The Passion of the Money
Mel Gibson's big Jesus movie is coming out in a couple of weeks, and as I watch the buildup, it strikes me that the spirit of William Castle is not dead, but simply selling religion instead of horror movie.
Castle was best known for all the gimmicks he used to sell his movies, not the movies t hemselves. Why? The movies stank. "The Tingler" was a movie about an invisible monster that could only be driven away by screaming...and in a part of the movie near the end, the characters on the screen would announce that the Tingler had gotten loose in the theater and people had to scream as loud as they could. Castle would wire a few seats with "joy buzzers" to get people to be shocked so that they would scream...and the rest of the audience would usually join in (and theater owners were to print wrong starting times in their ads to have crowds waiting outside during that part so that they would hear a screaming audience). Castle also did such stunts as having theater ushers dress up as the monsters int he movie, and during a scene where "the monster can't be found, oh my GOD THERE IT IS!" they would run up and down the aisles with cardboard axes and such. He hired protesters to protest his movies so they would get free coverage in the newspaper, sold "burial policies" for people scared to death during his movies and other such stunts.
They all come to mind when I hear about Mel Gibson's Jesus movie. When he first announced it, he said it woudl be a direct adapatation of the Gospels in Latin and Arameic with no subtitles. At which point, pretty much everyone who heard about the movie said, "That's a pretty dumb idea." Still, Gibson is a big star and has a lot of money, and if he wants to waste it on a movie no one can understand, he can do so. Kind of like the Esperanto movie William Shatner made after Star Trek was canceled. After the movie was made, he couldn't get a distribution deal. Why? It was a four hour movie in a language no one spoke! So, Gibson, who is not dumb, knew that his target market for such a movie would be the religious conservatives. How do religious conservatives get attention in the US? They claim they are being oppressed. Even though the vast majority of Americans are Christians, they STILL offer themselves up for martyrdom at the drop of a hat or the passing of a tithe plate, and it works. Bush got the Christian right to work HARD for him by both pandering to them, and claiming that an amorphous "them" wanted to stop him because he's a Christian. (Just for the record, neither political party has put up a person who wasn't claiming to be a born again Christian since 1988. That's not just a Christian, but a Born Again Christian, which is the fundamental wing of the belief).
So, Mel Gibson went on Faux News and the right wing hate radio to claim that the evil Hollywood liberals and athiests were trying to stop his movie. And, in a VERY odd turn of events, he claimed that the Jews were also trying to stop it because the movie shows the Jews were the ones who killed Jesus. I would imagine most Jews were saying, "What is he talking about? I don't have time to stop a movie...I'm too busy trying to make a living and keep the Mormons and Jevohvah's Witnesses from bothering me during supper."
Meanwhile, Gibson quietly added subtitles to his movie, making it more marketable./ He edited out certain lines and scenes because they did poorly in test screenings, so it's the True Story Of Jesus as about 500 people in San Diego think is entertaining. He then sdpent nearly a YEAR turning his movie into another way for the Christian Majority to claim they are being oppressed.
It's brilliant marketing. Now, fundamentalist Protestant churches are buying tickets in bulk, the "home school, mini-van" crowd feel it is their Christian duty to see this movie, and bring their kids (even though it's rated R...prolly by those evil Hollywood Jews who don't want kids to see good, wholesome violence) and it has been covered in the news for 12 months without a single ad having been bought. It's also pretty brilliant the Gibson has made a movie that is VERY much in line with the Catholic belief system and made it a movie that Fundamentalist Christians are using as their core belief system. No, not that Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life...their core belief system is that everyone is out to get them, and they have to get rid of the evil people who are after them.
The brilliance, in my mind, is that Gibson has a rabid core of people to see this VERY Catholic movie who feel that the Catholic Church is a cult. Most of my Born Again friends will regale me with stories about the evil of the Catholic Church and how everyon in the Church is going to Hell. Gibson's movie focuses very strongly on the pain and suffering of Christ, which is a Catholic idea, whereas the Fundamentalist Christians tend to gloss over that and focus instead on the ministry. These are HUGE generalizations, but I don't think even I give enough of a damn to go into more detail.
How is the movie? No one is going to care. No one who sees this movie will judge it as a movie, but as a political statement or a case of amazing hype. Meanwhile, a decent movie about the same subject (The Gospel of John) came and went so fast that if you weren't in the theater the weekend it came out, you didn't hear about it.
But then, that was about telling the story of Jesus. Mel's movie is about the politics of how Jesus is sold to us now...in the 60's Jesus was held up by people as a rebel, tearing down the establishment, and the phrase "Jesus Freak" was used by right wingers to denegrade that belief. Now, Jesus has been appropriated by the right wing (just like the did the flag) as a hammer for keeping people in line.
And now that the movie has come out, it's no longer a "movie" but a religious and political statement, one which has somescary connations.
First: The pain and suffering of Jesus is more important than his message of forgiveness and hope.
Second: It is OK to take small children to an incredibly violant movie if it is about Jesus.
Third: A movie with a lot of coverage from FAUX News will make a lot of money, but a religious film that doesn't get a bunch of people saying "They are trying to keep you from watching this, those evil liberals" like "The Gospel of John" barely make enough money to be worth putting on video.
Fourth: Religious people like snuff films.
So, I'll be going to a movie I find to be a religious experience. Dawn of the Dead. It's also about dead people coming back to life, but not quite as gory.
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