Saturday, February 28, 2004

NY Times On Mel Gibson and Bach

Twice today in the Arts and Ideas section (the highbrow section), the New York Times cooly took Mel Gibson to task, horsewhipping him publicly (excuse the allusion) comparing his film, "The Passion of the Christ" unfavorably to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. Like, duh, guys: how many people could come off looking good compared to one of the seminal works of Western Civilization?

Anyhoo: Edward Rothstein writes in his Connections column:

"... Perhaps the Gibson/Bach comparison is most revealing for its contrasts. Mr. Gibson's film, 'The Passion of the Christ,' which early attendance figures suggest may become a worldwide success, reinvents the Passion in a late medieval mode, exhibiting a lusty fascination with flagellation, a fetishist's attentiveness to whips and welts, a panting anger at grotesquely caricatured villains. 'By his wounds, we are healed,' reads the prophet's epigraph for Mr. Gibson's film, and bleeding wounds are primarily what are seen throughout.

"After seeing Mr. Gibson's 'Passion,' in fact, and suffering through two hours of scourged flesh and pent-up fury, I listened to Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion' with amazement, awe and relief. Next Friday night one of the best contemporary interpreters of Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion,' Philippe Herreweghe, will lead a performance at Alice Tully Hall; it should probably be prescribed as a remedy for every viewer of the film."

Ouch, that is, though, a wonderfully bitchy remark, macking Gibson look like the violence-obsessed ass that he is (in striking contrast to the philosophy of Christ). And just below Rothstein, Mary Gordon, recent author of a scholarly tome Joan of Arc, places the final nail, as it were, into Gibson, nailing him, once again, on the lack of, uhm, intelligence in his film:

"A great deal of screen time is taken up with the flagellation of Jesus. What does this accomplish in an understanding of the meaning of Jesus/ life and death? How is Jesus different from any other person of torture? How is 'The Passion of the Christ' different, then, from 'The Silence of the Lambs'? Jesus as a person with mind and spirit is not very present in this film. This may be partly because Jim Cavizel, who plays Jesus, is not an actor of great psychological sublety. In the scenes when he is ministering rather than being bloodied, he is merely bland."

Gordon too references St. Matthews passion, which brings us too the question, who drank more from the great fountain of Jesus Juice? Bach or Gibson? Qui es mas macho?

On Inspiration:

"The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just direction traffic. "

"Bach wrote the St. Matthew Passion while in Leipzig. (The Passion is the story of the crucifixion.) He borrowed words and sometimes melodies from others to write this work. The text of this Passion is taken from St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 26-27. Bach never wrote an opera but this work like other passions of his are very close to opera with the whole story told in song. All lines were sung. Bach remain in Leipzig twenty-seven years until his death."

Lessonspage biography

Winner: The Gibsonator

On Box Office:

"Bach died in 1750 and was essentially forgotten. No monument or tombstone was put at his grave."

Lessonspage biography

"In a marketplace filled with mostly uninteresting titles, The Passion of the Christ comes at an opportune time taking over the media spotlight and creating almost a one-picture field. The decision to open the Jim Caviezal-starrer on Ash Wednesday was brilliant since Christian moviegoers will be in the mood for this kind of film at this time, plus it allows the pic to be topical all the way through Easter Sunday in early April leading to a solid theatrical run. Until a month ago, most of the interest remained with devout Christians, but the rising tide of controversy and media coverage has snowballed and Passion now stands as a can't-miss pop culture event film that will be seen even by those who are not very religious.

"As a subtitled film in the dead languages of Aramaic and Latin, Passion was a tough-sell since conception. With little starpower on-screen and a production that led to the most graphically violent telling of the story of Jesus' death yet, there was every reason to believe that the R-rated picture would only appeal to a certain segment of the population, and not to mainstream audiences. But behind-the-camera starpower from Gibson allowed for ten times as much press coverage as other directors would have gotten. Now, the Biblical tale has become a giant force in the multiplexes with a launch on Wednesday in a massive 3,006 theaters with a total of 4643 prints."

Gitesh Pandya,

Winner: Pow! Zam! Gibsonroonie!

The Critics?

"The real test of greatness, both in content and in performance is the effect of repeated hearing--especially repeated hearing without focused concentration. After a while, both the art and the artistry of a recording like this make themselves felt in an undeniable way. Most important of all, the effect of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is to immerse the listener in the feelings and philosophies of an event that forms the foundation of western culture. If you think that's an overstatement, put this in your car cd and leave it there for a week. It's amazing what treating classics of art like drive-time distraction can do for your perspective. I found it particularly helpful to alternate a few days of the St. Matthew with a few days of the B-Minor Mass. The contrast was striking and highlighted the intensely dramatic and at the same time personal aspect of the Passion. And this performance delivers over and over again. While the initial impression of the opening bars is somewhat ponderous compared to other performances (e.g. Harnoncourt), the intensity and passion of the playing and singing is amazingly consistent throughout. These people really believe in this music." review of Bach: Matth?us-Passion

"My thumb was way up. I admired the film as a work of passion and obsession by Mel Gibson. Obviously, it comes from his heart. And I think it?s a very well-made film. On the other hand I was shocked, as many people were, by how violent it was, and I think the message that needs to get out is, this is not a family film."

Roger Ebert

Winner: Okay, marginally? Bach

Total: With two categories to one, Gibson is clearly the greater artist. Move over Monteverdi, there's a new artist in town, and he put the mad in mad max! I mean, really, what were the cultural elite thinking? (averts gaze at the NY Times)

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