March 28, 2005

Radio silence

...was never my favorite Thomas Dolby tune. I was always partial to Europa and the Pirate Twins for some reason, although the wail he achieved on "One of our Submarines" was sublime, and "Cloudburst on Shingle Street" ended with the wonderful line, "When I was young/I was in love/with everything/but now there's only you."

I haven't felt much like writing lately, and even now typing this feels more like work than like fun (although given that reading what I write probably feels more like work verging on servitude rather than fun, I probably shouldn't complain). I haven't felt like doing much of anything besides reading books and having the usual thrilling sword fights and wrestling matches with the six year old. Well...books. I don't think he's enjoyed anything quite as much as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I've enjoyed reading to him quite a bit too. For my part, in my few idle moments, I seem to have been drawn of late to works on various aspects of the Holocaust, whether it be the rank and file killers and collectors, the higher ranking bureaucrats or the specialists... I suppose this renewed interest was sparked by a question that Ron Rosenbaum asked in Those Who Forget the Past, which I'll paraphrase more or less: How is one to regard the Holocaust -- to what extent, in what way, should one consider it in formulating policies in the present? I won't go on -- no point in writing about notions I can't quite articulate yet -- but that's been something that's been kicking around in my head for a while.

I've of course been thinking of other things as well -- including trying to figure out why it is that, despite having had the DVD lying around for months now, despite having had ample opportunities (ample being a relative term when you have a six year old) to see it in a theater when it was first out, despite its re-release in a less gory form, I still haven't been able to work up much desire to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I have a copy of the authentic history on which the film is more or less based (the visions that a German nun, one Anne Catherine Emmerich, experienced some time in the 1820s -- so much for the historical authenticity), and found the book to be fascinating in a weird sort of way. Whereas most mystics who experience visions of the divine have intensely emotional experiences or, in the case of Swedenborg, intensely spiritu-intellectual experiences, Ms. Emmerich noticed the curtains, or a room which had been divided during remodelling, or the like. It's a weird read, and seems oddly devoid of the immediacy of an ecstatic religious vision.

As for the film itself, I think it's the language that likely puts me off, or, as James Bowman, who for me is the most reliable film critic (he dislikes a lot of stuff I like, but, if he likes something, I can be sure I'll love it) put it:

For although much publicity has been given to the fact that the screenplay is in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and Latin, the language of the Roman imperial authorities, much less well known is the fact that it is also in a third language and that is Movieish, the language of the long line of cinematic sufferers that have come before this Jesus and that cannot but distract us from a proper consideration of what is, after all, meant to be a unique event in human history.

Nor is it only the scourging and beating which is written in Hollywoodese. Allusions to other movies range from Chuckie-like child sprites out of mainstream horror flicks to a pale Bergmanian devil with a dramatically gratuitous snake to certify his scriptural authenticity. There is even at one point a computer-animated movie demon like something out of The Devilís Advocate or The Ninth Gate. This kind of thing I found at least as dislocating to the sense of occasion as if, instead of Latin and Aramaic, the movie had been made in Brooklynese. All of which is simply to say that The Passion of the Christ is like every other Mel Gibson picture in being ridiculously overproduced. As the British would say, he has once again over-egged the pudding. The new age music with pan pipes and wordless choruses, the swelling orchestral sounds at moments of significance, the flashbacks cross cut with the main action so as to produce heavy-handed ironies ó all these things take us annoyingly out of the period and plonk us down jarringly in the entertainment culture of the present day.

The whole review is a joy to read. I'll get around to seeing the Passion some day, but not today.

Posted by Ideofact at March 28, 2005 11:45 PM