Mad Mel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Aug 3 07:51:39 MDT 2003

NY Times, Aug. 3, 2003
Mel Gibson's Martyrdom Complex
by Frank Rich

The Jews didn't kill Christ," my stepfather was fond of saying. "They just 
worried him to death." Nonetheless, there was palpable relief in my Jewish 
household when the Vatican officially absolved us of the crime in 1965. At 
the very least, that meant we could go back to fighting among ourselves.

These days American Jews don't have to fret too much about the charge of 
deicide — or didn't, until Mel Gibson started directing a privately 
financed movie called "The Passion," about Jesus' final 12 hours. Why worry 
now? The star himself has invited us to. Asked by Bill O'Reilly in January 
if his movie might upset "any Jewish people," Mr. Gibson responded: "It 
may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. . . . 
Anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own 

Fears about what this "truth" will be have been fanned by the knowledge 
that Mr. Gibson bankrolls a traditionalist Catholic church unaffiliated 
with the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese. Traditionalist Catholicism 
is the name given to a small splinter movement that rejects the Second 
Vatican Council — which, among other reforms, cleared the Jews of deicide. 
The Wall Street Journal's opinion pages, which have lavished praise on Mr. 
Gibson and his project, reported in March in an adulatory interview with 
the star that the film's sources included the writings of two nuns: Mary of 
Agreda, a 17th-century Spaniard, and Anne Catherine Emmerich, an 
early-19th-century German. Only after Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon 
Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, among others, spoke up about the nuns' 
history of anti-Semitic writings did a Gibson flack disown this provenance.

Emmerich's revelations include learning that Jews had strangled Christian 
children to procure their blood. It's hard to imagine a scenario that bald 
turning up in "The Passion." Indeed, it's hard to imagine the movie being 
anything other than a flop in America, given that it has no major Hollywood 
stars and that its dialogue is in Aramaic and Latin (possibly without 
benefit of subtitles). Its real tinder-box effect could be abroad, where 
anti-Semitism has metastasized since 9/11, and where Mr. Gibson is arguably 
more of an icon (as his production company is named) than he is at home. He 
shot "The Passion" in Italy, where a recent cartoon in the newspaper La 
Stampa showed Israeli tanks about to roll over the baby Jesus' manger. "Do 
you want to kill me once more?" read the caption.

In recent weeks Mr. Gibson has started screening a rough cut of his film to 
invited audiences, from evangelicals in Colorado Springs to religious 
leaders in Pennsylvania to celebrities in Washington. But the attendees are 
not always ecumenical. At the Washington screening, they included Peggy 
Noonan, Kate O'Beirne, Linda Chavez and David Kuo, the deputy director of 
the White House's faith-based initiative. Like the membership lists of 
restricted country clubs that let in a minority member or two to deflect 
charges of discrimination, the screening guest list did include a token 
Jew: that renowned Talmudic scholar Matt Drudge. No other Jewish members of 
the media were present, said one journalist who was there.

That journalist must remain unnamed as a result of signing a 
confidentiality agreement — a practice little seen at movie screenings. 
Since then, some of those present, including Mr. Drudge, have publicly 
expressed their enthusiasm for "The Passion" without legal reprisal, 
anyway. One invitee, the radio host Laura Ingraham, gave Lloyd Grove of The 
Washington Post a sense of the event's tone when she told him why she was 
sorry she couldn't get to the screening in time: "I want to see any movie 
that drives the anti-Christian entertainment elite crazy."


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