Wednesday, April 11, 2007

today : whilst eating chocolate, I watch a bad film

It's become tradition recently at Easter on British TV for someone to show 'The Passion of the Christ', which is a shame because it has unfortunately thrown all previous TV and film versions of the Easter story into the vaults with an echoey thud, and turned the key: becoming the popular 'Passion' of choice.

It's also a shame because TPoTC is just not very good.

This seems to be because when it came out it took masses at the box office, but then again so did
The Nutty Professor 2 - The Klumps. We also know that even films that are deigned to be 'quality' and win loads of prizes are also often not very good, such as that snore-fest 'Babble'. The reason TPoTC took so much money was that it played directly to an easy audience. Let's face it, plenty of the Western world consider themselves Christians and plenty of people in the USA are more or less vocational Christians. Show these people a Hollywood film that tells a Bible story without crtiticising and questioning and they will rush to it, even as they rush away from Hollywood's usual ungodly, morally corrupting and liberal, commie-homo-lovin' fare.

The problem I have is that TPoTC is just too much of a film, too tricksy and, whilst trying so hard to show the depth of suffering of Jesus in his last hours, is suffused with a gloss of unreality that ultimately puts it on a par with any high budget brutal horror film of recent times. SAW and SAW 2 have gory and 'realistic' torture sequences that are as thrilling and scary as the flailing sequence in TPoTC. I am reminded of the so-called '
powerful' moment in Schindler's list when the girl in the red coat is singled out in a black and white world - forcing us to feel sentimental emotion when it's just not needed (and an example of a Hollywood film-maker using technology because he can, and a bad error of judgement on Spielberg's part). So Christ is hanging on the cross and about to die. From above we see Calvary from a cloud's eye view, through a distorted lens. The camera then watches, spinning slightly as the 'lens' is shown to be a single raindrop, that falls away from the camera and plunges to the earth, where we are gven a close up of it hitting rock and exploding in the finest detail. Christ is still about to die, we have a softly lit flashback of the last supper. Jesus, luxuriant of hair and beard, saying all those last supper things that have led to centuries of arguments about transubstantiation and then we are put back into the 'real' world of his bloody and torn body, dangling on the cross again with the two Marys emoting wildly. All of this 'reality' is backgrounded with an endless loop of 'atmospheric' middle eastern music in lovely 5.1.

In the last shot of the film, a resurrected Jesus climbs out of his shroud and walks to the tomb entrance. He passes through shot and with the use of digital matting, the camera sees through the hole in his hand. It reminds me of the scene in the porn cinema in American Werewolf where Griffin Dunne turns and talks, despite the fact that half his face has rotted away and we can see through it. Fercrissakes Mel, unplug the damned computer. Make a film goddamit, and, by our lady, not a cartoon!

There is a reason why Passion plays, even for a determined unbeliever like me, have a power and genuine mystery that TPoTC completely lacks. By playing off the traditions of theatre and setting themselves within each culture where they are performed, they behave as art should, seeing past literal reality and telling a story of imagination and reflective humanity. In a play Jesus is played by a human being. Jim Cavaziel nailed to a cross with viscous trickles of blood pouring from his wounds and his flailed ribs exposed is merely another special effect, and this actually de-humanises the character of Christ. The film replaces imagery and imagination with simple and literal screen violence and the obvious use of cinematic tricks and cliche. Pilate the fat corrupt gold dripped baddie. The Pharisees almost comical stone faced cartoon clones of Archbishop Mikarios. Mary Magdalen, smouldering and sexy-sad. Gibson could have learned a thing from Spielberg and the most perfect horrifying moment in Schindler's List: when the women are herded into the showers and we literally hold our breaths as we wait in terror for taps to go on. People gasped with relief and real emotion when the shower heads brought forth merely water and went away feeling real, resonant, sympathetic emotion..

TPoTC has nothing of the true power and passion of, for example, the Manchester Christ turning to his tormentors, and to the acoustic backing of a rag bag band of buskers, singing
"How does it feel, to treat me like you do-oo?"

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