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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: February 25-February 29, 2004

Thursday, February 26, 2004:

Didn't have to go to work today because Jon called and told me that the store had received only 60 boxes and he'd pretty much gotten through all of them by 10:30 AM. I felt like spending my free day being productive, but didn't feel like expending much energy doing anything. So I figured a good compromise would be to visit assorted political websites like freedomtomarry.org and see if they had any pre-written position letters I could copy-and-paste into e-mails to my congressional representatives. And it probably would indeed have been a good compromise if I hadn't said, "Screw it," and watched Reservoir Dogs instead.

I got my messenger bag in the mail today. Thanks to Gina for recommending Yakpak to me. I have a question, though: am I supposed to wear the strap on the same shoulder as the hip that the bag itself sits next to (right hip, right shoulder), or am I supposed to sling the strap around my neck and wear it on the opposite shoulder (right hip, left shoulder)? It seems like the latter makes more sense as far as keeping it on, but if it's also a fashion disaster, someone should tell me now. I've learned that it's best to ask these questions up front to avoid repeating the whole wearing-women's-slacks-around-Manhattan-last-summer incident.

Also, if anyone feels like visiting the Disclaimer page on Amazon and writing a reader review of my album or posting amusing "If you like this album, you'll also like..." recommendations, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.

CURRENT MUSIC: Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State by Sufjan Stevens. (I heard "All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!" when I was attempting to stream KJHK radio earlier today!)
CURRENT MOOD:
Uncharacteristically jaunty.
MOST RECENT HARBINGER OF DOOM:
Kathy Ireland's furniture collection. Oh yes.
TIME:
6:47 PM.

Doot? | |

Wednesday, February 25, 2004:

Well, after having seen The Passion of the Christ, I feel safe saying that Mel Gibson has certainly filmed the most realistic version of Jesus's crucifixion ever put on-screen. And it seemed evident to me throughout that the film truly was a labor of love; that it wasn't, as Andy Rooney and others have suggested, just a cynical way to make money off Christians. Aside from the fact that Gibson put up $20 million of his own money to get the film made, I imagine that if he were interested in pandering to the masses, he'd just do Maverick II rather than filming a relentlessly, wrenchingly gory Jesus story. (As for the decision to release the film on Ash Wednesday, I'm willing to give Gibson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he figured that it would reach the most people that way. The release date was probably a studio decision anyway.) No, ol' Mel definitely had a vision here. It's not Jesus Goes to Summer Camp or anything.

That said, it's not a very good vision. Imagine if Saving Private Ryan consisted only of the Omaha Beach sequence, with no other story or plot to put the bloodshed in any sort of context, or give the violence any relevance. (Granted, Private Ryan went quickly downhill after the Omaha Beach sequence, but you can at least tell what Spielberg was trying to accomplish in his own hacky way.) That's how The Passion plays. Apart from a handful of brief flashbacks to the events of Jesus's life before Judas betrayed Him- the Sermon on the Mount, saving Mary Magdalene from stoning, et al- and a quick, thuddingly anticlimactic resurrection scene, the entire film basically consists of watching Jesus get arrested, mercilessly tortured, and then crucified. That's it. There's your movie. Intense, to be certain, but kind of empty, when all is said and done.

The character of Jesus (played by Jim Caviezel with direct-to-video-level blankness) isn't explored at all, beyond His ability to remain true to His beliefs under torture. It's Jesus Christ as G. Gordon Liddy, and I'm ultimately not sure exactly what Gibson was hoping to accomplish. The Passion doesn't seem likely to inspire anyone to investigate Christ's teachings because they're on-screen only briefly, in scenes that really feel like afterthoughts- and which many audience members may overlook given that they're surrounded by scenes of horrific violence. Moreover, while Gibson presents Jesus's torture and demise in thorough, almost fetishistic detail, the film inexplicably skips over the portions of the crucifixion that lend it any importance. That is, the film neglects to emphasize in any way Jesus's divinity or sinless nature... which is rather a big omission. Without those bits, The Passion is, as Steve Knowlton predicted, "just the story of a guy who gets beat up and hung by the Romans. Gruesome, yes, but not particularly interesting. And didn't they already make Spartacus?"

And if Gibson's target audience is people who are already Christians, why? I'll grant that the film brings the phrase "Jesus died for your sins" to life in a much more vivid and haunting way than anything I'd seen before, but if the film is intended as a refresher course for Christians who may have forgotten why they believe what they believe (as a review on IMDB suggested), it seems to me like a missed opportunity. For example, I was infinitely more moved by Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, which for all its conjecture, actually presented Jesus as a human being, sharing His wisdom with anyone who'd listen, and struggling with and overcoming trials and temptation through the strength of His faith, instead of serving as a largely silent whipping boy. The theater tonight was packed with Christians, judging from the number of Jesus-fish I saw on cars in the parking lot, and moviegoers who had ash smeared on their foreheads, and although they all seemed to love it (most of them applauded at the film's conclusion even though Mel Gibson probably couldn't hear them through the screen), I would've preferred to have seen a film that would've reminded and inspired these people to actually practice Jesus's message of love in their lives instead of, oh, throwing fits about gay marriages or voting for elected officials who run on a platform of screwing over the poor.

(I don't know if my fellow moviegoers were the sort who do those things, mind you. It of course stands to reason, but I don't actually know them, so I shouldn't accuse them of such things. However, that doesn't change the fact that The Passion is basically a message movie without a message.)

As far as the much-debated presentation of the Jewish people as the cause of Jesus's death, I didn't see anything that could be interpreted as particularly anti-Semitic except maybe for a line of dialogue where Jesus tells Pilate something like, "You have no power over me except that which has been given you from above, so the sin of those who delivered me to you is greater than your sin." Perhaps if I were Jewish, I'd be more attuned to such things, but it didn't seem like the Jews as a people were singled out for blame. Pilate was presented as more wormy than evil, and the Jewish elders were presented as thoroughly corrupt, but there were also plenty of Evil Romans and plenty of Nice Jews (that's about as far as any of the characterizations get), so The Passion didn't give me the impression that Mel had inherited any particular hatred of Jews from his batshit loonball father. Personally, I found Judd Hirsch's character in Independence Day more anti-Semitic than anything in this film.

As we left the theater, I annoyed people waiting in line to see the next screening of the film by loudly saying to Lorenzo, "You know, I can't recall ever before having seen Jesus spit at the Romans from the cross and say, 'Is that all ya got?'" as we walked past them.

Guess I'll give the movie a C.

CURRENT MUSIC: Aw Cmon and No You Cmon by Lambchop.
CURRENT MOOD:
Getting nice flashbacks of writing essays for my film classes.
NUMBER OF DAYS IN A ROW I'VE WORN THESE JEANS: Three. I really need to remember to do laundry tonight.
TIME:
9:35 PM.

Doot? | |

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