Friday, January 30, 2004

New York Times on Jesus Films

There's a fine article in today's New York Times on Jesus films, triggered of course by The Passion of the Christ:

Enraged Filmgoers: The Wages of Faith?
The obvious thing to say about the skirmishes over "Passion," which will either subside or intensify once the movie opens nationally on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, is that, since those earlier dust-ups, the sides have reversed. The conservative Christians who were so vocal in their condemnation of Mr. Godard, Mr. Smith and, especially, Mr. Scorsese, are now equally vocal in their defense of Mr. Gibson. An ugly undercurrent of anti-Semitism ran through some of the attacks on those supposedly sacrilegious movies, directed not at the filmmakers, none of whom were Jewish, but at the producers and studio heads who have periodically served as convenient targets for conspiracy-minded demagogues. Similar insinuations bubble beneath the surface of some of the defenses of Mr. Gibson's reportedly pious picture, which is itself accused of fomenting anti-Semitism by placing the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews.

This reversal is testimony both to the endlessness of the culture wars and to the changed landscape of battle. Those Catholics and evangelical Protestants who felt alienated from much of American commercial culture and who informed the earlier protests, have not only a powerful and glamorous Hollywood ally in Mr. Gibson but also a growing sense of cultural and political confidence. More and more it seems that religious expression — in the form of best-selling thrillers, pop music, movies and television programs — is entering the mainstream.
The article discusses Ben Hur, The Robe, King of Kings and how about this for a characterisation of The Greatest Story Ever Told?
In that film, Jesus, played by the young Max von Sydow, wanders through a Holy Land that resembles nothing so much as an endless showbiz talk show, populated by the likes of Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas and John Wayne, temporarily exchanging his cavalry badge for centurion's armor.
The article focuses specially on Last Temptation of Christ and Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew, both of which the author obviously admires.

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