Raising Mel

Mel Gibson might know Scripture, but he has forgotten his Simpsonscreed. In the show's “Beyond Blunderdome” episode, which originally screened on Sept. 26, 1999, the avowedly fringe-conservative Catholic actor (starring as himself) was so receptive to frank criticism regarding his Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonremake that he radically revamped the film at the request of Homer, who deemed Gibson's first take “more boring than church.” Gibson did this despite the strenuous objections of studio executives, who dismissed Homer as “obviously a nut.” “Maybe,” Gibson replied, and then added, “Maybe he's the only person with the guts to tell me the truth.”

The non-cartoon Gibson apparently doesn't curry the advice of outspoken opponents for projects. For instance, he refuses to screen his latest work, The Passion, a retelling of the last 12 hours of the terrestrial life of Jesus, for a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars who requested a viewing after word leaked out that the movie reputedly portrays Jews as bloodthirsty monsters. Instead, Gibson is exhibiting the film—and even hosting Q&A sessions—only with preselected groups of conservative commentators and pastors, to ensure that all feedback is gushing.

The cherry-picked pundit parade barreled into the county this past Friday when the annual Harvest Crusade Jesus-in at Edison Field screened a four-minute segment of The Passion. While introducing the clip, Harvest Crusade leader Greg Laurie—who has seen the film twice, and describes it as “gripping”—revealed to the 30,000-plus audience that he had sought and received Gibson's blessing to show the film.

The cultivating of sympathetic supporters like Laurie has enabled Gibson to turn his shunning of the scholars into a cause célèbre among conservative commentators outraged that individuals—but especially Jews—would dare question a Christian-themed film. For example, Joseph Farah, columnist for the conservative online news site World Net Daily (www.worldnetdaily.com), wrote on July 23 that he “wouldn't recommend” any criticisms by Jews against The Passion: “It would be a dreadful mistake. It would set back Christian-Jewish relations—now at a high point in this country.” Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was even more blunt. “There is a great deal of pressure on Israel right now, and Christians seem to be a major source of support for Israel,” he was quoted as saying in a press release supporting the film. “For the Jewish leaders to risk alienating 2 billion Christians over a movie seems shortsighted.”

Gibson himself strenuously denies that The Passion is anti-Semitic. “Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie,” Gibson told the British newspaper The Guardian. But that's the problem many people have with Gibson doing the film—the Australian actor's beliefs ain't exactly run-of-the-mill Catholic. Gibson funds a fringe sect in Los Angeles that rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (which, among other things, repudiated doctrinal teaching that once held Jews culpable for the death of Jesus) and once called the Vatican a “wolf in sheep's clothing.” Gibson's father, Hutton, is unashamedly anti-Semitic. He told The New York Times Magazine earlier in the year that the Holocaust was a sham and that the Second Vatican Council was “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.”

Laurie addressed none of this during the short screening of The Passion. And the clip—more trailer than narrative—did little either to confirm any anti-Semitic undertones or affirm Gibson's assertion that The Passion will be the most accurate portrayal of the last hours of Jesus ever to grace cinema.

Although Laurie told parents to “cover your small child's eyes,” the scenes were no less bloody than the crucifixion reenactments in The Last Temptation of Christ, A Clockwork Orange, and that Spanish-language Passover production they show every year on KMEX-TV 34. If anything, Gibson's scene was more befitting a fantasy. Although the dialogue is in Aramaic and Latin, none of the Gospels mentioned that dramatic guitar rumbles scored Jesus' lashing, that his many collapses occurred in slo-mo, or—let's get serious now—that Satan-disguised-as-a-snake made constant appearances during the Stations of the Cross.

The Passion is scheduled for release in April, around Passover.

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