THE PASSION is a vivid depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life.
Sometime around the year A.D. 30, in the Roman province of Palestine, an obscure Jewish carpenter named Jesus of Nazareth began to teach publicly and to proclaim the coming of a 'Kingdom of God.' For centuries, the Jewish people had expected the appearance of a promised deliverer known as the Messiah -- a figure who would restore their ancient dignity, and free their sacred homeland from all evil and despair. In the minds of many, Jesus appeared to be this Messiah. Surrounded by a core group of twelve disciples, Jesus began to attract a massive following from among the common people of Galilee and Judea, who eventually praised him as their Messiah and King. However, Jesus also had many enemies in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin, a governing senate composed of the leading Jewish priests and Pharisees, conspired to put Jesus to death.
With the aid of Judas Iscariot, a member of Jesus' own inner circle, the
Sanhedrin succeeded in arresting Jesus, handing him over to the Roman secular
authorities on unsubstantiated charges of treason against Rome. Although Jesus
consistently maintained that his Kingdom was a heavenly and spiritual one, the
Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, faced with the possibility of a riot, ordered
that Jesus be taken outside the city and crucified as a common criminal.
'Passion' Trailer Ignites Interest
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) — The well-documented controversy swirling around Mel Gibson's upcoming movie “The Passion of Christ,” formerly known as “The Passion,” has movie fans so curious that they've been crashing Web sites in their search for bootleg trailers.
Harry Knowles at AintItCoolNews.com said his site was the first to post a “Passion” trailer about three months ago, though it didn't last long there.
“In one day I got 350,000 downloads of that sucker,” Knowles said. “I had to take it down because it slowed down server traffic. My site ground to a halt.”
Although he took the trailer off his site, it was not before others took it from Knowles for their own movie fan sites. And several religious-themed sites linked to those new sites that featured the trailer.
Knowles won't say where he got the trailer, one that Gibson's Icon Prods. described as having been made for internal purposes and for screening to private groups. Icon said an official trailer for consumers is due out “by the holidays.”
In fact, Icon executives are fairly aloof about answering questions that suggest any kind of organized Internet campaign is under way to boost interest in the movie, preferring instead to characterize it as a “Blair Witch”-like grass-roots phenomenon.
“The demand for the trailer shows an incredible groundswell of interest in the 'Passion,”' Icon president Bruce Davey said.
“It's a great trailer,” Knowles said about the one he posted in July. “The best I've seen this year. Probably too graphic for audiences.”
Knowles said that only about a quarter of those seeking the trailer at his site were actually able to watch it. “The faster connections were bandwidth hogs, and the slower connections timed out.”
Several Christian Web sites also had linked to AintItCoolNews, including Harvest.org. After Knowles removed the trailer from his site, Harvest posted it at its. So, in a bit of turnabout is fair play, Knowles put up a link to Harvest. A spokeswoman from Harvest said the trailer has been taken down, though scenes, with the permission of Icon, can be viewed there.
Richard Morales, who runs TheMovieBox.net, also posted the trailer for a brief time.
“I got too many hits,” Morales said. “My bandwidth couldn't survive it.”
He still links to another site where the trailer is featured, though, and he says that 10,000 people a week, or 30% of his entire audience, click on that link. That's a lot, considering that there are 120 trailers to choose from at TheMovieBox.net.
Morales said that at one point when the site hosted the trailer, “CNN put a link up. It was very cool.”
“People are passionate about this film,” Icon's Davey said. “When's the last time you saw a film trailer go straight from the Internet to CNN?”
Davey and Gibson will be interested to learn that, like Knowles, Morales was impressed with the trailer. “It looks brilliant,” Morales said. “Totally edgy. I don't know where Mel got it from. It's phenomenal. One of those movies that has got to be seen -- like 'Schindler's List.”'
At Yahoo! Movies, consistently one of the most trafficked movie-related sites on the Internet, Greg Dean Schmitz said “Passion” is tracking huge.
Schmitz, who heads Greg's Previews of Upcoming Movies for Yahoo! Movies, said that of the 100 or so feature films scheduled for release during the January-April time frame next year, “Passion” was the No. 1 visited page in August and No. 2 in September.
According to Schmitz' site, Gibson hopes the film will score a North American distribution deal in time for a wide release just before Easter.
One simple way to see a “Passion” trailer online without dealing with pop-up ads or links to other sites is to go to passion-movie.com, a fairly extravagant creation that bills itself a fan Web site not affiliated with Icon or the film.
Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” isn’t an easy sell. In fact, it seems no major studio wants to touch it. “It’s not worth the aggravation,” says a studio head. “Even if it makes money, it’s not going to be ‘Titanic’.” And with it could come titanic problems: protests, hate mail, boycotts. “Even if it doesn’t deserve it,” says another film exec, “it’s going to be used as a political football.” After months of speculation about “The Passion,” the question remains, Who will buy it?
GIBSON’S FILM — a traditional Roman Catholic portrayal of Jesus’ death — has inspired more hostile attention than any movie in recent history, with accusations that it could foster anti-Semitism, even when few have seen it. Although supporters of the film are just as vocal, the film could prove a PR ulcer for any large, publicly held company. What’s more, movies about Christ haven’t scored at the box office for decades—and “The Passion” is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic with subtitles. [http://www.atour.com/~lexicon]
In 1988, Universal released Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which proposed that Christ was plagued with the same doubts and appetites as normal men. The movie was met with outrage. “There were millions of letters written and 25,000 people marched on Universal,” says Tom Pollock, then a top exec at the studio. “There were death threats against my chairman, myself and Marty Scorsese. There was security in our lives for years.” And the movie made only $8.4 million.
Today studio executives invariably cite “Last Temptation” when discussing “The Passion.” But, as Pollock points out, Gibson’s movie should appeal to Christians, not alienate them. As one producer puts it: “If all the Jews in America don’t go see ‘The Passion’ and all the Christians do, that’s not so terrible. Commercially speaking.” Will the audience be big enough to cover the $25 million Gibson apparently spent? Possibly. Jonathan Bock, head of Grace Hill Media, a PR firm that specializes in marketing movies to faith-based communities, has seen the film and believes it will appeal to all Christians, not just Catholics: “It’s beautiful and tragic. For Christians, it’s like watching a family member being beaten up for two hours. People will be deeply moved.”
Gibson’s company, Icon Productions, did not seek out buyers for the film, but waited to see which suitors came knocking. The studios didn’t, apparently. (Fox, which has a first-look deal with Icon, is the only studio that officially passed.) Icon, however, did get interest from small, independent companies without public shareholders or other assets, like music companies and theme parks, that could be hurt by boycotts or protests. Companies “that have nothing to lose,” as one executive puts it. The top contender now appears to be Newmarket, which released “Memento.” They have made a formal bid, but will not confirm if they have seen the film. Two higher-profile independents, Lions Gate and Miramax, have expressed interest in the film and have asked to see it. They have yet to be invited. The film could prove problematic for Miramax, as its parent company, Disney, dislikes controversy.
Gibson’s camp would not comment about the potential sale, beyond saying it could happen in the “near term.” It’s possible, though remotely, that Icon, which distributes most of Gibson’s films in the U.K. and Australia, may opt to put “The Passion” in U.S. theaters itself. Meanwhile, the press surrounding the film—in particular a New Yorker profile that delineated Gibson’s rigid religious beliefs—has done some damage to his reputation. While he remains one of the most bankable stars in history, his occasionally strident public statements have not played well in an industry predominantly liberal and significantly Jewish. “People think Mel’s crazy now,” says one top producer. Adds a studio head, “People feel like his character in ‘Lethal Weapon’ isn’t that far from who he is. It’s like, ‘Wow, he’s way out on a limb’.” We should know very shortly who’s going to get out there with him.
Robert Downey Jr talks About Mel Gibson and The Passion
Mel Gibson's New 'Passion': Robert Downey Jr.
Mel Gibson is more than just a lightning rod for controversy these days. He's a stand-up guy for a good friend.
That's the word from Robert Downey Jr., whom I met last night at the premiere of his new movie, "The Singing Detective."
The Paramount Classics feature, directed by Keith Gordon, provides Downey with a chance to show off his Oscar chops. His bravura performance as Dan Dark, the psoriasis-suffering, curmudgeonly writer with a vivid musical imagination is a tour de force.
"I haven't felt this positively about a movie since 'Chaplin,'" Downey said, recalling the 1992 film for which he received an Oscar nomination.
But Downey wouldn't have had the multi-layered role of the singing detective if not for Gibson.
"Mel put up the money for my insurance bond," Downey told me. In fact, Gibson and Downey have been close pals since they made "Air America" together back in 1990.
"At the time, I was straight, a teetotaler, and I told Mel, 'I'm even straighter than you,'" Downey laughed, recalling the conversation. "But after everything that happened to me, Mel said, 'Now I'm straighter than you, and it only took 10 years.'"
What happened to Downey is public knowledge (drug arrests, sleeping in the neighbor's house, etc.), but believe it or not it's been two years since he's had any kind of public incident. He's never looked better.
He also has a new girlfriend, Susan Levin, who runs Joel Silver's movie company. Robert is more or less stable. But that didn't stop him from making headlines this summer when he was hired, and then fired, by Woody Allen from Woody's new project. The word was Downey couldn't get insurance.
"The reality was I didn't even want the part," he told me. "They said I was supposed to be the lead, but when I got the script there were six leads. They should have looked into the insurance issue first, but instead Woody got a lot of publicity out of hiring me, and then they said let's try and get insurance. I'm happy to be out of it."
These days, Downey is not only acting but recording music. He's working on an album of songs, he says, that are reminiscent of Steely Dan. In fact, when he promotes "The Singing Detective" on "The Wayne Brady Show" next week, Downey will perform Steely Dan's old hit "Reelin' in the Years" with the band.
So what about Mel Gibson and his controversial movie about Jesus, "The Passion?" Has Downey seen it?
"I have," he told me. "And you know my father is Jewish. His name was Elias and he changed it to Downey. I have it tattooed on my ankle." He rolled over his trouser cuff and sure enough, there was the name "Elias." "'The Passion' is not anti-Semitic," he reassured me.
Meantime, I am told that Gibson's company Icon Productions will distribute "The Passion" themselves overseas.
While Icon depends on finding distribution in the U.S., they are set up for it independently in Europe and Australia. So far no American distributor has been found, although several, including Miramax/Disney and 20th Century Fox, have declined the opportunity.
Gibson, by the way, has a strong supporting role in "The Singing Detective." He plays the main character's shrink and is virtually unrecognizable. He wears a fake baldpate and glasses, dresses in a doctor's white lab coat, black pants and shoes with white athletic socks. Don't be surprised if Gibson gets Oscar buzz in the Best Supporting Actor category.
The strength of Downey's performance -- which puts him in league this year with Sean Penn ("21 Grams"), Peter Dinklage ("The Station Agent"), Jack Nicholson ("Something's Gotta Give"), and Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), among others — could carry Gibson in despite the "Passion" debate.
A Letter to Mel Gibson
Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003
It’s now been a month since I viewed “The Passion,” and I write this letter hoping enough time has passed so that I can speak with some semblance of objectivity.
Quite simply, I believe you have made one of the most breathtaking, poignant movies of our time. I cannot recall a film that has had such a profound effect on my understanding of history, religion and, perhaps most importantly, what we as human beings are capable of in relation to our treatment of one another.
The film’s theme and central lesson is clear and timeless: In the depths of our humanity lies the capacity for great evil and utter ignorance, as well as an equal capacity for love, forgiveness and compassion. It is in this furnace of duality that the arrows of love and compassion are cast alongside the swords of war and hatred. Therein rages the battle that will seethe as long as human beings walk the earth.
Your position as a filmmaker and as a Catholic is obvious from the beginning of the first act. Jesus died for the sins of all humanity. This simple yet powerful idea runs in direct conflict to the notion that Jesus died simply at the behest of the Jews, or for that matter, the Romans. Further, Mary, Jesus, and all of the Apostles are clearly depicted as Jews. Clearly Jewish is the angry throng protesting the crucifixion. Simon, who helps Jesus carry the cross to the final station, is clearly a compassionate Jew.
The film simply depicts the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life and the ordeal he endured as the sufferer of mankind’s sins for all eternity. To say this film is in any way about “finger pointing” or “assigning blame” is akin to saying that “Gladiator” is a film about lion fighting and the Romans’ and Gladiators’ penchant for animal cruelty. It would take an animal rights activist yelling from the world’s highest soapbox to simplify “Gladiator” that way.
That being said, I am deeply saddened and pained by the assault on the film and your character being perpetrated by those whose ignorance is, I’m afraid, helping to fulfill the very prophecy they so deeply fear. The irony here, relative to the movie’s story, is too great to go unmentioned.
My feelings on the film, as a filmmaker, are clear. As a Jew, I left the movie feeling a greater sense of kinship and closeness to my Christian brothers and sisters than I ever thought imaginable. I see “The Passion” as one of the most powerful uniting tools to ever take advantage of the single medium capable of such a task, namely, film.
Whether one believes that Jesus was in fact the Son of God is essentially unimportant in appreciating the beauty and message of the film. The story of the simple relationship between a mother and her son alone is enough to soften even the most hardened of souls.
There are a myriad ways to view the film based on the beliefs the viewer brings with him; if you do believe Jesus was the savior, then this film may be about his having to die for our transgressions. If you do not believe Jesus was the Son of God, then maybe at the least, you leave the film with a great disdain of the laws of the time. Crucifixion was a barbaric and cruel act; it is possible that in a thousand years civilization will look back on our current death penalty in the same way.
I wonder how they will choose to characterize our society. Will it be as murderous Christians or Jews? Murderous Republicans or Democrats? Murderous people who wore blue uniforms, versus those who did not? Alternatively, perhaps they will look back at our society as one whose laws were simply … barbaric.
In the past, my father has related to me stories of his youth as a Jew growing up in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. Hardly a day went by when he did not have to defend himself as a “Christ killer.” Based on your and my discussions, I know how sensitive you are to this reality, as well as the reality that for centuries Jews were persecuted in this very ignorant manner, unfortunately thereby detracting from the Testaments’ actual meaning.
I suppose it is for this reason that the ADL and others believe they are doing the right thing by attacking the film and your character, led by the vicious surgical strike leveled at you in the New York Times. In my opinion, they are guided by a misguided fear that unfortunately belies their very concerns. That is the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that the mudslingers in this case may be creating controversy in an attempt to justify their jobs. I find this “Wag the Dog” scenario disturbing and dangerous.
Simply put, at the end of the day it is only their message that asks the potential viewer to see the film as anti-Semitic.
Bottom line: “The Passion” will not create a single bigot or anti-Semite. It may, however, reveal them. So much the better.
Finally, as we’ve discussed, the centuries of persecution that I spoke of earlier went beyond racial slurs and corporal punishment. Jews were told what they could and could not think, what they could and could not believe, and what they could and could not say.
If for no other reason, I would hope that fellow Jews and Christians alike would see the importance in respecting your rights to create and share whatever vision you choose, and the hypocrisy in the attempts to censure of said rights. I would hope we have moved past the age of ignorance that saw the near genocide of a people, book burnings, men like McCarthy and Stalin flourish, and the raising of a wall in Germany. I would hope that we would not let ignorance guide us back to what we fear so deeply.
Now, this goes without saying, but based on our relationship alone, I know you’re in no way, shape, or form anti-Semitic. I wish with a passion that everyone could know as I do the innate kindness and goodness in your heart. I believe that when they view this movie unencumbered, they will. The film, like any other, deserves that chance.
Thank you for allowing me to view a film that has restored my faith in the power of our medium to move, educate, and uplift the spirit.
Alan Sereboff is a screenwriter who has viewed Mel Gibson's film “The Passion.” Sereboff is Jewish and has worked for Mel's company, Icon Productions, and says, “I will continue to work for him proudly.”
Vatican Official Praises 'The Passion'
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos on Mel Gibson's “The Passion”
Calls It a Tool for Explaining the Person and Message of Christ
VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org) — A cardinal urged the public to see Mel Gibson's film "The Passion," which depicts the suffering and death of Jesus.
After seeing an unfinished version of the film, which will be released next year, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, gave his opinion on the film, in an interview published today in Turin's newspaper La Stampa.
The spokesman of the Jewish community in Rome, Riccardo Pacifici, after reading the cardinal's statements, added: “We are optimistic.”
"The Catholic Church assumed in this connection a very clear position in 1964, canceling from the whole Jewish people the accusation of having killed God," Pacifici said. “This has meant that relations between Jews and Christians are clearly better.”
The cardinal began: “As I watched this yet unfinished version of the film, I experienced moments of profound spiritual intimacy with Jesus Christ. It is a film that leads the viewer into prayer and reflection, into heartfelt contemplation. In fact, as I told Mr. Gibson after the screening, I would gladly trade some of the homilies that I have given about the passion of Christ for even a few of the scenes of his film.”
Here is the translation of the interview.
Q: Do you have any reservations in recommending the film?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: I would like all our Catholic priests throughout the world to see this film. I hope all Christians will be able to see it, and all people everywhere.
Q: The film is reported to contain graphic violence. Won't this provoke anger and hatred among viewers?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: In my opinion, one of the great achievements of this film is to have shown so effectively both the horror of sin and selfishness, and the redeeming power of love.
Seeing this film elicits love and compassion. It makes the viewer want to love more, to forgive, to be good and strong no matter what, just as Christ did even in the face of such terrible suffering.
Q: As prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, your responsibilities include overseeing the catechesis of Catholics worldwide. Does this film contribute positively to your work?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: This film is a triumph of art and faith. It will be a tool for explaining the person and message of Christ. I am confident that it will change for the better everyone who sees it, both Christians and non-Christians alike. It will bring people closer to God, and closer to one another.
Q: Some have expressed fear that Gibson's vivid depiction of the death of Christ could spark anti-Semitism. Is there any truth to this?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, distorts the truth in order to put a whole race of people in a bad light. This film does nothing of the sort.
It draws out from the historical objectivity of the Gospel narratives sentiments of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. It captures the subtleties and the horror of sin, as well as the gentle power of love and forgiveness, without making or insinuating blanket condemnations against one group.
This film expresses the exact opposite, that learning from the example of Christ, there should never be any more violence against any other human being.
Elite Media 'Fueling Hatred' of Mel Gibson?
O'Reilly: Elite Media out to Destroy Mel Gibson
Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly said tonight that the elite media have been vicious in their attacks on Mel Gibson and are out to destroy him.
“You have an elite media which [have] an agenda and the agenda is destroy Mel Gibson because we don't like the concept of what he's doing, basing a movie on the Gospels - we don't like that - so we are going to destroy him personally,” O'Reilly said during an interview on 'The O'Reilly Factor' with New Yorker writer Peter Boyer, who agreed with the host that some of the media attacks on Gibson and his film 'The Passion' have been “hateful.”
Boyer, who has written a 15-page New Yorker story about Gibson and his film, explained that, “There are a group of folks who the minute Mel Gibson announced he was going to make a film about the last hours of Jesus Christ based on the New Testament - based on the Gospels - there were folks who were worried by that, and I'm only guessing that these columnists - these reporters are attuned to that point of view.”
In his New Yorker story, Boyer made clear that what bothered these people - a group of nine scholars - was the fact that Gibson was basing his film on the Gospels, which they view as unreliable.
“Any dramatization of Christ's passion that is based on the Gospels is going to be objectionable,” Boyer said, remarking that the critics “have excused themselves from the question of Jesus' divinity.”
20th Decides Against Distributing Gibson's 'The Passion'
Twentieth Century Fox has decided not to exercise its right of first refusal to distribute Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion about the final hours of Christ. A spokesman for the studio told the New York Daily News,“Fox wouldn't be involved.” He noted that Gibson's production company, Icon, has “a number of alternative distribution options it was pursuing.” Fox's decision was originally disclosed during a rally held outside News Corp's Manhattan headquarters by New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who called upon other film companies to reject the film, insisting that it could revive antisemitism. Gibson's movie, Hikind said, “is unhealthy for Jews all over the world.”
Trying to Censor Mel Gibson's Passion
Legislator Tries to Censor Mel Gibson's 'The Passion'
New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind has planned a press conference Thursday to demand that 20th Century Fox not distribute Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion,” says Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights.
Hikind asserts that the film "resurrects the age-old canard of deicide” and "can incite anti-Semitic violence.”
Catholic League president William A. Donohue said today:
The furor over Mel Gibson’s film has now reached a fever pitch. Assemblyman Hikind’s response is an example of how reaction to "The Passion" has spilled into hysteria.
Assemblyman Hikind has alleged that the movie implicates all Jews in the crucifixion, a common misconception of those who haven’t seen the movie. In fact, absolutely nothing in the film is inconsistent with Nostra Aetate, which repudiated the idea of collective guilt of the Jewish people for Jesus’ death.
The contention that the film ‘will spur anti-Semitic fervor’ is nonsense. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, after seeing the film, commented, ‘You can quote me — Mel Gibson’s 'The Passion' is not anti-Semitic. I did not see any anti-Semitism in it.’
If the Catholic League for one moment thought this would inspire anti-Semitism, it would condemn the movie. Indeed, just last year, the league joined with Dov Hikind and other Jews in calling for a boycott of New York’s Jewish Museum, which exhibited art that trivialized the Holocaust.
Having seen the movie twice, I agree with the hundreds of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews who have now seen ‘The Passion.’ It is near unanimous: this movie will not foment anti-Semitism. Any such blind charges are vacuous.