speech (in this case commercial speech) and access to public forums is conditional, second-class or somehow suspect. As a college student, I once distributed fliers at some University of Texas academic departments and student/professor boxes for a speech being given at a Christian off-campus ministry. I had to assure several of the department secretaries, whose permission I needed, that the speech would not be religious, as though that mattered.

ITEM! While the response by Heir to this interview was contemptible, I don’t think Gibson does himself any favors by engaging in the relative martyrdom game, defensible though it may be in itself.

The filial devotion aside, he has enough to do to defend THE PASSION from the (apparently absurd) anti-Semitism charges and really shouldn’t be a soldier on these historians’ wars. It raises eyebrows and is really hardly better than having to listen to the Dixie Chicks, Michael Moore, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Ed Asner, Alan Alda, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Rosie O’Donnell … (NOTICE FROM BLOGGER: List too long and an abuse of free bandwidth. Cease forthwith.) Yes, people can debate the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and I suspect Gibson and I would have a lot to agree on about the shameful relative whitewashing of Communist genocides (not the plural).

But Mel … choose your fights.

morgenstern1.jpgITEM! Maia Morgenstern, a Romanian Jew whose father died in the Holocaust, defended Gibson and THE PASSION, in which she plays Mary. Interview is here.

ITEM! The New York Times reports that Gibson decided to delete a scene that tested poorly — the “his blood be upon us and our children” line, from Matthew 27:25. This is probably the Gospel verse that Jews consider the most anti-Semitic, and defenses of Gibson from Christians who had seen earlier cuts of the film had specified that this notorious verse was not in the movie. So he was tinkering. Again, bad move in adding, Mel. Though maybe this was the old bargaining technique of putting in something you don’t care about in order to get praise for relenting on it later. A tactic not unfamiliar here inside the Beltway.

February 4, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Passionate fiskings

gibsonfiskings.jpgIn the truest of mutual back-scratches (and maybe more), Salon interviewed (link requires that you look at an ad) an Episcopal clergyman from San Francisco who wrings his hands over how “an unsophisticated audience” might take THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

Or as Dale Price put it: “At this point, your septum should start deviating as a result of the derisive snorting. This is what the hoi polloi think of you, folks. They’re the sophisticates, you’re the extra y-chromosome types who blather on endlessly about your Bronze Age Palestinian sky god.”

For a sense of the article’s flavor (and a superhuman test of endurance), try to read this sentence from the Salon interviewer while holding down your last meal:

“Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, an offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy and the reforms of the Vatican II in 1965, which, among other things, repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews.”

Let me count the mistakes and irrelevancies. 1) Gibson’s own affiliation is not definitively known, unlike his father’s; 2) no anti-V2 Catholic Traditionalist groups of my acquaintance “reject the papacy,” though some (but not all) reject the last several popes and believe Peter’s Seat is vacant; 3) V-2 did not repudiate the deicide charge in any sense that would necessarily bind a Gospel period piece; 4) in my experience of Catholic Tradionalism (which is limited, but I’m guessing is a bit greater than the Salon interviewer’s and interviewee’s put together), the Jewish deicide issue is about #186 in their list of (often reasonable) complaints, which much more commonly focus on liturgical issues, ecumenism, and authority within the Church. And that’s just one sentence.

I have a year-end ballot to finish filling out, so I can’t give this any more time than I already have. More-thorough dismantlings of this ridiculous love-in can be found here from Dale Price and here from Christopher Johnson. But the mother of all fiskings, as said by even Messrs. Price and Johnson, is by Secret Agent Man.

January 31, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Passionate pitch to red-state audiences

Father Sibley posted on his blog the link to a map that lets you see where Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST will be playing when it opens Ash Wednesday. A poster in his comment field then noted the lack of theaters in Manhattan booking the film, just one, with some in the other boroughs, but still a surprisingly small number for the nation’s cultural capital, considering that THE PASSION is getting the full 2,000-screen opening nationwide.

So I looked at my own metro area, and found the same pattern in the listings for DC, Virginia and Maryland. THE PASSION will only open in one theater in Washington DC and in one theater in the biggest and closest counties of Northern Virginia (Arlington and Fairfax). Offsetting that some is the fact it will open in 6 theaters in suburban Maryland (Prince George’s and Montgomery counties) and eight in the farther-out NoVa counties like Prince William, Loudon and Stafford. And there’s the possibility of multiple screens obviously — the particular DC theater is a 7-plex; the Arlington facility has 12 screens. But for comparison’s sake, here are some Virginia population sizes: 2 theaters in DC/Arlington/Fairfax — population of 1.7 million; 3 in Richmond — population of 200,000; 2 in Charlottesville — city proper, 45,000.

According to the same map, THE PASSION will open in 5 (five) theaters in Los Angeles (scroll down or use the search box above, on the PASSION site page) and also in 5 (five) theaters in … (drumroll, please) … Alaska. I didn’t search for any of the numerous LA suburbs (Adam?), but Los Angeles proper is still an awfully big city (3.7 million — almost six times the population of Alaska) and somewhat important in the film industry one would think, that the city itself suffices for the point of my comparison. I checked the listing for New York state and found 8 theaters in New York’s five boroughs (though I don’t know the region’s geography well enough to judge the number for NYC suburbs). Or exactly the number of theaters (8) as the Tidewater corner of Southeastern Virginia — Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport News, Virginia Beach, Suffolk.

jesusland.jpgThis is an unconventional booking strategy and is a clear indication of how Gibson plans to make a box-office hit — from red-state audiences with minimal reliance on the blue-state metro areas; hence the months of courting Christian preachers and cold-shouldering the ADL and the opinion-leaders in journalism and film criticism.

(Idle thought #1: Does the mass American moviegoing public realize that THE PASSION has subtitles, something they have hated and punished at the box office since the birth of the talkies?)

(Idle thought #2: Have there been any critics screenings yet, less than a month before opening? Enough pro critics read this blog that I know that if my guess that there have been none is wrong, I’ll be corrected).

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN used a not-dissimilar marketing strategy. It opened in late September on a few dozen screens in the South and Midwest, and concentrated on smaller and medium-sized cities for weeks before it played any of the country’s biggest Metro areas (Washington and Los Angeles got the film in mid-November; as far as I can tell, it has still never played New York or Chicago). But GOSPEL is a small film that has never played on more than 113 screens nationwide in any given week, so that was a traditional “rollout” strategy; it just reversed the customary order for the bigger and smaller cities. If GOSPEL were to have become a hit, it would have been in the MY BIG FAT JUDEAN EXECUTION mould. But dissing the biggest cities is just not done by a 2,000-screen-opening-week movie.

This booking strategy also tells me that Gibson’s distributors are preparing for a critical drubbing from the nation’s film-critic establishment, much of which is liberal or radical and based in New York, Los Angeles and a few other big metro areas. Playing THE PASSION relatively little in those cities seems like a way to immunize the film from their expected reaction. Or as making provision with defenses and barriers against fortuna, which I compare to one of those raging rivers …

January 31, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

My first item back couldn’t be anything other than Mel Gibson, could it?

David Klighoffer, a [political] conservative Jew, wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times (reserved here) attacking the notion, flung against Mel Gibson, that showing any Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus is anti-Semitism. What makes his column new and worth noting is that he details several Jewish sources, including the Talmud and Maimonides, that support the Gospels (though not modern biblical scholarship, which worships the god anti-anti-semitism or at least the god Getmel) in contending that the Jewish leaders of 1st century Jerusalem and some of their followers played a role in the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

I well understand, to a point, moral discomfort about this fact of history among both Christians and Jews, given what some Christians have done under the cry of “Christ-killer.” Certainly, in principle, Gibson *could* have used the Crucifixion narrative to make an anti-Semitic movie. The Times printed some letters to the editor in response, but I must say that I don’t think any really laid a glove on Klinghoffer. And how could they? I’ve said this here before, but I fail to see why the Jewish authorities of the time, or any Jew to this day thinking about truth rather than Christian anti-Semitism, shouldn’t or wouldn’t have sought the execution of such a rank blasphemer as someone who would claim to be the Son of God, but wasn’t; who would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey with his followers waving palms, but who wasn’t the King of the Jews.

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

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.

November 29, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Jews for Mel (sorta)

Some sanity comes from a couple of America’s leading rabbis, one of whom who has seen THE PASSION OF CHRIST and expressed reservations over it.

Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, while not backing away from his criticisms, said that Jewish groups should not boycott the film but should take a different tack — try to use the occasion to teach about the history of Christian anti-Semitism.

eckstein.jpgAnother senior rabbi, Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, says it is not wise¹ for Jews to be seen as trying to dictate Christian artists’ interpretation to their own religion. Plus Jews have much bigger fish to fry in the world today and he compared focusing on Passion plays as generals still fighting the last war. Amen.
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¹ This link goes to a Salt Lake City Deseret News article in February 2004, later than this article’s time-stamp. The Baltimore Sun article I linked to when I first wrote this post in November 2003 was no longer on the Web when I reposted this entry in January 2008, unchanged in its text, except for this footnote and the photo(see the original here). Even though the February 2004 Deseret News article cites a press statement from Rabbi Eckstein from that week (“Tuesday”), you can see that the Rabbi is making essentially the same points I cited him as making the previous fall.

November 29, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a theater …

christcross.jpg

Well, that’s not exactly what the New York Post did in its forum Monday on THE PASSION OF CHRIST (now only available here; scroll down to the post by “respaul” at 00:15, 22-11-03). There’s an academic professor of theology, standing in for the Protestant minister, though she has an Italian-sounding name. There’s also a Post reader and one of its film critics. Follow the links at the end of the main page for their reactions from each of the individuals. (Aside: one of the reasons I don’t like to read newspapers outside work is that I find myself looking at them with a professional’s eye — I can’t look at the second page of the spread on the hard copy of the paper without realizing that the dominant art, a still from THE PASSION OF CHRIST, has been flip-flopped.)

rabbilevine.jpg

The intro material repeats the meme that Gibson has violated the Second Vatican Council’s denunciation of the deicide libel in Nostra Aetate, but it at least actually quotes what the Council said, which is revealing: “what happened in [Christ’s] Passion cannot be charged against all the Jews without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” But in Rabbi Robert Levine’s hands, that statement becomes the claim that the movie “undermines the 1965 Vatican II declaration that Jews are not responsible for the death of Christ.” When you realize and have pondered on the difference between those two statements, you’ll have a sense of why I have so much scorn for the ADL and its ilk on this topic. In fact Nostra Aetate specifically does *not* say with the Rabbi says it does. Right before the part the Post quotes, it reads: “Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ …” The mere fact that one portrays some Jews demanding Christ’s blood does not make a film contrary to Church teaching. As usual, what Vatican 2 actually *says* is the opposite of what some theologians discern its “spirit” to mean.

Rabbi Levine is fibbing, unless Gibson does something specific to endorse intergenerational, collective guilt (the fact it is generally considered an absurd idea today means that the presumed default from silence is that the film doesn’t endorse it) or to tie the Jews of 1st century Jerusalem to the Jews of today. And e.g., the fact that Christians who have seen the film said Gibson excluded Matthew 27:25: “His blood be upon us and our children,” suggests he doesn’t do that. The Rabbi doesn’t say to the contrary (in fact, I was generally dissatisfied with the Rabbi’s review in that it served up the same ADL talking points and he *could* have written it without having seen it). The problem, I suspect, is that Rabbi Levine seems to be looking at the film qua Jew, i.e. his primary interest in THE PASSION OF CHRIST is its representation of Jews. Maybe that how a Jew would view it, and so he’ll be offended by *any* reasonably faithful depiction of the Gospels. Nothing I can say to that.

castelli.jpgBut if we are gonna be making *predictions* about hate crimes, or ripping the scabs off, or inspiring violence against Jews, like the theologian Elizabeth Castelli does, then you just as clearly, for that purpose, have to privilege how actual Christians (or atheists/agnostics too I guess, but that’s really not what people have been talking about) see the film, what their reaction will be to THE PASSION OF CHRIST. Cuz *they’re* the ones that supposedly are gonna be motivated to go out and Jew-bash. For one thing, Jews have no more to say on the matter of Christian consumption than I do to their offense-taking. And for another Castelli can complain all she wants about ahistoricity, the latest scholarship and Mel’s ignoring “years of important work … between Jews and Christians on understanding the effect of the Passion narrative on their relationship.” (Can you hear the “don’t crap in my garden” tone there?) She can be as right as rain theologically, but unless Christians react in her predicted way, the whole dispute is academic, in the worst sense.

And the reaction of the one panel member, Joan Wilson, who was not a professional theologian or minister was instructive about what I think will be both the dominant reaction of the Christians who see the film (assuming, as I must, that it doesn’t anachronistically pander to contemporary Jewish stereotypes). I also think she represents the dominant view among Christians today — that portraying 1st century Jews as out for Jesus’ blood in no way implies guilt on the Jews of today, whatever might have been true in other times. As Wilson puts it: Caiaphas “was doing what he believed he had to do to protect his faith … a Catholic or a Protestant would have defended his religion too.” And again, unless the film plays down the Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth and all His early followers (which is nowhere to my knowledge charged and is contradicted by every Christian to my knowledge who has seen the film and spoken to that matter specifically), it is simply nuts to come away from an internecine dispute among two groups of Jews and blame “the Jews.” Or to put it bluntly, the rabbi and the theologian are going into the film, looking to take offense. And such people can always find what they’re looking for. Or to put it even more bluntly, the ADL and the rest have effectively poisoned the well against Gibson’s film.

lumenick.jpgI also predict that Lou Lumenick’s reaction on this matter, two handwringing paragraphs (“deeply troubling”) that make a concession before soberly siding with the ADL et al, will be the commonest one among daily newspaper critics. The alt-weeklies and the committed-left journals will … um … crucify the film and Gibson.

Since I slagged on the Rabbi, let me spend at least as much time on the priest, Father Mark Hallinan. If you can get past the phrase: “It doesn’t touch on the values that [Christ] represented and that continue to be a positive force in the world today,” without wanting to say “oh, come off it,” you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din. “Values”? “Positive force”? This is the language of a Jesuit? (Don’t answer.)

fatherhallinan.jpgThe priest at least provided some specifics about the film, so I have to defer to him on those. But he got my blood boiling with this little crack: “Unsophisticated people viewing the film will see Jews as cold, heartless people.” How does a man with advanced theology degrees know how “unsophisticated” (what a Spongian term!!) people will react? Particularly since the least-sophisticated person on the panel did *not* come away from the film denouncing the Jews, citing the blood oath, subscribing to Al-Jazeera on her satellite or anysuch.

Then we get this complaint: “Hallinan also questioned the depiction, during the crucifixion, of Gestas, the bad thief, having his eyes plucked out by a crow after he questions Christ’s divinity. ‘It’s contrary to the Gospels,’ said Hallinan, adding ‘Jesus taught us not to persecute our enemies’.” Is there any oxygen in the House? One of the Gospels (Luke) starts with the story of the coming of John the Baptist and has a very similar story about his father Zachary and how he was struck dumb for doubting a divine messenger. The Gospels repeatedly have parables in the general character of “God is not mocked,” which is what happens here. Sure, the specific detail of the eye-gouging is not in the Bible, but there’s a rich and thoroughly orthodox Catholic tradition of embroidering around the Passion narrative and fleshing out details in works of art. Surely Father Hallinan has often led the Stations of the Cross, though several of *them* have no Biblical antecedent or only the vaguest … there’s no mention of Veronica (much less of the Lord’s face on the hankie) or of any specific number of falls. And who’s “persecuting our enemies”? As Father Hallinan tells the story, the one doing the persecuting is … a crow.

November 19, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

A good piece in the Village Voice (really)

gibsonbraveheart.jpgThanks, Phil (are you part of an Experiment by the way?) for pointing me to a piece by Jessica Winter on Mel Gibson’s filmography. As you said in the comment field, it’s kinda dumb when discussing THE PASSION OF CHRIST or religion as such. I had to grit my teeth through the nonsense phrase “fundamentalist Catholic” and the imputation of anti-Semitism on the “Traditionalist Catholic” movement (to which the relationship of Gibson himself, rather than his father, is not crystal-clear in any event. Certainly Mel has said some interesting things, but to my knowledge, he’s never publicly declared himself a Sedevacantist, called the Second Vatican Council invalid, or even spoken of his religious beliefs in detail at all).

But when Winter cuts the crap and gets down to discussing Gibson’s movies, she is quite intriguing. If it hadn’t been for SIGNS or BRAVEHEART, I would have been inclined to pooh-pooh the theory of Mel as Christ figure. After all, Jesus is only the most influential figure in Western history. The kinds of images of Christ that Winter analogizes to moments in Gibson’s filmography have centuries of Western iconography or language (“crucified” can now mean just “persecuted unjustly”) behind them, and moviemakers of every variety have drawn on various pieces of them to illustrate images of suffering or “holiness” (first example to pop into my head: Oliver Stone’s PLATOON). And to her credit, Winter recognizes that — there’s a tradition behind whatever gore will be in THE PASSION OF CHRIST that the LETHAL WEAPON movies don’t. But the very lack of context would push me toward the conclusion that it was just writers, directors and actors just using a quickly-available concept without thinking it through (like the superfluous “Death of Marat” shot in ROAD TO PERDITION).

gibsonsigns.jpgBut those two films do make it seem like Gibson’s been leading toward this. I liked SIGNS quite a bit (and a film about a priest regaining his faith fits my own life’s trajectory as a revert), though I preferred it more as a straightforward creepy Twilight Zone episode rather than as Christian theology. It’s pretty threadbare on those latter terms, basically a God of the Gaps. Nothing in SIGNS committed the film to any conception of metaphysical truth. But viewing it as religious psychology, as Winter does, makes it more about how “a man who’s lost his faith in God is as a petulant child who hasn’t gotten his way.”

The execution of Wallace in BRAVEHEART referenced the Crucifixion 100 ways to Sunday. Check out the first picture on the Voice article, which is as clear a Crucifixion reference as it gets, in contrast to say, the pictures from LETHAL WEAPON (which looks like an S&M club), from MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (which looks more like a Hindu or Muslim funeral, than a Christian or Jewish one), or from PAYBACK (a reference to RAGING BULL or 1,001 other boxing movies). People who have seen THE PASSION OF CHRIST said the violence reminded them of BRAVEHEART, and certainly secular nationalisms, Scottish or otherwise, have tended to try to latch onto a martyr figure. When I was learning Scottish history as a boy, though, Robert the Bruce and his final victory at Bannockburn got a lot more press time than William Wallace and the defeat at Falkirk; Wallace’s execution was mentioned, but not gone into detail, though I was only a wee lad at the time. In other words, Gibson was pouring Scottish history into a Christian template with Wallace as Jesus.

November 10, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Return of The Passion

gibson5.jpgWARNING: Abstract, boring and probably anti-Semitic. Please don’t read.

Well, the same day that someone starts a thread at Dom’s blog on “Where has The Passion gone” there was a forum at the ADL on The Protocols of the Elders of Mel Gibson, and this news account makes it sound like a total love-in.

One interesting thing though — the grafs near the end indicate to me (again) that Paula Fredriksen, the author of the New Republic attack on THE PASSION OF CHRIST, will never understand why she was rebuffed and why people like Gibson (and myself) pay no attention to her.

“Fredriksen said Gibson feels he is being persecuted by the scholars, but she said their intention was only to correct mistakes.
” ‘He doesn’t understand the difference between criticism and being attacked,’ she said.”

fredericksen.jpgShe doesn’t understand the difference between interpretation and error, I say. Now I realize the phrase I’m gonna jump on is the AP writer’s not hers, but her New Republic essay has examples of the same thought process. The phrase “only to correct mistakes” is high-handed, arrogant and a complete overplaying of what it is possible for higher Biblical criticism, of the kind Fredriksen performs, to do. No wonder Gibson told her and her acolytes to shove it; she and her ilk simply have no standing to talk about Gibson’s “mistakes.” Partly because the very category “mistake” presupposes an infallible measuring stick to determine veracity (which is to say, judging according to some other Gospel); but also partly because Gibson and Fredriksen mean completely different things when they talk about Biblical accuracy.

The contemporary world of academic Biblical scholarship is atheistic — not in the sense that only atheists practice it, or that only an atheist could practice it, or that it is an atheist plot to undermine the Church. Rather it is atheistic in the sense that it approaches the Gospels (and the rest of the Bible) as merely a human artifact, a historical-literary text, which certainly testifies about human beliefs about gods certainly. But not anything supernatural. The Bible being in some decisive sense divine or inspired — the revealed word of God, in some sense true (if not necessarily “infallible”) and reliably so — is simply a hypothesis that cannot be entertained within the rules of modern scholarship. It’s like asking to roll dice to determine how many spaces a chess piece can move — that’s just not how the pieces move or the game works.

But this approach is totally removed from the world of Christian belief and the world of the Church teaching, which is that the Bible is … true. The Higher Critics operate in ways that (try to) bracket the question of “truth” (which they varyingly consider perspectival, a patriarchal plot, a metaphysical delusion, an epistemological dodge, any number of things) in order to consider the Bible in the manner they wish. I’ll leave it to them to ponder whether the question of truth *can* be bracketed (if Jesus actually did rise from the dead, surely that’s something that *can’t* be set aside). And whether, in the absence of metaphysical, absolute truth (the presence of which would make nonsense of their method) it makes any sense ever to speak of someone’s “mistakes.” Suffice it to say that when many believing Christians, such as Gibson, see this approach, the reaction is simple: garbage in, garbage out. The method is so far gone, and so obviously inappropriately applied to something divinely inspired, that it has no more standing before them than reading tea leaves or bird entrails would have in a modern court of law. Gibson and Fredriksen are quite literally speaking different and untranslatable languages.

November 7, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

And now Weekend Update …

Breaking news on several fronts over the last few days (when I was away for a film festival) and on which I have posted here before:

First, Mel Gibson landed a distributor, Newmarket Films, and confirmed the planned release date for the newly titled THE PASSION OF CHRIST as Ash Wednesday. I’ve already made my predictions — a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges (the Lent opening will give another excuse … er … news peg to accuse the Church of anti-Semitism and assorted other bestialities), and a negative critical reception since some critics already have their leads written, and I refuse to believe this is an isolated attitude. Box office, we’ll have to wait and see, but subtitled films just don’t do well in the United States. I think only two, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and CROUCHING TIGER, have ever even broken $50 million. (And if it’s not two, it’s no more than three.) Any good? I’ll get back to you.

Second, the screener issue was “solved,” with the MPAA agreeing to lift the ban, but only for Academy members. This solves some of the problems, but leaves critics groups, primarily those for critics working in smaller markets, out in the cold.

Third, Michael “Killer” Schiavo is starting his Public Redemption Tour facing the tough, incisive questioning of Larry King. “My girlfriend supports my stance on Terri because the kind of care I want to give her will remove Terri as an obstacle and we’ll be free to marry.” Or something like that. And of course, the Atheist Press is spinning this story as a “right-to-die” case, when curiously, the person who will die never herself asserted that right.

Finally, on the Canadian tolerance beat, theological liberals in the Episcopal Church prove their open-mindedness, Celebrate Diversity and fight the forces of inquisitorial reaction by threatening heresy trials for those who repudiate the One Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant Of Mine Approved Groups.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once more, with passion …

In his book “Natural Right and History,” Leo Strauss, who taught many of the men who taught me political philosophy, coined the phrase “reductio ad Hitlerum” meaning that a view is not “refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.” One of my pet peeves about American political discourse is the popularity of this fallacy, one result of which is the cheap and disproportionate (in several ways) use of the Third Reich and the Holocaust in the making of simple points about the much-lower stakes of American and Western politics (see also Godwin’s Law on the Internet). I’m more liable to take the invocation of the Third Reich or the Holocaust as proof that the invoker has lost his mind or has no point to make.

It has now officially happened with THE PASSION — Mel Gibson is the Hitler Youth. At the end of the article is this truly deranged quote: “This is how it began in Germany,” she said, “with the Hitler youth venom.” At the rally in question, the instigator was hardly more serious, saying that THE PASSION “really takes us back to the Dark Ages, plain and simple … Mel Gibson is turning the clock back to the Dark Ages.”

How does one respond to tripe like that? Can 1,000 years of history really be undone “plain and simple” by one movie. Does Ms. Moskowits really believe that the Americans she lives among are just itching for the right excuse to kill all the Jews? There are such people in the world, but they are generally virulently anti-American too, and they will likely not see THE PASSION (since it contradicts the Koran on the fate of Jesus).

passion4.jpgAs I’ve noted here before, based on what one can know outside the movie, I’m not persuaded by arguments made thus far that the film is anti-Semitic. But I recognize the possibility that I could be wrong, or even that I am not, but the film will be misinterpreted. It is possible, I suppose, that some yobbo will misunderstand the film and go beat up a yeshiva student as they leave the theater. But ask yourself, “what would happen after that?” Is there any doubt that said hypothetical incident will be widely reported, and the ADL et al will even take the lead in publicizing it and commenting upon it? That Mel Gibson and his distributors will denounce the perpetrator unequivocally? That police will spare no effort to track down the attacker in this high-profile case? That, in many if not most jurisdictions, the attacker would risk *extra* jail time for attacking a Jew-qua-Jew, rather than the wrist-slap or less that Jim Crow-era Southern juries gave lynchers?

Now, this course of events would be unfortunate, but hardly a Holocaust (or even a Kristallnacht, a Nuremberg law, or the routine of an American country club, circa 1920). The Holocaust didn’t just happen in a fit of absent-mindedness and desensitization from too many readings of the MERCHANT OF VENICE. It happened because Germany put into power a totalitarian government with genocidal plans which it then carried out. Get some sense of proportion, people. The United States in 2003 is not Weimar or Nazi Germany, no matter what one woman’s memories might be or how many times “Hitler” is invoked. Nor is the Dark Ages one anti-Semitic filmmaker away. Some anti-Semitism exists, of course, but it has no political or cultural cachet. And a few dementos will always exist.

August 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Knives already out for Mel

Some film critics in a major metropolitan area have the leads already written on Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION, even though they haven’t seen it. They just *know* it’s anti-Semitic tripe from someone whose not *our* type of people, dearie. A member of a private film-discussion group posted about a critics’ screening which he attended and at which THE PASSION was a topic of conversation.

I cite that post here, with his permission and on the condition of anonymity. I cleaned up some spelling and took out one potentially-revealing detail. Remember this post next spring for what it says about the critical establishment’s prior attitudes toward Gibson’s film.
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Dude, your post was ringing loud in my ears this afternoon as I sat in a [city] Screening Room surrounded by so-called “Professionals” who were getting their rocks off ranting and raving about how Anti-Semitic THE PASSION is.

Never mind the fact that none of these folks had even seen so much as the fucking Trailer for MAD MAX’S JESUS CHRIST, YOU’RE BLEEDING! After all, somebody somewhere said that Riggs hates Jews so much he staked $25 million of his own cash to ruin his career by exposing his kike-loathing ways to the entire universe — and that was good enough for my (ahem) colleagues to run with for at least half-an-hour.

After all, why bother to actually WAIT TO SEE THE FUCKING MOVIE AND DECIDE FOR YOURSELF when it’s so much easier to just parrot something you read somewhere and score points with your peers. Especially when the gossip regards a filthy homophobic, sexist, meat-eating, conservative Catholic like Mel. (Oh yeah — and he smokes, too.)

August 25, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not-so-brave heart

Well, Mel Gibson knuckled under. At least somewhat.

Easy for me to be brave about Gibson’s movie, obviously, and for all I know these changes might be for the better. But I can’t say I’m not disappointed. This is starting to resemble (in a much lower-stakes field, it cannot be said often enough) some Union of Soviet Cinematographers self-criticism sessions for artists whose work was considered “bourgeois formalism” or whatever made Stalin’s colon clench that week.

I hope this report is accurate and the only changes Mel makes merely emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus and His disciples — in which case, not only is it theologically unobjectionable, but I’d applaud it as the greatest antidote to Christian anti-Semitism (of which, though any amount is too much, there is blessedly very little today compared to 100 years ago). Though I do wonder what “clearly labeling” Simon as a Jew would mean, since nearly everybody not in a Roman soldier’s outfit will be a Jew. In fact, I wished I’d emphasized this point more the last time I blogged about THE PASSION. In any faithful adaptation of the Gospels, almost all the characters, on both sides of the crucifixion, would be Jews. Only the deranged, looking to stroke a pre-existing prejudice (and they can’t set the standard), could see a Jew being killed, to the grief of His Jewish mother and His Jewish followers, by Romans at the behest of a different group of Jews — and come away blaming the Jews. (By the way, what about the risk of this movie stoking other prejudices? Have the Sons of Italy taken some sort of omerta … oops.)

Still I’m not optimistic. It’s just hard to read these complaints for very long and not come to the conclusion that the ADL, Wiesenthal Center et al, just believe that Christianity is simply anti-Semitic as such. And indeed the Jewish lobby groups aren’t backing off in the slightest (like in the quote from Foxman: “with creative rights come the responsibility to tell history as we see it” or something very close to that). Plus the Reuters article has this delicious bit of “please stop me before I refute myself”:

“Rabbis who have screened the film say it threatens to undo decades of progress between Christians and Jews after the Vatican refuted the deicide charges in the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.”

Say what? I suppose if Gibson got a papal imprimatur for his 32-part TV adaptation of THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION for family Ramadan hour, there’d be a problem. But a Gospel film made by a Catholic artist in dubious communion with the Vatican and over which the church has no more control than it does over THE MATRIX movies — that can have THAT much of an effect? I hope that’s not true, but if it is true, then let’s just pack in interreligious dialogue and go home. Those “decades of progress between Christians and Jews” then would have produced nothing of value if it’s so superficial and fragile as to be threatened by THE PASSION.

And Gibson knuckling under came shortly after this piece in which a rabbi says his group has gotten more anti-Semitic letters than customary. But then goes ahead and blames … THE PASSION. Is there any oxygen in the house? For one thing, this article does not cite any of the hate mail as citing THE PASSION (and on the “dog not barking” theory, that probably means there hasn’t been any). But there’s an even more fundamental problem in blaming Gibson’s movie. For practical purposes, nobody has seen it. All that people have done is hear the discussions in the press, on discussion boards, blogs and whatnot. Therefore, by definition, unless Rabbi Heir thinks the letters are coming from the goyish putzheads Matt Drudge, David Horowitz or Michael Medved, the film THE PASSION cannot be the cause of anything. The only thing people know of it is the discussion surrounding THE PASSION. And is it not possible, Mr. Hier, that people are reacting (in a contemptible way, certainly) against your self-righteous bawling? And that maybe, just maybe, this is an example of being the cause of one’s own misery (that is possible, isn’t it?)

Anyway, even if Gibson makes no further cuts and the film plays to a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges next spring (that will happen unless the ADL gets final-cut approval — mark my words), the chill will be felt down the line. If one of the most famous stars in the world gets this much grief trying to self-finance and self-distribute a Christ movie without the approval of Jewish pressure groups, what’s a mere studio owned by a conglomerate with 30 other boycottworthy irons in the fire to do? Even if the Jewish groups lose, they win, because the cultural word is out: no more Jesus movies henceforth without the imprimatur of organized Jewry.

August 16, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Mel ruled as not kosher

Well, one day after I advise Mel Gibson not to let the Anti-Defamation League see THE PASSION, the ADL weighs in and the secular media picks it up, both the Associated Press and Reuters. Someone should send Mel a link to my site, though I should inform him that there is a Consulting Fee For Fabulously Wealthy Film Stars.

I obviously haven’t seen the film, so maybe I should hold my fire, but I can’t say I’m impressed with the ADL’s arguments, as presented in its press release. Any reasonably faithful adaptation of the Gospels will show Jesus’s blood being sought by the Jewish authorities and the Jerusalem mob. Whatever the subtle details of what body did what at what hour, where the accounts do differ in minor ways, all four Gospels are united in proclaiming what the ADL is clearly constructing in its first, second and fifth bullets as anti-Semitism. If the argument is that any portrayal of any Jew demanding Jesus’ blood is anti-Semitic, then Christianity as such is anti-Semitic. At this point, I throw up my hands and go home, concluding that ADL wants Christians to apologize ourselves out of existence.

I can understand the historical discomfort of the ADL and reasonable Jews with the deicide charge and its link to passion plays, given what it has “justified” in the past. But the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, whatever its theological meanings, is a historical event, as much a historical event as the execution of, say, Socrates. And the peoples and certain leaders in 1st century Jerusalem and 5th century Athens played significant roles, according to the primary historical documents we have of those events. Blaming contemporary Jews for deicide is absurd and makes no more sense than blaming the execution of Socrates on contemporary Greeks. It is also, in the light of eternity, bad theology — the execution of Jesus, whatever the role certain historical personages played, was required in the economy of salvation by the sins of all men (a point Gibson has made, along with some people who have seen the film). Catholic congregations are reminded of this every year by playing the part of the crowd demanding Jesus’ death. I would definitely agree that Christians, especially Catholics, have an obligation not to repeat past crimes against God’s people. But truth is truth, and at some point, Judaism and Christianity have to part ways on who Jesus of Nazareth was, and that has moral and historical implications that I don’t think the ADL is grasping, and which explains Gibson’s stubbornness and (at least my) skepticism about the ADL’s charges.

As a strictly theological matter, why shouldn’t those Jews of 1st-century Jerusalem not taken in by this new heresy led by this Nazarene nobody (is it necessary to emphasize that Christians generally realize Jesus and all his disciples were Jews), those “Jews who adhere to their Jewish faith” in the ADL’s words, have wanted Jesus’ death? Is ADL speaking from the perspective of Judaism? Jesus was claiming to be the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God and all that. If these claims are not true, and every Jew has to believe they are not true (otherwise, he’s just become a Christian), then the mere man making them is the rankest blasphemer, surely worthy of death under the Law. In addition, God’s people turning away, rejecting Him for this or that false idol — the golden calf, the Egyptian and Babylonian deities during the exiles — is a constant theme throughout the Torah. Caiaphas bloody well should have been concerned about his people following for this latest heretic, and stamping it out as blasphemy. Speaking theologically, some amount of anti-Christianity is inherent in Judaism, and some amount of anti-Judaism is inherent in Christianity. We just have to live with that until God calls a halt to history, and calling any and every reminder of any of the bases for the latter a form of hate doesn’t change that.

August 12, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Passion politics

If I’m gonna slag Michael Medved in my initial post, I’d better link to him when he says some wise things, as in this interview with the Washington Post Web site, mostly about Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION. To elaborate on a couple of points myself.

First, Medved says in one place that “Hollywood” is more anti-religion than specifically anti-Christian or anti-Catholic. I do agree that secularism and an associated set of anti-religion prejudices (“poor, uneducated and easy to command” and all that) seems to be the default ideology in the culture industries, rather than a specific and explicit animus against Catholicism or Christianity (and as an Orthodox Jew, Medved would know that).

But the fact that secularism is the greater force doesn’t mean that specific anti-Catholicism doesn’t exist. A film as insultingly ignorant about Judaism as PRIEST and THE MAGDELENE SISTERS (I have seen neither and will not do so merely for the debater’s right to make a point obvious from the makers’ own descriptions of their films) simply could never be made or distributed. The taboo against anti-Semitism is just too strong. The excellent documentary TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, about Orthodox Jews dealing with their homosexuality, at least presents the Jewish teaching against homosexual acts in a halfway-serious manner and by halfway-loving rabbis shown without authorial contempt. I don’t expect any movie to take the virtually identical Catholic doctrine on that subject for the foreseeable future as anything other than repressed-tight-ass caricature.

Second, I think Medved is right that the debate over THE PASSION is essentially deadlocked because Gibson now trusts neither the objectivity of the ADL/Jewish groups nor the religion scholars, and vice versa. I would go further: the battle lines already are set for a major public spat over charges of anti-Semitism, Christ-killers and all that next spring. Paula Fredriksen, who wrote the disgraceful, self-righteous attack on THE PASSION in the New Republic (now available at http://www.tnr.com, but a paid subscription is required) said on “Good Morning America” last week that she will not see the film, even when it’s released. Good for her (“play nice” ecumenism is overrated).

And if I were Gibson, I’d see no point to cooperating with her or the ADL, since they’re coming from a theological perspective that’s not mine and one I want no part of. But that perspective also has the gall and presumption to claim to be the arbiter of reason and to claim at least a moral right to be my editor and script doctor. (Is it necessary to do anything more than laugh at an essay in A.D. 2003 that claims to know, in some dispositive sense, about Pontius Pilate’s thought process, while slagging the Gospels as unreliable historical documents because their [disputed] date of authorship [supposedly] lags several decades behind the depicted events?) Did the makers of PRIEST or THE MAGDALENE SISTERS submit to Church censors in order to get its imprimatur on their movies? Or did they play up Church opposition as a box-office hype tool? To ask the question is to answer it.

August 11, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advance word on Mel’s movie

There was a private screening in Washington last night for Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION. A few dozen conservative glitterati were there, and the first round of reviews is all positive. Gibson is showing the film around to build word-of-mouth before its planned release next year.

The film has come under attack for anti-Semitism and historical inaccuracy, including an article in the New Republic (not on the Web far as I can tell) for which I frankly didn’t much care — it takes higher Biblical criticism far more seriously than I think it should be, but [much more unforgivably] cites it as though it were as “scientific” or supersecessionist as Newton’s laws of gravity.

Though admitting she was bound by a secrecy deal, Kate O’Beirne of National Review said that “The movie is intense and riveting, and the time quickly passes as you are completely drawn into the events in biblical Jerusalem. Although Gibson hasn’t yet begun negotiating with distributors, it is intended for general, nationwide distribution … Some will unfairly use Gibson’s labor of love to create a controversy, which is wholly unjustified in the case of this masterful film, but hopefully Gibson realizes that this too shall pass.”

Matt Drudge was just as forthcoming, gushing on MSNBC’s Buchanan and Press show that: “this is the ultimate film. It’s magical. Best picture I have seen in quite some time, and even people like Jack Valenti were in the audience in tears at this screening … and speaking as a Jew, I thought it was a magical film.”

“Mel Gibson stood back at the end and took questions for about an hour, and he is — he told me he’s tired of Hollywood. That this is it. He’s going to do it. He’s going to do it his way, and this film, I tell you, is magic. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle,” he said.

Matt dismissed the charges of anti-Semitism, saying “They haven’t seen the darn film and those of us, every single person in there, and I’m not talking about tears, I’m talking total tears.”

Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA agreed about the anti-Semitism charges, saying that “I don’t see what the controversy is all about. This is a compelling piece of art.”

Now, none of these people are film critics or cinephiles and there’s often an element of “gee whiz, I saw the movie early” from audiences in such screenings. I don’t actually have the best track record with Jesus movies (upon reflection this morning, I realized I can’t say there’s a single one I’ve really flipped for and I haven’t seen even seen the most notorious — Scorsese’s LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Still, it’s looking better and better that THE PASSION might be the one.

July 22, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

The Passion (of Jesus of Nazareth)

Here is the trailer for Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie on the Crucifixion.

I was initially a skeptic about this film, when Gibson was saying he wanted to release it in Latin and Aramaic without subtitles. That strikes me as wack, and I’m glad Gibson has relented. Also, from the looks of the trailer, Gibson has decided to portray the Crucifixion in terms rather like the climax of BRAVEHEART — which means that whatever else we’re gonna get, it’s not gonna be a watered-down bit of triumphalism. Two of my favorite religious films just about ever — THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and BREAKING THE WAVES — are both about [female] Christ figures that are quite heavy on the suffering, but even they didn’t get as bloody as THE PASSION looks to be (though Gibson as a director is in the league of neither Dreyer nor Von Trier). Cheap grace is such a pet peeve (a Resurrection and forgiveness without the gory execution is a contradiction in terms), but now that that is off the possibility charts, I’m genuinely psyched about this film’s 2004 release.

I already know what some of the reaction will be — Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center already have attacked the film, based on a script draft, as anti-Semitic. The New York Times Magazine did a hatchet job on Gibson’s octogenarian father as an anti-Semite. And I can’t wait to see the reaction of the feminists to the portrayal of Satan as a woman. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver got the best line … in the Denver Catholic Register: “When the overtly provocative ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was released 15 years ago, movie critics piously lectured Catholics to be open-minded and tolerant. Surely that advice should apply equally for everyone.”

But bishop … you’re talking as though “tolerance” is actually a moral principle, rather than a political weapon. How naive can you get?

July 16, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment