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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 27 February 2004

Topic: Bush

Notes on Ground Zero

Now and then I think about grabbing one of the several daily Jet Blue flights from Long Beach to Newark and visiting my attorney friend in New York. He works in lower Manhattan. He had friends die when the World Trade Center buildings fell. He thinks I should visit what is now called "Ground Zero." But I know I shouldn't make that visit. I would not be welcome there. There is no place for me, the registered Democrat and decades-long member of the ACLU and NAACP. That spot is reserved for Republicans, the patriots who supported the war of vengeance against Iraq, the center of all the effort to kills us all. I don't see it that way. So I will stay here.

Do you think that's silly? Consider this:

Albert Eisele and Jeff Dufour, The Hill, February 26, 2004
President planning NYC extravaganza
White House goal is unprecedented convention theater
"And now, direct from Ground Zero, heeeeeeere's the president!"

Well, that's not exactly how President Bush is likely to be introduced when he gives his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 2, but it might be something equally dramatic and theatrical.

According to sources privy to convention planners' discussions, the 2004 GOP conclave at New York's Madison Square Garden will be unlike any previous quadrennial gathering of either party. In fact, not all of the main events will be held at the Garden, sources involved in planning the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 convention said.

"The entire format and actual physical setup could be radically different," one GOP insider commented. "They might not even have a podium, or maybe a rotating podium or even a stage that comes up from underground. It would be like a theater in the round, with off-site events that are part of the convention."

The source, a veteran official of past GOP conventions, said the 50,000 delegates, dignitaries and guests would watch off-site events on giant TV screens. "Now, we'll go to the deck of the USS Intrepid as the U.S. Marine Corps Band plays the National Anthem," he said, pretending that he was playing the part of the convention chairman.

"Or, and this is a real possibility, we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero," he added. "It's clearly a venue they're considering."
Well, that's what people want to see. I don't.

Perhaps people - widows and such who think the investigation of what happened should go on and not be shut down by the House as was announced this week - will actually become a bit angry that the place where so many died should be used as a campaign symbol by the Bush-Cheney ticket.

But Karl Rove, the president's life-long friend and political advisor, can hardly resist this. It's the perfect "you're with us or you love and support the terrorists" symbolism. Vote for Bush or declare you don't care about all those who died here.

Oh well. What else would you expect?

And on the same topic I was surprised by CNN last night when the cuddly moderate Aaron Brown opened his show "Newsnight" with this.

Broadcast Transcript of Segment Aired February 26, 2004 - 22:30 EST
We admit we don't do causes very well on the program. And I don't do outrage well at all, yet, tonight, a cause and an outrage. The decision by the speaker of the House to deny the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attack on America a 60-day extension -- that's all, 60 days -- to complete its work is unconscionable and indefensible, which, no doubt, explains why neither the speaker, nor any member of the House leadership, nor none of their press secretaries would come on the program to talk about it, despite repeated requests.

The commission itself has gone about its work quietly. It's had to fight tooth and nail to get necessary information. And now this, an arbitrary decision to deny not just the commission -- that's the least of it -- but the country the chance to know all of what happened, how it happened, and how best to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps, the speaker and his team assume you do not care. I hope they're wrong. I hope you care enough to write them and e-mail them and call them until they relent. Do that. Do it for the victims and their families. Do it for the country that was attacked and for history.
Now that is odd. And Aaron is such a pleasant man.

But we may get the full investigation, at the cost of thousands of jobs and a few potholes in our roads. What? See this:

Highway Bill Embroiled in 9/11 Dispute
Associated Press, February 27, 2004, filed 11:58 a.m. EST

It seems McCain and Lieberman - troublemakers for each of their parties - have a plan.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 5,000 Transportation Department workers face a furlough on Monday, a possible result of two senators using an expiring highway bill to force House Republicans to accept a two month extension of an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"We all have a choice here to make,'' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., was using the highway bill as leverage to win an extension for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which is scheduled to finish its work on May 27.

He said the choice was between "minor'' disruptions in highway projects and "telling the families of those who died on 9/11 that the commission will not be able to complete its work.''
Well, whatever works.

As far as the commission goes, if they are allowed to wrap up their work, Clinton and Gore will testify. No problem. Bush and Cheney will talk only to the two chairmen, privately, only for an hour and no more, and not under oath. That would be informal and off the record. Condoleezza Rice, our National Security Advisor, announced today that she will not talk to the commission at all, formally or informally, for any amount of time, under any circumstances.

But if the Speaker of the House has the votes to stop the commission now, and he seems to have them, this all is moot. There will be no extension for any of this foolishness.

So look for Bush to make his acceptance speech at Ground Zero in early September. And know that he is challenging you to choose sides and act like a patriot.

Yes, the tone of all this is bitter. Martin's friends didn't die for George Bush.

But maybe they did.

Posted by Alan at 10:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Topic: The Culture

Bush Calls for All-Out Cultural War. No One Shows Up.

I'll just never know when a story has legs. The Bush endorsement of an amendment to the constitution to ban gay marriages hit the news early this week and caused all sorts of sound and fury, but it's old news now.

As Markos Moulitsas Z?niga at the "daily kos" website sums up:
This amendment is dead. The votes aren't there in the Senate. They aren't there in the House. The cable news networks were handing the Hate Amendment's Republican backers their asses on a platter....

Legislatively this issue isn't going anywhere. And while we all want to discuss this issue right now, I can guarantee we'll be talking about something else in two weeks. We're going to move on, and so is the country.

Sure, Bush will talk about it in his speeches, to which Democrats should ask, "Well, why aren't the two Republican controlled chambers of Congress introducing the amendment?"

... Civil unions are a given, the battle is now over nomenclature. And it's a battle I am more than happy to cede at this time. But calls for a Constitutional Amendment are a whole different matter.

... Just don't seek to enshrine discrimination, of any kind, in the Constitution.
As of this evening, forty-one senators now oppose the amendment idea - and even if a few change their minds, that's it. Two thirds would have to approve it. If forty-one of the one hundred senators now say this is a monumentally stupid idea, well, perhaps Bush can say something like... "Just kidding."

Of course, since the amendment would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress all Bush can do now is pressure the states to call a constitutional convention on banning gay marriage. Will he? Perhaps. Will most of the states say yes, let's take a break from worrying about budgets and jobs and have a big convention in, say, Dallas? Unlikely.

And the celebrity wedding today was Rosie O'Donnell marrying her female companion is San Francisco. This all is moving fast and becoming a non-issue.

After Bush's announcement Tuesday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Republican former pest control technician from Texas, said it would "take time to gauge the level of support" in Congress for a constitutional amendment. He suggested the difficulty of passing one may cause lawmakers to take a different approach to preserving marriage as a solely man-woman union. "We don't want to do this in haste," as the man said.

Well, it didn't take that much time. Sorry, George.

Republican congressman David Dreier from out here, and a co-chairman of Bush's campaign in California in 2000, said he doesn't support a constitutional amendment. "I believe that this should go through the courts, and I think that we're at a point where it's not necessary," he said.

Damn. And John McCain, the Arizona ex-prisoner-of-war Republican. said the matter should be left to the states, and then the usually far-right congressman also for out here, Jerry Lewis (not the movie guy once loved by the French), said changing the Constitution should be a last resort on almost any issue.

Add to that the Log Cabin Republicans, that gay Republican group, saying they're worried that Bush risks alienating the one million gays and lesbians who voted for him in 2000 by pushing for the constitutional amendment. Mark Mead, the political director of this group, said in an interview with Associated Press Radio, "We believe that this is a move to start a culture war, fueled and pushed by the radical right, that will end up in George Bush's defeat, and defeat for a lot of good Republicans who are with us on equality."

Hey George! What if you called for a war and nobody showed up?

Margaret Cho did get off a good paragraph before we all realized this wasn't really an issue:
If you are not gay, it is still your issue, because if we are to lose this battle, who will be there to defend your rights? If the government is allowed to take freedoms away from a certain group of people, then how much longer will it be until they come for you? We are a much more formidable opponent than anyone would have known. We've never had a chance to grab the brass wedding ring, the symbol of equality, the real civil union - not between us in place of marriage - but the union we have with the rest of the citizens of this nation. How strong is your grip?
Good one. But we actually do know enough to be decent to each other, usually.

Heck, even in Georgia, where the superintendent of schools wanted to forbid teachers from speaking the word "evolution" and make sure the word didn't ever appear in the textbooks anywhere in the state, this is a dead issue. A few hours ago the Georgia House rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - a surprise. Everyone thought the same-sex marriage question was almost certain to go to Georgia voters this fall. Guess not.

There are other issues - like forty-one million folks without health insurance, and a third or more of the country living in poverty, by our own government's standards. And new applications for unemployment benefits rose again this week, surprising everyone, again. We lost nearly three million jobs in the last three years and there are likely more than nine million out of work, counting in those who just gave up looking.

And there is this:

Number of Mass Layoffs Rose Sharply in January
2,400 Employers Let Go 50 or More
Kirstin Downey, The Washington Post, Thursday, February 26, 2004; Page E02
More than 2,400 employers across the country reported laying off 50 or more workers in January, the third-highest number of so-called mass layoffs since the government became tracking them a decade ago.

Only in December 2000 and December 2002 were the number of large layoffs higher. A total of 239,454 workers lost their jobs in the January layoffs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported yesterday, based on unemployment insurance claims filed with state employment agencies. Among them were 17,544 temporary workers.

The total jobs lost in January was the most since November 2002, when 240,171 workers were let go in groups of 50 or more. Manufacturing workers, particularly in transportation, food processing and retail jobs, were hardest hit. The large layoffs also included 10,876 government workers, most at the state and local levels.

... The administration tried in late 2002 to cease publication of the mass layoff report, citing its cost. But Congress restored funding after state officials complained.

California, the most populous state, had the most mass layoffs, 576, according to the BLS data. This was followed by 194 in New York, 171 in Michigan and 167 in Pennsylvania. In Virginia, 24 employers laid off 50 or more workers, affecting 3,061 jobs. In Maryland, 19 employers did so, with 2,009 jobs lost.
Yep, Bush says things are getting better.

And the whole world knows we went to war telling everyone Iraq was a danger and the UN weapons inspectors were fools - and got proved wrong. And 549 of our soldiers are dead there so far. Pakistan has been selling nukes to anyone with cash, and we forgive them. We still don't want to talk with North Korea who says they have nukes and could use them on us. Haiti is disintegrating and we're doing nothing much - and today we turned away two large ships full of people trying to get the hell out of there. Sent all two or three hundred back - as they're not Cubans, damn it! We just lifted travel restrictions on Libya so our multinational corporations can go back in and wheel and deal, and today tightened travel restrictions on Cuba so no one much can even visit there.

Add to that the usual - there still are terrorists and some other folks in this world who want us real dead. We need to think about that. On the other hand the Speaker of House just yesterday blocked the 9-11 Commission from getting any more time to investigate what happened more than two years ago - so no one will be embarrassed. And so on and so forth.

Then there are issues with education - state after state is pulling out of Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program. The funding never came through. Just like the money we said we'd spend on AIDS problems in Africa. Never got around to funding that either. But they were good IDEAS!

As for this constitutional amendment idea to keep the perverse gay folks in line, well, maybe later. But probably not.

Posted by Alan at 21:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 26 February 2004 21:27 PST home

Topic: The Culture

A little humor to start the day...

Pacific Views provides a transcript from "The Daily Show" of Monday, February 23, 2004 - and one is to remember this is satire.

On the "Gay Marriage Issue" -
Jon Stewart: For more on the gay marriage controversy, we turn to Daily Show senior moral authority, Steven Colbert. Steven, thanks for joining us, we appreciate you being here. Steven, obviously you're something of an expert on relationships. Having by your own count, been involved in over 300 of them by your, I believe, your 21st birthday.

Steven Colbert: And, 10 more on my 21st birthday, John. It was... it was quite a night.

JS: Steven, why has same sex marriage created such a furor?

SC: John, there's a simple fact here: marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. An often violated, easily broken, eminently disposable contract. Between a man and a woman. The minute we let gays and female gays...

JS: That's uh, that's lesbians.

SC: Them. The minute we let them get married, you're breaking down the last societal barrier between our world and their world.

JS: But, I think that's the point. I think the point is that when you break down those barriers, that's a metaphor for something positive.

SC: Look, Jon, the only reason my wife and I got married in the first place was because it was something gays couldn't do. Our wedding was conceived entirely as a giant homosexual taunt. But now, now the vows I made to my wife seem as shallow and empty as the vows I made to my three previous wives.
Not far off the mark from what I've been reading in the conservative press.

Posted by Alan at 10:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Topic: The Culture

Dead in the streets as the rabble is finally aroused?
No, the cultural war was lost long ago.

Some bloggers use pseudonyms to keep their identities secret, kind of like the pamphleteers in eighteenth-century America. This protects individuals from retaliation for having unpopular views, and it prevents controversial ideas from being suppressed. Heck, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Mark Twain used pseudonyms. In the McIntyre case, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required pamphleteers to identify themselves, saying there was a right to anonymity in a democracy. (See United States Supreme Court. No. 93-986 - Joseph McIntyre, executor of estate of Margaret McIntyre, deceased, Petitioner v. Ohio Elections Commission. April 19, 1995.)

So I don't know who "Billmon" really is, although I suppose if I looked hard enough I could find out.

He sure has some interesting things to say. This below has to do with the proposed amendment to the constitution to ban "gay marriage" (leaving us only with morose marriages?) that was called for by George Bush this week.

Site Name: Whiskey Bar
Description: Free Thinking in a Dirty Glass
Site URL:
Entry URL:

Here's what caught my eye:
Ever since the red-meat style of politics came of age in the early 1980s, the Bushes have kept guys like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove on the payroll to do their dirty work -- just as most wealthy families have servants to take out the garbage and feed the dogs. And all along, they've peddled the same pose: "It's not that we want to pander to the yahoos, but we have no choice. Politics is such a coarse business."

Now this is roughly like the schoolyard bully saying, "I didn't want to smash your face in, but I had no choice. I needed your lunch money." Over the years the Bushes - and their faithful family retainers - have developed a kind of proprietary interest in the White House, to the point where Peggy Noonan could rejoice even before the 2000 election in the family's looming "restoration" -- as if the Bushes were the Bourbons and the Clintonites a rabble from the slums of Paris. Which, come to think of it, isn't too far off the mark...

But the end result is kind of an inverse form of noblesse oblige, in which a familial duty (or compulsion) to public service creates an obligation to do whatever is necessary to hold on to power -- instead of the other way around.

However, the will to power is now leading George II and his ministers into deeper and deeper social waters. Gay marriage ain't the pledge of allegiance, and ACT UP ain't the ACLU. The Rovians, I think, are risking (among other things) some fairly spectacular protests at their convention in New York this summer, which may tax even the NYPD's ability to maintain a speech free zone around Madison Square Garden.

This no doubt, will whip the faithful inside the hall to even higher heights of cultural frenzy. This may be a great tonic for the base. But it could really alienate the rest of the country, especially if it were to turn violent -- just as the 1968 protests in Chicago tagged the Democrats as the party of chaos and conflict.

Would such a display hurt Bush, or ricochet back against the Dems? I don't know. But our Kennebunkport aristocrats may want to reflect on the fact that the Bourbon restoration only lasted a relatively brief 15 years, before that Parisian rabble put their old cockades back on and ran the dynasty out of town -- this time for good.
Well, my friend Ric in Paris will get a kick out of this observation that the Bush dynasty is quite clearly parallel to the Bourbons. I think that may be a stretch, even if Peggy Noonan, who wrote Reagan's speeches and now writes for the Wall Street Journal thinks the Democrats are much like the rabble in Paris who so hated the rightful monarchy of the time.

Yes, George the First (Bush, not the German-speaking Hanoverian one in early eighteenth century England) did have his little cultural war calling for a constitutional amendment to carve out an exception to the first amendment of the Bill of Rights regarding free speech - that is, Bush the First wanted an exception to free speech that would make burning the flag in any protest a federal crime. That didn't fly. Oh well.

Indeed, our George the Second has decided to plunge into deep social waters, as this fellow points out. This time it is another "carve out." But this time a specific group of citizens would be told certain rights will not ever be granted to them, by any legislation or regulation or fiat. The "meta-law" - the constitution - would be changed. It would be changed to exclude this class of people from certain rights. One would be hard-pressed to recall any previous change in the constitution that called for specific exclusion from rights and privileges, as previously on matters of race and the rights of women, the change were for inclusion. How odd.

Well, this is a cultural war, isn't it? And Bush the Second says he is a "war president." It fits.

This much more specific that saying you cannot burn the flag when you get grumpy, and yes, could well provoke some unruliness in New York at the Republican Convention this fall. That would be interesting. Mayor Bloomberg is not likely to do what Richard Daley the Elder did in 1968 in Chicago - send in the police to smash some heads. I suspect he knows better.

Yet something is in the air. Violence?

Out here in California our governor has something like that in mind. On Sunday, Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was worried about the potential for violence because of the controversial marriages. "All of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing. The next thing we know is there's injured or there's dead people," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Since nothing like that is happening one assumes such statements are offered to make something like that happening more likely. Consider it a suggestion from Arnold to his conservative base. Dead people. He's asking his conservative base to think about it.

Well, Bush is saying he really didn't want to do this "amend the constitution" thing, but he was forced to by events in San Francisco (with that uppity bobo, pretty boy mayor) - and events in Massachusetts (with those "activist judges" who think the constitution trumps the will of all the people so appalled by perversity being rewarded with the rights and privileges of marriage).

Damned bobo (bourgeois bohemian) liberals! See Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon and Schuster, May 2000) by the conservative columnist David Brooks, of course, for that.

Anyway, the younger Bush wanted his war with Iraq and he got it - not nicely and at the cost of now being called a fraud about his public reasons for it, and at the cost of the good will of most of the nations of the world, and at the cost of our dead and maimed, and the thousands and thousands of Iraqi folks who had to die. Just so he wants his four more years in office, and if that means cultural war to punish the gay folks, so be it. And just so with the economy - tax cuts for the wealthy and reductions for those in need, as with today's call for reductions in social security payments to the elderly to finance ongoing tax cuts. And just so with the environment too.

The monarchy gets what it wants.

We have nothing akin to the Parisian rabble that lopped off the heads of the Bourbons. Our "rabble" is sedated - quiescent, passive, happy in their SUV's and then home in front of the television watching the last episode of "Sex in the City" on HBO. Well, the maybe the word for our rabble is "moribund."

Oh yes, the concluding episode of "Sex and the City" that the whole country was buzzing about? Carrie has run off to Paris but ends up rejecting Aleksandr - the self-centered Euroweenie artist played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her first true beau, the ultra rich businessman Mister Big, flies over from New York and they meet fortuitously in the lobby of the Plaza Ath?n?e (h?tel de prestige, Paris 8e. Situ? avenue Montaigne) - and with the obligatory long shots of the sparkling Eiffel Tower he proposes to her on the Pont des Arts, (view south to the dome of L'Institute de France) - and then they fly back to Manhattan to connubial bliss, one supposes. No revolutionary rabble to be seen anywhere.

Nope, the cultural war was lost long ago.

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 25 February 2004 22:43 PST home

Topic: The Culture

I've long felt - long before the Muslim fanatics took down the World Trade Center - that religion was nothing but trouble in this world. I try to avoid it.

The controversial film finally opened today.

This is it:
The Passion of the Christ
MPAA rating: R, for scenes of graphic violence.
An Icon Productions presentation in association with Newmarket Films.
Director Mel Gibson.
Producers Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey, Stephen McEveety.
Executive producer Enzo Sisti.
Screenplay Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson.
Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.
Production designer Francesco Frigeri.
Set decorator Carlo Gervasi.
Editor John Wright.
Music John Debney.
Special makeup and visual effects Keith Vanderlaan.
Running time 2 hours, 6 minutes.
In general release.

If you go to the left column and click on you'll see my long-time friend, who has children, has actually taken a formal position on this film and has undertaken a letter writing campaign. Parents should not take their children to see this film. Of course that is what Christian evangelicals are doing all over the country today.

What is up with this? For the first time that I can recall, yesterday the Los Angeles Times actually ran a film review on its first page, even if it was below the fold. And it was about Gibson's movie.

You can read it here if you go through their complex registration process.

If you don't care to do that here are highlights from:
A narrow vision and staggering violence
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, February 24 2004

Turan is the senior film critic of the newspaper and he's not happy.
Combining the built-in audience of the Bible, the incendiary potential of "The Birth of a Nation" and the marketing genius of "The Blair Witch Project," the arrival of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" feels like a milestone in modern culture. It's a nexus of religion, celebrity, cinema and mass communication that tells us more about the way our world works than we may want to know.

The film left me in the grip of a profound despair, and not for reasons I would have thought. It wasn't simply because of "The Passion's" overwhelming level of on-screen violence, a litany of tortures ending in a beyond-graphic crucifixion.

And it wasn't because of the treatment of the high priest Caiphas and the Hebrew power elite of Jesus' time -- a disturbing portrait likely to give, I feel sure unintentionally, comfort to anti-Semites.

Instead, what is profoundly disheartening is that people of goodwill will see this film in completely different ways. Where I see almost sadistic violence, they will see transcendence; where I see blame, they will see truth.
Of course Turan gives an analysis of the film's structure and technique, as on would expect out here in movieland. But in passing he does hit a few key cultural issues regarding the film.
It has the potential to foster divisiveness because of the way it exposes and accentuates the fissures in belief that otherwise might go unnoticed. We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads, and it is not to the gates of heaven.
Don't tell that to Mel Gibson.

Gibson is sincere in believing this film is highly moral and will lead people to some higher plane, although Turan disagrees:
... it shouldn't be surprising that what's immediately most evident about "The Passion" is its complete sincerity. This is Gibson's personal vision of the greatest story ever told, a look inside his heart and soul. Gibson even personally provided, according to composer John Debney, the despairing wail that accompanies Judas' suicide. When the director writes in the introduction to the film's coffee-table book that he wanted his work "to be a testament to the infinite love of Jesus the Christ," there is no reason to doubt him. Which makes it even sadder that "The Passion of the Christ" does not play that way.
Well, how does it play?
The first hint of trouble is in a brief flashback to Caiphas, the Jewish High Priest (Mattia Sbragia) arrogantly tossing a purse containing the legendary 30 pieces of silver to Judas (Luca Lionello) in such a way that they fall and humiliate the traitor.

In the iconography of the passion, Judas is one of the great villains, and he's usually portrayed in Western art as well as previous films as the most wretched of creatures. Yet in this scene he is treated with more dignity and sympathy than Caiphas, who gives a first impression of smug and unctuous arrogance that the rest of "The Passion" only reinforces.

And we do see a great deal of the richly dressed, obviously well-fed Caiphas the rest of the way. In addition to paying Judas, this powerful Jew is the one who sends armed men to arrest Jesus, manipulates his trial before the Sanhedrin and stage-manages his appearance before Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov).

The Roman governor, nominally in charge, is portrayed as a study in impotent agony, reluctant to hand over Jesus but powerless before the strength of the Jewish mastermind's manipulations. He gives up Jesus to be first tortured and then crucified after a huge crowd of Jews, which earlier had taunted and spit on the man, screams over and over for his head.

What are we to make of this front-and-centering of the Jews in Jesus' plight? In dramatic terms, Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald likely decided a great hero needed an equally powerful and well-defined antagonist to enhance the story, so why not Caiphas? As Paul Lauer, marketing director for Icon, Gibson's production company, told the New York Times, "You can't get away from the fact that there are some Jews who wanted this guy dead."
So Mel is just telling it like it is? The Jews carry a collective guilt here?

Maybe so. Maybe not.

Some of the detail is here:
As for the film's violence, it too starts early and stays late. Jesus is badly beaten and humiliated, dangled over a bridge by the chains he's bound in, before he's even brought before Caiphas. He's accused of blasphemy and black magic and then shunted back and forth between Pilate and King Herod, neither of whom, absent the persistence of the Jewish elite, would have the stomach to pass any kind of judgment.

Finally, in desperation, Pilate orders Jesus flogged by Roman soldiers.

This is no ordinary movie flogging. This is an unspeakably savage, unrelenting real-time beating, first with a cane, then with an especially barbarous instrument the press material identifies as "a flagrum, or 'the cat o' nine tails,' a whip designed with multiple straps and embedded with barbed metal tips to catch and shred the skin and cause considerable blood loss." All of which is shown in a kind of horrific detail that would be unthinkable in a film that could not claim the kind of religious connection this one does.

When this torture, gruesome enough to disgust even the hardened Romans, is done, the Jews, to Pilate's evident disbelief, are still not satisfied, even insisting that the subhuman murderer Barabbas be released and Jesus, soon to be fitted with a graphically embedded crown of thorns, crucified. Which is what happens, but not all at once.

For "The Passion of the Christ" spends a considerable amount of time on meticulously detailing the agonies of the road to Calvary as well as the tortures of the actual Roman crucifixion, including unblinkingly graphic close-ups of the actual nailing and a shot of a bird pecking out the eye of one of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus.
Well, that will cause you to think twice at stopping at Noah's Bagels for a snack.

Okay then. That is the film. The children of the editor of might find this all a tad disturbing.

And Turan is happy either:
As an actor, Gibson has always had a taste for playing heroes who are physically martyred and put through the tortures of hell. His William Wallace is disemboweled in "Braveheart," the characters he plays in both "Payback" and "Ransom" are savagely beaten and his "Lethal Weapon" hero is nearly electrocuted. The violence in "Passion" is stomach-turning in part because that's the way Gibson likes it. In fact, he likes it worse. When asked by a friendly questioner during an outreach screening if he could have toned the film down, the director replied, "Dude, I did tone it down."

The problem with "The Passion's" violence is not merely how difficult it is to take, it's that its sadistic intensity obliterates everything else about the film. Worse than that, it fosters a one-dimensional view of Jesus, reducing his entire life and world-transforming teachings to his sufferings, to the notion that he was exclusively someone who was willing to absorb unspeakable punishment for our sins.
I guess the guy didn't like it.

David Edelstein over at Slate didn't like it either, but he takes a lighter view of things.

See Jesus H. Christ: The Passion, Mel Gibson's bloody mess. posted Tuesday, Febrary 24, 2004, at 4:28 PM Pacific Time

Edelstein gets in Mel's case directly:
Ever since his star began to rise after the 1979 Australian thriller Mad Max, Mel Gibson hasn't seemed fully alive on screen unless he's being tortured and mutilated. In the Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon films, as well as such one-shots as Conspiracy Theory (1997) and The Patriot (2000), Gibson courted martyrdom, and he achieved it. He won an Oscar for his labors in Braveheart (1995), which ends with its hero managing to scream "FREEEEE-DOM!!" as he's drawn and quartered. Gibson snatched the pulp movie Payback (1999) away from its writer-director, Brian Helgeland, to make the torture of his character even more gruelingly explicit: He added shots of his toes being smashed by an iron hammer.

Payback: That's what almost all of Gibson's movies are about (including his 1990 Hamlet.) Even if he begins as a man of peace, Mad Mel ends as a savage revenger.

A devout Catholic -- albeit one who believes that Vatican II, which formally absolved the Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus, is illegitimate -- Gibson has said that what moves him most about the Christ story is that Jesus was whipped, scourged, mocked, spat on, had spikes driven through his hands and feet, and was left to die on the cross -- and that he didn't think of payback; he thought of forgiveness. But by wallowing in his torture and death for two hours, the director of The Passion of the Christ (Newmarket) suggests that he's thinking of anything but.
What follows, of course, is a deconstruction of Gibson's personal psychological problems, and they are many.

Edelstein does give, in detail, the images of the bulk of the movie, the torture of Jesus, and adding them all up finds them so over the top he come to this conclusion:
I know, it sounds like a Monty Python movie. You're thinking there must be something to The Passion of the Christ besides watching a man tortured to death, right?

Actually, no: This is a two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie -- The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre -- that thinks it's an act of faith. For Gibson, Jesus is defined not by his teachings in life -- by his message of mercy, social justice, and self-abnegation, some of it rooted in the Jewish Torah, much of it defiantly personal -- but by the manner of his execution.
So if you want to see Gibson work out his martyr complex, by all means go see the film.

Or don't. Edelstein finds the film exhausting and puzzling.
Gibson uses every weapon in his cinematic arsenal to drive home the agony of those last dozen hours. While his mother and Mary Magdalene watch, Jesus is lashed until his entire body is covered in bloody crisscrossing canals. When he rises, amazing the Roman soldiers with his stamina, they go for the scourges, which rip and puncture his flesh in slow motion -- all while the Romans and the Jews cackle wildly. Carrying his cross, he falls again and again in slow motion on his swollen, battered body while the soundtrack reverberates with heavy, Dolby-ized thuds. It is almost a relief when the spikes are driven into his hands and feet --at least it means that his pain is almost over.

What does this protracted exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christian faith? I'm asking; I don't know.
I suspect Edelstein is not a born-again evangelical Christian. Otherwise, I guess, he'd know. I sure don't.

David Denby over at The New Yorker is similarly puzzled:
In "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus' heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance -- Christ as a "paragon of vitality and poetic assertion," as John Updike described Jesus' character in his essay "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew." Cecil B. De Mille had his version of Jesus' life, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese had theirs, and Gibson, of course, is free to skip over the incomparable glories of Jesus' temperament and to devote himself, as he does, to Jesus' pain and martyrdom in the last twelve hours of his life. As a viewer, I am equally free to say that the movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony -- and to say so without indulging in "anti-Christian sentiment" (Gibson's term for what his critics are spreading). For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagerly involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus' message of love into one of hate.
Well, I suppose Mel, his father, and a good many evangelical Christian would ask the obvious question - Isn't hate sometimes appropriate? That does seem one way many here and, more particularly, many outside the United States would feel after seeing this film.

Denby does ask how people become better Christians if they are "filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?"

Good question.

Denby too suggests the problem is Gibson:
By contrast with the dispatching of Judas, the lashing and flaying of Jesus goes on forever, prolonged by Gibson's punishing use of slow motion, sometimes with Jesus' face in the foreground, so that we can see him writhe and howl. In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical details -- an arm pulled out of its socket, huge nails hammered into hands, with Caviezel jumping after each whack. At that point, I said to myself, "Mel Gibson has lost it," and I was reminded of what other writers have pointed out -- that Gibson, as an actor, has been beaten, mashed, and disembowelled in many of his movies. His obsession with pain, disguised by religious feelings, has now reached a frightening apotheosis.
Apotheosis? Mel Gibson finally make all his sadistic and masochistic issues holy? Maybe so.

And Denby agrees with
What is most depressing about "The Passion" is the thought that people will take their children to see it. Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," not "Let the little children watch me suffer." How will parents deal with the pain, terror, and anger that children will doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead? The despair of the movie is hard to shrug off, and Gibson's timing couldn't be more unfortunate: another dose of death-haunted religious fanaticism is the last thing we need.
Agreed. But did Denby just lump Gibson in with Isalmic fanatics in the mountains of Afghanistan filled with hate and obsessed with death and pain and suffering? Yep. And appropriately so.

Those guys hate us. And Gibson, though he claims it is not so, has a problem with the Jews.

Jami Bernard is the film critic and columnist for The Daily News, and author of the film books "Chick Flicks," "Total Exposure," "First Films" and "Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies." She has this to say.
No child should see this movie.

Even adults are at risk.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.

It is sickening, much more brutal than any "Lethal Weapon."

The violence is grotesque, savage and often fetishized in slo-mo. At least in Hollywood spectacles that kind of violence is tempered with cartoonish distancing effects; not so here. And yet "The Passion" is also undeniably powerful.

... Is it anti-Semitic?


Jews are vilified, in ways both little and big, pretty much nonstop for two hours, seven minutes.

Gibson cuts from the hook nose of one bad Jewish character to the hook nose of another in the ensuing scene.

He misappropriates an important line from the Jewish celebration of Pesach ("Why is this night different from all other nights?") and slaps it onto a Christian context.

Most unforgivable is that Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), the Roman governor of Palestine who decreed that Jesus be crucified, is portrayed as a sensitive, kind-hearted soul who is sickened by the tortures the Jewish mobs heap upon his prisoner.

Pilate agrees to the Crucifixion only against his better judgment.

The most offensive line of the script, which was co-written by Gibson with Benedict Fitzgerald, about Jews accepting blame, was not cut from the movie, as initially reported. Only its subtitle was removed.

... Religious intolerance has been used as an excuse for some of history's worst atrocities. "The Passion of the Christ" is a brutal, nasty film that demonizes Jews at an unfortunate time in history.
But Gibson says it just the truth. Well, as he sees it.

Am I being too negative?

The Los Angeles Times does the heavy lifting for us all and gives us a scan of other views:
"Relentlessly savage, 'The Passion' plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade. The film that has been getting rapturous advance raves from evangelical Christians turns out to be an R-rated inspirational movie no child can, or should, see. To these secular eyes at least, Gibson's movie is more likely to inspire nightmares than devotion."
- David Ansen, Newsweek

"It's a very great film. It's the only religious film I've seen, with the exception of 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew' by Pasolini, that really seems to deal directly with what happened instead of with all kinds of sentimentalized, cleaned up, postcard versions of it."
- Roger Ebert in "Ebert & Roeper"

"Where, one wonders throughout, is the 'tolerance, love and forgiveness' that Gibson has promised his audience? Where, beyond some furtive snatches of back story, is the buoyant embrace of life and hope that Christ's message represents to millions? This movie is little else besides a depiction of punishment so ruthless and unyielding that watching it unfold feels like punishment."
- Gene Seymour, Newsday

"What is the audience for this Passion? Many Christians -- who would appreciate the message -- may be repelled by the film's unrelenting bloodletting. The teen boys who make box-office winners every Friday night may like the blood, but they want their heroes to fight back and blow stuff up. Nor is this exactly a date movie. No, the audience profile for 'The Passion of the Christ' is fairly narrow: true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified. And a few movie critics who can't help admiring Mad Mel for the spiritual compulsion that drove him to invent a new genre -- the religious splatter-art film -- and bring it to searing life, death and resurrection."
- Richard Corliss. Time

"The bloodiest story ever told.... Gibson's fervor belongs as much to the realm of sadomasochism as to Christian piety."
- Peter Rainer, New York

"Gibson, as director, producer and co-writer, is fetishistic in his depiction of the pain Jesus suffered during the last 12 hours of his life. The beating and whipping and ripping of skin become so repetitive, they'll leave the audience emotionally drained and stunned.

"Yes, yes. That's the point, Gibson has said -- he wants his film to be shockingly graphic to show the humanity of Christ's sacrifice.

"But the idea that children should see 'The Passion' as a learning device -- that churches are organizing screenings and theater trips for their parishioners and catechism classes -- is truly shocking. Grown-ups -- even true believers -- will have difficulty sitting through the film. Just think of the trauma it will inflict on kids."

- Christy Lemire, Associated Press
Well, Roger Ebert liked it. And Laura Bush said she really wants to see it.

I'll pass. Mel Gibson can work out his own problems without my nine dollars. And I've long felt - long before the Muslim fanatics took town the World Trade Center - that religion was nothing but trouble in this world. I try to avoid it.

Posted by Alan at 13:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 February 2004 23:12 PST home

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