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The Passion of The Christ

The famous film critic Robin Quivers said on the Howard Stern show Thursday morning that Mel Gibson’s film The Passion Of Christ was “a horrible movie.” To back up her obviously astute opinion, Quivers said “Passion” is two hours of a man getting beaten. While it’s obvious that Quivers has never been in a hotel room to find a bible in her night stand, she may do well to accept the fact that there was a major point missed, the word ‘Passion’ being an obvious giveaway. Because that’s what the Christ story is essentially about: a man suffering pain and torment to set an example.

But I have a better take on it. Gibson’s movie will ultimately be about the pain and torment of every Hollywood studio Gibson went to for funding and was turned down. Gibson subsequently footed the $25 Million price tag for the picture and stands to rake it in like a full fishnet in the sea of Galilea. With no small help from a frenzied mob of Internet pundits and media journalists beating their chests for over a year, Gibson’s picture on opening day was packing ’em in. In New York City alone, 30 theaters are showing the film, and judging from what I saw yesterday in Woodland Hills, Gibson’s film is going to be very big among the fat lady crowd.

To wedge all those considerable asses into theater seats, Gibson, to fuel the p.r. engines, took a page out of the film barnstormer Kroger Babb’s notebook and spent considerable time setting up screenings of the picture for religious and political thought leaders. But did Mel bother contacting me, the cinematic Christ expert? Of course not. Is Mel going to take a banner ad on for the nice review I’m about to give him. Let’s not even get into that, shall we.

To say I’m confident of scoring big in the Jeopardy Christ category is putting it mildly. Counting a couple of silent epics and some truly rare French and Mexican imports thrown into the mix, I’ve seen pretty much every film tackled on this weighty subject and even one that Google search engines have yet to stumble across.

I was in first grade at the time, and at the Catholic school I attended, religious cinema was a weekly spectacle that included, I shit you not, full-color Jesus serials in 20 minute episodes with cliffhangers. Based on those serials, an additional full-length film was cut which included footage not included in the serials.

The end result was a film on the life of Christ that was devotionally adherent to the Christ story in every sense you could imagine. And v-e-r-y long, I might add, specifically recalling kids in the school auditorium squirming in their seats, oohing and awing at the astonishing resemblance of the actor playing Christ to every holy card we ever grew up with. Or maybe they were all itching and sighing to take a collective piss, who knows.

That was 52 years ago, and I can remember bits and pieces of that movie as vividly as today. One particular striking instance, if you’ll pardon the pun, was the scourging of Christ which was performed off camera with the crack of bullwhips ringing viciously through the elegantly marbled Roman forum as the politically and religiously divided crowd cringed and bit their knuckles. The mores being what they were at the time, very much was left to the imagination. Which is to say, Gibson’s treatment of The Passion Of the Christ, leaves little.

In his efforts to build a bigger and better Christ mousetrap, Gibson, as shards of bloody flesh whistle through the air with wincing authority, devotes at least an hour to every imaginable dimension of human pain and suffering, barring bad hangovers courtesy of Sardos.

Actor Jim Caviezel, playing Christ wrapped in chains, spit and humiliation, is flayed by two beefy guys that look like WWE school dropouts and is brought to the teetering edge of resembling a N.Y. strip steak. That Caviezel’s Christ doesn’t drop dead on the spot before burdening his cross is pretty much the miracle. Caviezel spends most of the film hair soaked and blood drenched, but, in some very inspiringly wrought flashbacks, gives impetus to chicks into long-haired guys, about having impure thoughts. [You’ll also notice his Christ is the only one in the film with perfect teeth.]

When it comes to sadism, not to be outdone by Catholic school nuns, the Romans were masters of it in their day, not to mention early morning drinking- as the film also suggests. But they finally got theirs in 476 A.D. And Pilate who, as a cowardly act of political expediency, condemned Christ, subsequently committed suicide. [God always getting the last laugh is really the underlying theme of every Bible story.]

The overly dramatized accounts of Gibson’s film being anti-Semitic, are also pretty much that. Franco Zeffirelli’s six-hour meditation on Christ with Robert Powell in the lead role paints the Jews in strokes just as broadly conniving and manipulative, especially with Anthony Quinn playing a mumbling Caiphas. But Diane Sawyer wasn’t running to Zeffirelli’s villa for interviews to the best of our recollection.

In fact, Gibson, other than bringing some spellbinding horror film touches to the garden of Gethsemane sequence, plays it fairly status quo with solid though physically exhausting filmmaking [one woman reportedly died of a heart attack during the hand-nailing sequence] and interesting aerial shots. But, other than turning the pain dial up full volume, Mel breaks little in the way of new ground to a 2,000 year-old story that almost didn’t survive Max Von Sydow’s flowbie-styled haircut and John Wayne’s one line of dialogue as a misplaced Roman centurion.

In Gibson’s film, however, the dialogue is simple, direct and brief. In fact, The Duke would have been suitable to the task in many roles of possibility- the Romans being portrayed as hard nosed, revolting cretins with bad teeth. As delivered in Aramaic and Latin, the screen language is quite hypnotic to listen to, actually. But for pure torture in its most unrelenting form, nothing beats some of the reviews you’ll read in the print media on this film. Particularly the N.Y. Times’ slant on it.

The N.Y. Times states the following: “Mr. Gibson has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one. It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.”

While the utterly lacking in grace remark is desperately stupid considering that the greatest story ever told is about manslaughter, you have to wonder what the writer was expecting. A stand up and cheer flick on the order of Rocky is probably a little too out of character.

But here’s the comment that really betrays ignorance: “What makes the movie so grim and ugly is Mr. Gibson’s inability to think beyond the conventional logic of movie narrative. In most movies – certainly in most movies directed by or starring Mr. Gibson – violence against the innocent demands righteous vengeance in the third act, an expectation that Mr. Gibson in this case whips up and leaves unsatisfied.”

Meaning what? That Christ should have whipped out a bazooka like Charlie Bronson in Death Wish 3 and blown the punks away? While everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, it should be noted that, at least in this biblical story, Mel does get the last laugh. At the cash register.


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