LULU by John Linton Roberson (c) 2012.
I Didn't Write That!
26 February 2004
  Duh, But How Did The Soundtrack Come First?

"Look what you did to poor old Jesus, and he was only trying to help."--Garth Ennis

It'll be very confusing to the large number of teens that have been going in to see The Passion of the Christ, or the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre as Slate's David Edelstein called it. when they see what they think is its soundtrack and then find it was done for another movie entirely before some of them were born. A movie, I might add, that was far more intelligent and which I prefer.

And to think at one time this subject was commercial poison. Given the loathing I already have expressed many times relentlessly for the works of Mel Gibson, it infuriates me even more in some ways that Gibson will now be canonized in film history where Martin Scorsese had to endure years of 24-hour-security simply for suggesting Jesus could love, in his mind, as an ordinary man and dream of what normal men dreamed. It wasn't merely physical pain and endurance that Jesus was enduring.

It was the loss of the whole of a normal life. Wife, children, work, sleep, the sun, dinner, a home, anything else you can think of that you associate with being alive. And brutal pain, and to be killed in a way you might kill a dog on top of it all. The loss oif everything, including pride and identity. Even to be ruined in the memory of those you knew. What does it take to expunge the sins of mankind anyway?

But Gibson can only understand this if a mark you can see is left. Granted, an emphasis upon the physicality of the death of Jesus is a long-standing characteristic of Catholic worship. Confronting the stark reality of it is part of being Catholic, true. Different factions focus on different aspects, between the stark to the transcendent and many mixtures in between. But this is a more American version, what was once called "muscular Christianity," an attitude best summed up as a reaction to all that "faggy peace and love crap."

I don't think it's so remarkable that Gibson should present the death of Jesus so realistically. Jack T. Chick, by a quirk of fate the best-selling cartoonist in the world and also the maddest Christian on earth, has done at least two such works: THE GIFT, which apart from a framing story could be a grisly color adaptation of Gibson's film. A nurse even co-narrates giving specific details. In that lurid, grisly color Chick is famous for, Jesus gets turned to hamburger. The idea is of course that the least you can do is accept him then. Then there's the famous and ubiquitous tract THE SISSY? in which two truck drivers are also told how violently Jesus died. Before, they'd thought Jesus was some kind of sissy, but afterward they extol him as a real man, "and I love him for that."

That's the rawest Jesusploitation you could find till now. Gibson's work is just on a grander and more expensive scale, but it's still a kind of conversion technique that I as a liberal Anglican loathe, rubbing your nose in either guilt or, worse, the thought of Jesus' big ol' balls. THE GIFT's target is women who have recently suffered loss, and employs guilt. THE SISSY? is directed at the most lunkheaded of men. This is ugly, basic, bottom-feeding conversion propaganda. This may be as well.

Gibson has become a quandary. He depicts the wounds and torture almost lovingly; you have to wonder what goes through your head when you look at that and edit it as many times as a director does. No wonder Gibson looks so damn twitchy lately. It's a snuff film but there's a problem: how should you depict it?

It's a peculiar position. I have defended SALO so how can I not defend this? I believe in Steve Gerber's precept that all onscreen violence should be presented in as ugly a way as possible. The ugliness one reacts to in film violence touches nerves within oneself. If it's smoothed into entertainment that is inhuman. If you can't stand to watch it, it follows you empathize with its victim. And what happens with a victim like this one, who is to suffer for mankind's sins?

Though I usually deny it if asked because I despise the bigotry and hypocrisy of most churches and the misinterpretation by many Christians of Jesus' life as license for intolerance and repression of their humanity, I do consider myself a Christian, an Anglican to be exact, though I haven't been to church in many years. From the side of the faith that is a-ok with female and gay priests and Bishops.

I object a great deal, though, to the excuses Jesus is exploited for, again and again. The act that was done upon him is repeated in every suffering a Christian bigot ever inflicted upon their victim. Jesus died and was tortured for nothing; that's what I think whenever I hear another vile stream of shit uttered by the Christian Right, and it makes me ashamed to say I'm a Christian in public, because I am sane and do not wish to be mistaken for someone with a hood at home, or someone who will try to "save" another. The assholes who infringe on the name Christian have been given the sole public face of the faith for too long. To me, someone who truly believes Jesus can be nothing but liberal, even Marxist.

Christianity is about love despite being done wrong, about breaking cycles of vengeance, fear and pain that serve no good purpose. It's got an ethic that has nothing necessarily to do with worship. Much of its teachings would be worthwhile no matter who said them, man or God.

In addition, I look at it this way: Christ is God realizing he judged humans without knowing what it was to be human, and becoming one to atone too for the sins he himself did to humanity: holding them to a standard he had not equipped them to stand. (What do you call drowning a world full of people you made imperfect in the first place?) Jesus was God forcing himself to understand suffering, to understand what he had always asked us to endure. The crucifixion is the bridge between earth and heaven, not a war banner. It is the defeat of brutality.

Some people think Jesus died just to provide us with one more reason to be bastards. As though the death of Jesus is reason for vengeance rather than an act of sacrifice and salvation. There is no one more useless than these people, who dream of the Rapture and give not a shit about their fellow man, to whom the rest of us, and the whole world God made to evolve into complexity and beauty, is less than dust. Those who think Jesus, somehow, really was talking in code and neant "hate" each time he said "love," and "Satan" every time he said "God."

Mel Gibson thinks it's a reality TV show.

To do this film, focusing on only those twelve hours, it's true: The violence would have to be shattering, the most horrible thing you can imagine. And in many ways our collective notion of this event defines our ideas of suffering in many, many cases. Even if we don't believe, the story encapsulates the suffering of innocence, righteousness and good. It should force you to look at what you want to look away from because too many people look away from suffering now and cannot assimilate it, only avoid it. But suffering is unavoidable and should be understood. The story is a valid means--indeed one might say the original means--of understanding that of oneself and of others.

But here we go to where it's good old Mel. The issue of anti-semitism is a perfectly valid one, but a strange one too. Like it or not, the center of Christianity is a bloody execution. One cannot tell another religion what parts of its faith to talk about in public or demonstrate(at least barring murder, harassment and other extremes) and the only sources that exist say that Jewish leaders worked to remove Christ. But it was the Romans who tortured and crucified him and yet nobody ever calls Italians Christ-killers, do they? And just because a group of leaders are corrupt, does that mean all the people are too?

It was the Sanhedrin as a group, not Jews as a group; it was not a democracy. And in the end, from their perspective, it was one troublemaker versus the whole population in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. The Romans would have slaughtered multitudes if there was even a peep of trouble around Passover, a time when many crowded to the temple from other cities. And the Sanhedrin were supposed to risk the wrath of the Romans for one crazy prophet from out of town? (to understand what Nazareth was to Jerusalem, think of how much you'd respect the philosophy of a prophet from Jersey or Arkansas) As Larry Gonick once said, "How many people even have a word for 'killed every tenth person?'" (decimate) The Sanhedrin were attempting to save their people and, of course, their own authority, on which they believed public safety depended as any authority will. They made a mistake. It's a lesson to authority to exercise mercy rather than expedience, if anything, but it is not a condemnation of the Jews. Who else was there but Jews and Romans? If anything it was everyone. (coincidentally, Edward II of Braveheart in real life actually was the one who expelled Jews from England for the next few centuries, and killed many. Far worse, I'd say, than what he did to the Scots, but I can't expect Mel to be interested in that...)

But though Mel says that's what he thinks, what we get are the most extreme Jewish caricatures since the Eternal Jew, as repulsively presented as Prince Edward in Braveheart, all with a full-scale hate on for Jesus and completely impatient to see him dead. Yes, this movie will stir up hatred against the Jews. And defensiveness from Jews as well. And the two will react explosively with each other, I fear.

As this film could be subtitled in any language, it will be worrisome to see the full power of cinema unleashed throughout the world in this particular way. France for one.

What I find surprising is that this was not noticed in the revival of Jesus Christ Superstar on PBS a few years ago(with, apparently, a Kevin Sorbo lookalike as Jesus), which depicted each lash as a symbolic slap of one bloodstained Jewish hand after another. Much worse, really--and was this in the original production's choreography? But then what can you expect of Andrew Lloyd Webber?

This film, good or bad, is destined to blow a crater into film history. We have here what is essentially the biggest experimental film ever made but using one of the most traditional of subjects. It's silent film. It's subtitled foreign film. It's exploitation. It's religion. It's propaganda. As it could be subtitled in any language it may become the most universal film of all time. Whatever this is it's worth studying because it's fairly big. But dangerous too. There is no more powerful parasitic meme than religion, and there is no more explosive form of mass art than film. This will, movie and hype together, become a media H-bomb. this writing, it's already taken in $23 million; in one day of release.

But it also focuses so hard and exclusively upon the actual physical nature of the sacrifice of Christ, and so explicitly, that all it can ultimately stir up is guilt and hatred. But then what else would it be? It's worth seeing just to be understood, because it's going to be a cultural seismic point. The merchandising, particularly of a nail pendant, is already a study in vulgarity and commercialism at its worst. (see Ebay; I won't link to examples)

Is it good?

It is what it is. I'm not sure.

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