Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

What's the fuss? Mel already said those things in TPOTC

I interviewed Mel Gibson many years ago in London on a morning when he was clearly hung over. After arriving an hour late, looking like Christ dragged to the cross of media interrogation, he nursed cappucino after cappucino, a black cloud hanging over him through the whole dispiriting session. I can’t blame stars for hating interviews, but since it’s usually part of their contracts to help promote their movies, or at least it fosters good will with their studio employers, and since their profession makes them perfect for at least acting like they’re actors who enjoy talking about their work, I have no sympathy.
This particular interview was for Bird on a Wire, and whether it was bird or dog or turkey, you didn’t see Goldie Hawn showing up late and scowling. Known for her professionalism, Hawn was perky, engaged, and wearing a Lycra top that flirted with areola territory. At least she was making the effort.
The film community has long known of several biblical commandments Gibson was prone to breaking. Now that he’s confessed his alcoholism — the lesser of two evils on display during his recent arrest for drunk driving — it’s almost a relief to be able to state the obvious: that the vehemence of The Passion of the Christ has always been as much about the strident zeal of the newly reformed addict as about Gibson’s guarded anti-Semitism.
Think of ex-smokers who won’t tolerate others lighting up, not even outdoors, or those nouveau vegetarians who examine the meals of complete strangers with disgust. At some point, Gibson gave up (or tried to give up) his hard-partying ways, and the result is the kind of intolerance people often exhibit when they struggle to keep themselves in check. I haven’t followed closely the timeline of Gibson’s turnaround — his embracing of religion as part of his atonement for years of bad behavior — but TPOTC was clearly part of his own, personal detox program. Once you’re on the wagon, you can’t proclaim it loudly enough, and TPOTC was not just a movie about Jesus, it was an attempt to rewrite history according to the narrow view of one particular religious sect, one that is as rigid in its views (toward Jews, for example) as reformed alcoholics are rigid on the topic of booze.
But ex-drunks fall off the wagon. Why? Because they’re human, not divine. All the addiction literature makes note of it. As Gibson observed in his statement, it’s a good thing he was arrested before he hurt someone.
The anti-semitism he betrayed from the bottom of the bottle is something else. Alcohol is a chemically proven disinhibitor, and Gibson apparently spun himself like a top as he spewed his bile at the arresting officers, demanding to know if they were Jews, blaming the Jews for all the wars in history. (Hmm, where do the Crusades fit into that theory?) His published “apology” mentioned alcoholism but not the anti-semitic remarks, or at least not specifically. Just as he’s never distanced himself from his father’s crazy, Holocaust-denying rants, Gibson still refuses to pin down just what it is about the statement “Jews are to blame for everything” he doesn’t believe.
But I’m surprised anyone’s surprised. TPOTC is an anti-semitic screed. I’m not saying that in an accusing way, simply as a matter of fact, like saying The Awful Truth is a screwball comedy or Oliver Stone’s movies are blunt. I received thousands of e-mails after my initial review of TPOTC, the majority from those who believed that a movie can’t be “anti-semitic” if it’s “true.”
Where to begin to refute such a Moebius strip of incomprehension and illogic?
For the most part, I’m guessing the problem is that people don’t know how to “read” a movie. They can’t see how Gibson, as writer, producer, and director, created his own “truth” through the magic of movie composition, editing, casting, lighting, and words. What went into TPOTC, what didn’t, the litany of choices he made, the calculated variables of the moviemaking process itself, all this contributed to saying on film what Gibson said to the arresting officer the other day.
What part of “Jews are the devil” does Gibson not believe? He’s sorry he fell off the wagon, embarrassed himself and his family, broke the law and endangered others. He wasn’t sorry for the hole in his heart.
And why should he be? After all, he’s said it all before, on film, and he must have known what he was doing, because it went down millions of gullets as smoothly as a nice cold beer.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon