Monday, December 11, 2006


I caught "Apocalypto" this weekend. And although I thought it was a pretty good movie, I didn't think it was either "the work of a powerful film-maker at the hieght of his talents" or "another Mad Mel psychotic bloodbath" the spectrum of critics wanted me to believe.

To be honest I think I've seen more blood on a few episodes of "CSI" or in the only other movie about Mayans I can recall, "Kings of the Sun". That one features George Chakiris as a Mayan war chief who takes a stand against human sacrifice while sparring with Yul Bryner for the hand of an Apache maiden. It's a real cheeseball pre-Columbian Western with some spectacular action and sets if you manage to find it.

Back to Mel. I'm a fan of the films he's directed. I had a cup of coffee with him once, about two weeks before he won the Oscar for "Braveheart" and found him very civilized and charming. The fact that he's apparently also a bigot means I'm unlikely to want to have another cup of coffee with him, but it doesn't make me less interested in seeing his films; any less than D.W. Griffith being an unapologetic racist or Leni Reifenstahl a Nazi makes their films unworthy of viewing.

You know that "Trust the Art not the Artist" thing? It's true.

Today I heard that Disney is running a quiet Oscar campaign for "Apocalypto" using the strategy that no matter what Mel's said or done, he's not as bad as Oscar winning child molester Roman Polanski or Oscar winning step-daughter marrier Woody Allen.

And that got me thinking -- "How frickin' nuts are we getting?"

I should make it clear that I've never understood anti-semitism on any level. (Racism and Sexism too but we'll get to those in other posts) Every lawyer, accountant and agent I've ever had has been Jewish. Their religion has never made a bit of difference to me and I'm fairly certain my status as some kind of lapsed Christian-Existential-Buddhist never crosses their minds.

I grew up in Redneck Central and can remember the fellas down at the Mason's Hall going on about the "International Jewish Conspiracy". I couldn't get my head around that. I knew two Jewish kids at school and I figured if they were really in on some all-powerful conspiracy it would have included keeping them from getting their asses kicked every other recess by the Catholic kids. So that dog didn't hunt for me.

Around age 11, I wanted to become a Freemason -- actually what I really wanted was to be a Shriner so I could wear a fez and get to drive one of those little cars. I still had enough of that in me at 14 to join the Masonic teen version "The Order of DeMolay". But I quit after a year when I discovered I couldn't get one of my pals in because he was Catholic.

All that said, I fully understood the trepidation many Jews and good Christians had about the pending release of Mel's "The Passion of the Christ" but I certainly didn't get the rabid media frenzy. And having seen the film twice, once in the theatre and again on DVD, I still feel you have to stretch some to read any anti-semitism in it. And the true villains of the piece are the same ones you find in the Bible -- Roman soldiers.

Yet the furor over that film has never died and the day before "Apocalypto" opened, there was an item on IMDB's Studio Briefing page saying that now the Mayans hated Mel too! According to a Mayan spokesman, by making a film which revolved around the historically documented Mayan practice of human sacrifice, Mr. Gibson had made his people appear to be "savages".

Like I said, how nuts are we getting -- and who's making us this way?

Around the same day the above "news" item appeared, the Los Angeles Times reported that Damon Wayans had been banned from the Laugh Factory, the site of Michael (Kramer) Richards' racial tirade, after he opened his routine by remarking, "Give yourselves a big round of applause for coming down and supporting N****r Night."

I'm sorry. That may not be politically correct, but a Black man uttering those words in that place does more to put the people trying to defend Kramer in their place than anything else I’ve heard on the subject. And it's funny too!

I believe what we're really seeing in this endless rhubarb is another one of those media/marketing frenzies designed not to address an issue or even approach the truth of a film but to simply sell tickets. Last summer, it was revealed that most of the websites railing against "The Da Vinci Code" were in fact owned and operated by Sony Pictures, who had given a forum to the film's nay-sayers in the hope of increasing public awareness.

A friend who used to write for the National Enquirer once told me they don't actually make most of that stuff up. In his words, "You wouldn't believe what you can get some people to say once you get them going!"

So whether it's Mad Mel or Crazy Christians, what's happening here is actually all about the money. In the process, however, real life issues are trivialized and the real life zealots and idiots who would deny the Holocaust, affirm Vatican conspiracies or spout any random bat-shit lunacy are given the ammunition to continue their insanities.

Watch for some beheading or dis-embowelment in the coming weeks to be attributed to Mel's movie.

I know somebody has to cut through the clutter and find an audience, but do we have to do it this way?

I also remember the sheer joy of seeing "The Sting" and "ET" without knowing a single thing about them. I get that same thrill every time I discover a film either the world or just me hasn't heard a damn thing about. That's too much to hope for, but the quiet might do everybody a lot of good.

As John Prine so deftly put it in his song about TV commercials, would you please just "Stop Hollerin' At Me"?


heywriterboy (DMc) said...

The marketing fatigue really is something, and it forces you to make a stand and play by their rules even if you don't want to.

When I saw Borat in the theatre, there were nine or ten previews, and at least half of them told me the whole movie. There's no way to see any of those now and not buy into the idea that that kind of marketing is what works.

Movies come to the multiplex with their full outrage and talking points pre-digested, and accounted for. finding that movie you haven't heard anything about is essential just cause it's the only way you can actually possibly spark an honest conversation.

wcdixon said...

Okay I will try to comment yet again (Beta has been rejecting me...or perhaps you set it up to do so...hmmm)

So hopefully 'they've' stopped hollering, but we're starting to holler for a new post - even the cats are yowling....

Kevin Stroud said...

Curious... are you saying that it was a rule of the Order of DeMolay that stopped your friend from joining?

jimhenshaw said...


Ancient history so I don't know if it was a rule or a local or personal issue. But also Ancient history -- the Order's namesake is Jacque DeMolay leader of the Knights Templar who were destroyed by Pope Clement. DeMolay was tortured and forced to sign a false confession before being burned at the stake -- so maybe they're still pissed.