“Drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”: Esquire looks at what happened to Benedict Fitzgerald and his proposed prequel to The Passion of the Christ

benedictfitzgeraldThe Passion of the Christ was such a huge hit ten years ago that many people wanted a sequel. Mel Gibson never showed any interest in making one, but his screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald certainly did — or, to be more precise, Fitzgerald proposed making a prequel about the mother of Jesus, which he initially called Myriam, Mother of the Christ.

I have been keeping tabs on this film ever since it was first announced in January 2007, but the film itself has never been made. Instead, there have been persistent rumours and reports — the title has changed a couple times, and different actors were rumoured to be up for the part of Herod the Great, etc. — and now comes the wildest, craziest report of them all. Esquire magazine posted a story yesterday with the headline ‘How the Mother of All Sequels Crashed and Burned’, and it explains in some detail how Fitzgerald’s ambitions were derailed by “drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”. It also gets into his lawsuit against Gibson.

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Why did Mel Gibson want to make a Maccabees movie?

One of a few stories that came and went during my blogging hiatus concerned an attempt by Mel Gibson to make a movie about the Maccabees, the Jewish warriors who took their country back from the Greeks in the 2nd century BC. The project was first announced in September 2011, but by April 2012 it had been shelved, after screenwriter Joe Eszterhas turned in a script that didn’t pass muster. Eszterhas then accused Gibson of anti-Semitism, released a recording of Gibson losing his temper, and wrote an e-book telling his own side of the story.

This all comes to mind now because Allison Hope Weiner, a journalist who counts Gibson as a friend, has written a column for Deadline asking Hollywood to take Gibson off its “blacklist”, and along the way she makes a claim or two about the story behind Gibson’s aborted Maccabees project: [Read more...]

Flashback: Ten years of The Passion of the Christ

This month marks the tenth anniversary of The Passion of the Christ. The film’s actual release date was February 25, but by the time it came out, people had been debating it — and seeing it at special preview screenings — for several months. (I myself first saw a rough cut of the film in January of that year.) So I figured now was as good a time as any to re-post all the various reviews, news stories and op-ed pieces that I’ve written about the film, most of which fall between the summer of 2003, when the controversy was already in full swing, and early 2007, when a “definitive” two-disc edition of the film was released on DVD.

I haven’t watched the film all the way through in several years — probably not since the “definitive” edition came out — but it has been fascinating to re-read all these articles and to chart the evolution in my thoughts about the film. In the early days, I was very concerned about the film’s historical inaccuracies and its obsession with violence. But then I was asked to write an essay on the film for a book, and as I thought about the film and wrote about it, I found my appreciation for the film growing — so much so that, by the time I reviewed the two-disc DVD, I was calling it a “flawed but breathtaking masterpiece.”

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How do you promote a Bible epic when you’re not religious?

Ridley Scott first revealed that he was making a life-of-Moses movie while promoting Prometheus last year. I’d been hoping that he would spill even more details about the film, now called Exodus, while promoting his latest film, The Counselor, but alas, that film didn’t get much of a promotional push (and it ended up having one of the worst opening weekends of Scott’s career).

A few tidbits about Exodus have trickled out, however. First, Scott told The New York Times: “I’m an atheist, which is actually good, because I’ve got to convince myself the story works.” And then, he told Empire magazine the film will be “fucking huge.”

Suffice it to say, this is not how Bible epics have generally been promoted in the past.

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The naked Christ in film: birth, death and resurrection

“The Word became flesh,” according to John 1:14, but that flesh has been hidden, for the most part, in movie portrayals of Jesus. At certain key points in his life, history and even tradition would dictate that Jesus ought to be depicted nude — and there are good theological reasons for doing so. But films have tended to shy away from nudity in their own portrayals of those parts of the Jesus story.

There are some obvious reasons for this reticence, of course, starting with the fact that film, for much of its history, has been forced to skirt around images of nudity in general, and images of male nudity in particular. Plus, when a film does show someone’s nudity, it does not merely show you the character’s nudity; it shows you the actor’s nudity, as well, and the knowledge that you are seeing an actor’s naked body can sometimes distract you from the character. This is especially true when the character is meant to be an embodiment of divinity like Jesus.

There have been at least three significant exceptions, though — three films that each depict the nudity of Jesus at a different key point in his story.

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History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross.

Western Easter came and went last week, but the Eastern churches are currently only half-way through the Lenten season, so yesterday was, for us, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious Cross.

Thinking about this, I inevitably started thinking about Jesus movies, and I began to think about the fact that the recent mini-series The Bible has joined Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in taking a step back from recent “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion towards a more traditional sort of iconography.

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