The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Friday, February 04, 2005

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Woody Allen has a memory of the 1920s which is a lot like Mel Gibson's memory of the 0030s
I mentioned before that I was in Europe. It's not the first time that I was in Europe, I was in Europe many years ago with Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had just written his first novel, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said that is was a good novel, but not a great one, and that it needed some work, but it could be a fine book. And we laughed over it. Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
That winter Picasso lived on the Rue d'Barque, and he had just painted a picture of a naked dental hygenist in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Gertrude Stein said it was a good picture, but not a great one, and I said it could be a fine picture. We laughed over it and Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came home from their wild new years eve party. It was April. Scott had just written Great Expectations, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said it was a good book, but there was no need to have written it, 'cause Charles Dickens had already written it. We laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
That winter we went to Spain to see Manolete fight, and he was... looked to be eighteen, and Gertrude Stein said no, he was nineteen, but that he only looked eighteen, and I said sometimes a boy of eighteen will look nineteen, whereas other times a nineteen year old can easily look eighteen. That's the way it is with a true Spaniard. We laughed over that and Gertrude Stein punched me in the mouth.
In the Mel Gibson version of this story, no matter what Jesus does, it ends with a Roman punching him in the mouth. He has a memory of water at dinner. A Roman punches him in the mouth. He remembers delivering the Sermon on the mount. A Roman punches him in the mouth. He doesn't do that much at the very beginning, other than look worried and holy, and then a Roman punches him in the mouth. Of course, there is more to The Passion to the Christ than that. Sometimes, Christ says that he is the Messiah, and a Jew spits in his face. Sometimes he just stands there, and a Roman whips him.
Mel Gibson's vision of Christ has to be one of the most disturbing visions the sober have ever had. The heat of controversy, which I felt so keenly a year ago, has cooled and the Passion didn't seem such a nest of theological vipers as it would have had i seen it then. But, even now, I was shocked by who Mel Gibson's Christ was. What Mel Gibson's Christianity is apparently made of. The poverty of his religious feeling.
This is a movie by someone passionate about a ritual's form, but dead to its content. It is a movie of a man who is outraged is that the Mass is in the vernacular, but who speaks little Latin.
In the 80s they liked to do a little trick with the videos where they'd loop the singer turning to the camera and sync it to the drums. Cyndi Lauper would do the same heaad-snap forward three times in 1 second. It didn't mean anything. And it doesn't mean anything when Mel Gibson performs the same trick: even if it's Christ instead of Cyndi Lauper, even if it's falling with a cross on the back rather than moving the head, and even if it's done in slow motion over 30 minutes. O how Gibson loves to lavish each station of the cross with slowmotion gravy. Jesus falls once, in slow motion. Later, he falls again, in slow motion. Later, he falls again, in slow motion. A soldier has his ear cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane, in slow motion. It's like in the Bible I have, where on the spine it says WORDS OF CHRIST IN RED. Here it's BITS IN THE BIBLE IN SLOW MOTION. But just as red ink is a poor token of respect to the words of christ, slow motion is a poor token of respect to the significance of Christ falling. And, in fact, the two thoughts that Mel Gibson has about Christ is that:
1. His ass was kicked but he could take it because he was bigger than it. Not that that was easy.
2. He'll kick the ass of the evil right back: Temple rent in twain. Judas pursued by demons. Satan screaming in defeat.
Mel clearly has a reverence for Christ. Indeed he gets some fantastic expressions of awe and astonishment at Christ's presence, particularly the soldier who has his ear replaced, and by Barabas's doubletake. But, let's be clear, Jesus doesn't inspire in people feelings of love. He inspires terror in the sinner and humbleness in the devout for reasons 1 and 2 listed above. The tone of the Sermon of the Mount, which appears briefly, is comically at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie. As a good Catholic, Mel Gibson understands love mostly as being what Mary felt for her son. Indeed, he exaggerates it to such an extent that when baby jesus falls and scrapes his knee, Mary runs to him (in slow motion) as if the shack behind her was goig to explode according to Jerry Bruckheimer specifications. Christ's love in the movie is all about taking it in the gut. And this has the effect of inspiring revulsion for Christ's persecutors, rather than, as Jesus apparently said, love for them.The movie has a fascination with evil's horror and thinks that that is the same thing as a feeling for goodness.