Friday, September 14, 2007

Mel Gibson's "Passion"

I heard about Mel Gibson creating a movie that focused on Christ's Passion only, in all of its graphic detail, in 2003. My first thought was "Wow, Mel's a Christian? And what made him want to do a film about the last hours of Jesus' life?" But then, as I found out more about it, I couldn't believe that someone wanted to represent His suffering for us in the goriest extreme as is often avoided in most movies. Often people are shocked at the discovery of what just the Roman scourging alone would do to a person, aside from a crucifixion on top of it. I am writing this blog in retrospect, attempting to do what I would have done as soon as I found out about it three-four years ago. Little did I know what firestorm would come out about the movie even before it was released, and I could have posted the daily news here as a way to keep track and to inform others. So here I am, trying to chronicle and to provide the resources for a movie that I think is destined to become a classic. This film may not be exactly accurate in every sense, but I applaud Gibson for his creativity (i.e., using Aramaic and Latin, never before done in film) and attempt at bringing to life the greatest Sacrifice of and for mankind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Held You on the Cross?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Were you there at the "Passion?"

Here is another video I made to Tourniquet's song "If I Was There:"


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Power of the Cross

Using "Passion" clips and the song "Power of the Cross," I edited a video in commemoration of the upcoming Easter season.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jim Caviezel Reprises Role of Jesus via Audio

According to this article, Jim Caviezel will voice the part of Jesus in the upcoming "The Word of Promise: The New Testament" 25-hour, 20-CD Audio Bible, which will release October 2007. Hear a portion of the audio, featuring Jim.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Passion:" The Definitive Edition DVD to release January 30, 2007

According to Word Distribution, "Passion" is getting a third DVD go-around with 2 discs and possibly up to 15 hours of extras. About the DVD so far:

The Passion of the Christ is a ground breaking film that has changed countless lives by illuminating the last few hours of Christ's life and ministry on earth. The film stands as the #11 biggest films in terms of box office sales for all time and the original DVD sold over 15 million units. Now, for the first time, we bring you the incredible full story of how this film came to be in The Passion of the Christ - The Definitive Edition. Explore behind the scenes and witness the journey of the many passionate and determined individuals that worked against the odds to bring this culture-impacting film to life.

  • Commentary From Mel Gibson, Theologian Father William J. Fulco, and Music Commentary by John Debney
  • Includes 'By His Wounds We Are Healed: Making the Passion of the Christ' Documentary
  • 'The Legacy' Feature-Commentary on the Times and Culture during the time of Christ
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Still Picture Galleries
  • And Much, Much More

Thanks to Peter Chattaway and Matt Page for the tip-off.

Further Details: Fox/MGM Home Entertainment has announced The Passion of the Christ: Definitive Edition. The two-disc special edition will be available to own from the 30th January for around $26.98. The film itself will be presented in 1.88:1 anamorphic widescreen, along with Aramaic DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks. Extras will include Passion Re-Cut (seamlessly branched), a filmmaker commentary with Mel Gibson, Caleb Deschanel, and John Wright (original cut only), a production commentary with Stephen McEveety, Ted Rae and Keith Vanderlaan (original cut only), a theologian commentary with Mel Gibson, Father William J. Fulco, Gerry Matatics, and Father John Bartunek (original cut only), and a music audio commentary with John Debney on selected scenes. Completing the package will be deleted scenes (Pilate, Don't Cry), production artwork, historical texts, a By His Wounds We Are Healed: Making the Passion of the Christ Documentary, a five-part The Legacy feature (Paths of the Journey, On Language, Anno Domini, Crucifixion: Punishment in the Ancient World, and Through the Ages), and the trailer.

~~Order your copy here~~

Review by Peter Chattaway:

The 'Definitive' Passion
Mel Gibson's controversial blockbuster comes to DVD again—this time in a two-disc "definitive edition" including hours of commentaries, bonus features, and more.
By Peter T. Chattaway posted 01/30/07

A lot has happened since The Passion of The Christ came out three years ago and broke a series of records, becoming the top-grossing R-rated movie, the top-grossing foreign-language film, and the top-grossing religious movie of all time—at least in North America. (The Matrix Reloaded is still the top R-rated film worldwide.)

Major movie studios have tried to replicate its success—by setting up faith-oriented divisions like FoxFaith, or by producing entire biblical movies of their own, such as The Nativity Story—and the careers of several of the film's key players continue to reflect the film's influence. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, will do so again in an audio Bible for Thomas Nelson. Hristo Shopov, who played Pontius Pilate, reprised the role last year in a remake of the Italian film The Inquiry. Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the script, recently wrote a prequel of sorts called Myriam, Mother of the Christ, and sold distribution rights to the as-yet-unproduced film to MGM.

And then there is director Mel Gibson, who bucked a wave of controversy over the film's raw violence and alleged anti-Semitism, only to be caught making racist remarks shortly before finishing the similarly gory Apocalypto last year.

It will probably be a few more years before we have enough perspective to properly assess the film and its impact on our culture, but now is as good a time as any to revisit the film, and the two-disc "definitive edition" that comes out today is an illuminating place to start. It includes both the original film and the slightly shorter, slightly less violent version known as The Passion Recut; and it includes multiple audio and text commentaries, as well as hours of documentary features.

The bonus features run the gamut from the usual making-of vignettes—and yes, they do go into some detail explaining the special effects that made the flogging and the crucifying look so realistic—to more explicitly religious materials, including a virtual pilgrimage to the places in Jerusalem that mark the fourteen Stations of the Cross. Surprisingly, many of these featurettes are copyrighted 2005, which suggests the set was finished over a year ago, but was then held back for some reason.

Like the film itself, this DVD is a thoroughly Catholic affair; while evangelicals like Larry Ross and Paul Lauer are interviewed briefly to discuss the film's marketing campaign, commentary on the film itself—and on the fates of Mary and the apostles after the events of the film—tends to follow a traditional Catholic perspective.

This becomes most clear on the film's audio commentary tracks, of which there are four. Two are devoted to different sets of filmmakers, and a third is given to composer John Debney, who talks about his return to the Catholic faith and how Mary "spiritually helped me get through this film." The fourth commentary looks at the film from a strictly theological perspective, and in addition to Gibson and Fr. William J. Fulco, the Jesuit priest who translated all the dialogue into Aramaic and Latin, it includes two former Protestants: one, Fr. John Bartunek, now works sometimes as a press liaison for the Vatican, while the other, Gerry Matatics, is a radical traditionalist Catholic who rejects all the Popes for the last 40 years.

The comments they make on the film and the traditions on which the film builds are frequently insightful, and should deepen everyone's appreciation of The Passion. Ironically, however, some Protestants who have used the film as an evangelistic tool may recoil a bit when the theologians indulge in the odd bit of Catholic apologetics, explaining why they no longer believe in "sola scriptura," and so on.

If one thing comes through loud and clear, it is that Gibson may be an artistic genius but he sure isn't a scholar. There is a stunning moment in the film where Mary rushes to Jesus, after he falls under the weight of his cross, and Jesus, before pulling himself back up, tells her, "See Mother, I make all things new." This line actually comes from Revelation, not the Gospels, and its incorporation into the Gospel narrative is one of the film's many daring, and brilliant, ideas. The funny thing is, Gibson can't seem to remember where it comes from; when he says on the audio commentary that it comes from Acts, the theologians quickly correct him.

Pastors and scholars everywhere may also roll their eyes when Gibson claims, in the making-of documentary, that "the Gospels are synoptic; that means they are synopses." Actually, in biblical studies, the word means nothing of the kind. Instead, it refers to the three Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—that seem to "see" the life of Jesus "together," because their contents overlap a fair bit. John, while canonical, is not a "synoptic" Gospel, because it comes from a rather different point of view—yet Gibson speaks as though all the Gospels were "synoptic." (It's all a little reminiscent of how Gibson went around last year saying that "apocalypto" means "new beginning," when in fact it is a Greek word meaning "I reveal.")

So, take everything Gibson says with a hefty grain of salt. But by all means, watch the film again (and again, and again, if you want to check out all the commentaries!) and ponder it on its own terms. It is the work of art, and not the artist's fitful attempts to explain it, that ultimately matter—and this two-disc set does its part to enrich our understanding of Gibson's flawed but breathtaking masterpiece.

© Peter T. Chattaway 2006, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

John Debney Performs "Passion" Music

On The Tonight Show, March 11,2004

On The Today Show, April 10, 2004

Thursday, February 26, 2004

"Passion" Commercial Spots

Here are three different promotions for "The Passion of the Christ:"

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

"Passion" Audio Interviews

“The World Over” with Raymond Arroyo, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN)

Jim Caviezel Interview, 4/25/03

Mel Gibson Interview, 07/03

Mel Gibson Interview, 1/24/04

Jim Caviezel & Maia Morgenstern Interview, 02/04

EWTN “Passion” Premier, 02/25/04

Jim Caviezel Interview, 3/5/04

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Mel Gibson on the Passion, 2/24/04

A Visit with Mel Gibson, 2/25/05

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Theatrical "Passion" Trailer is out!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

"Passion" Filming Takes Toll on Jim Caviezel

By Ivor Davis

NEW YORK — When actor Jim Caviezel (search) was called in for the audition, he was told it was for a surfing movie. "Then Mel Gibson (search) walked into the room and started talking to me about the Gospels," recalls Caviezel. "I said to him, 'You want me to play Jesus?' and he said, 'You've got it.' "

Caviezel leapt at the chance to work with the Oscar-winning director, but in filming the controversial "The Passion of the Christ," (search) which hits screens next week, the actor got more than he bargained for. During the shooting of the film, which depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus, as he's beaten, tortured and crucified, the 35-year-old actor dislocated his shoulder, battled hypothermia, suffered a lung infection and pneumonia, endured eight-hour makeup sessions that left him with severe headaches and skin infections - and was struck by lightning.

But Caviezel - who, like Gibson, is a devout conservative Catholic (search) - insists he never regretted taking the role. "This is the greatest part I've ever had," he says. "I felt like it would be ridiculous not to work with a guy like Mel Gibson."

His toughest task wasn't struggling with his lines in Aramaic and Latin - Gibson finally changed his mind and agreed to subtitle the film - but coping with a ferocious physical toll. "The physical part was horrendous," says Caviezel, who starred in "High Crimes," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Frequency." "You are going to work every day with only one eye functioning which gives you headaches. "They've got these thorns they tie on your head as hard as they can, and then there's a cross to carry that weighs 150 pounds. It feels like 600 pounds as the day goes on. "Later they stick you up on a cross in 25-degree temperatures with 30-knot winds."

Most of Caviezel's crippling injuries were the result of planned scenes of torture - but not all. "We were preparing to shoot the Sermon on the Mount and three seconds before, I was hit by lightning. I knew it was going to happen," he says. "People started screaming and they said I had fire on both sides of my head and a light around me. "I had locked eyes with people and it was very eerie because they made a weird sound - the kind of sound people made when they saw the jet plane run into the World Trade Center. "It was a sickening feeling."

Critics have blasted Gibson for writing, directing and personally financing a $25 million film that they say lays blame for Jesus' crucifixion squarely with Jewish leaders. But Caviezel vigorously defends the director. "If he'd said, 'Hey, I'm going to make an anti-Semitic film, would you like to join me?' I wouldn't have been part of a film like that," he says. "That would have been a lie to my faith as well as a mortal sin. What would have been the purpose of making it? I wouldn't have cared who the director was."

He insists the anti-Semitic charges leveled against Gibson are unjustified. "The sad thing about it all is that I'm the most Semitic-looking Jesus in history - Mel didn't want a blue-eyed, blonde Aryan Christ on the cross," he says. "The gal that plays Mary [actress Maia Morgenstern] is Jewish and her parents were in the Holocaust. Talk to her. There are Romanian and Jewish actors in this film who say unequivocally that this film is not anti-Semitic." Romanian actress Morgenstern recently rejected the notion that the film would fuel anti-Semitism, telling the AP: "Mel Gibson is an artist, a director. He never imposed his religious convictions on anyone."

Despite the furor - which he says Gibson warned him may end his career - Caviezel says he has no regrets about taking the role. "I'm not saying that no one is going to do something stupid out there after seeing this film," he concedes. "You can take anything and make something bad of it. In this film, you've got three different types of people: indifferent people, sympathetic people and people who don't give a rat's ass about God and couldn't care less. "That's the way it is in the world."

Monday, February 16, 2004

"You Want Me to Play Jesus?"

He thought he was meeting for a surfing movie. Then Mel Gibson showed up

Feb. 16 issue - James Caviezel, the 35-year-old actor who first came to attention in Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" and starred in "The Count of Monte Cristo," talks to NEWSWEEK's Sean Smith about the agony and the ecstasy of playing the Savior in the controversial "The Passion of the Christ."

SMITH: Before you played this part, did anyone ever tell you that you looked like Jesus?

CAVIEZEL: Not at all. When I was younger someone once said, "You look like Mel Gibson." I told Mel that, and he said, "No you don't. I'm much better looking."[Laughs]

Playing Jesus is obviously a daunting proposition. Why did you say yes to Mel?

I got a phone call telling me that producer Stephen McEveety wanted to meet with me about a surfing movie. I went and met him for lunch, and after a few hours Mel Gibson shows up. He starts talking about what Christ really went through, and I said, "Yeah, I saw the Zeffirelli movie ['Jesus of Nazareth']." He goes, "No, no. I'm talking about the real thing." And then it hit me. I said, "You want me to play Jesus."

So the surfing movie...

Was just a front. They were trying to get a feel for me.

Did he tell you he wanted you to play it in Aramaic?

He was talking about thatAramaic, Hebrew and Latinbut I thought, "He isn't really thinking about doing it." [Laughs] Working with Mel Gibson is a little like waltzing with a hurricane. It's always exciting, and you're never quite sure where it's going to take you. I thought learning the languages was going to be the most difficult part. It turned out the physical pain was the worst because of the cold.

The cold? Didn't you shoot this in Italy?

Yeah, in winter. I was freezing in that loincloth. The physical pain started at 2 in the morning. At the worst it was eight hours of makeup, and I couldn't sit down; I was in this crouched position. [During the Crucifixion] the wind was just coming down those canyons, slicing me apart. The cold was just... have you seen those things at the fair where there's a guy on a wheel, and they spin the wheel and throw knives at him and they just miss? On this movie I felt like they were all hitting me.

The long scene where Jesus gets scourged with metal lashes is incredibly difficult to watch.

There was a board on my back, about a half-inch thick, so the Roman soldiers wouldn't hit my back. But one of the soldiers missed, hit me flush on the back and ripped the skin right off. I couldn't scream, I couldn't breathe. It's so painful that it shocks your system. I looked over at the guy, and I probably said the F word. Within a couple of strokes he missed again. There's like a 14-inch scar on my back . So we had good days and bad days.

Sounds like more bad than good.

You know I got struck by lightning.

You got struck by lightning?

Oh, yeah. We were shooting the Sermon on the Mount. About four seconds before it happened it was quiet, and then it was like someone slapped my ears. I had seven or eight seconds of, like, a pink, fuzzy color, and people started screaming. They said I had fire on the left side of my head and light around my body. All I can tell you is that I looked like I went to Don King's hairstylist.
Did it occur to you that if you're playing Christ and you get struck by lightning, maybe[Laughs, then, as if speaking to God:] "Didn't like that take, huh?"

You're Catholic. Did playing Christ deepen your faith?

I love him more than I ever knew possible. I love him more than my wife, my family. There were times when I was up there [on the cross], and I could barely speak. Continual hypothermia is so excruciating. I connected to a place I could have never, ever gone. I don't want people to see me. All I want them to see is Jesus Christ.

Did Mel tell you why he wanted to make the film?

He told me that he went through a rough stretch in his life, and that he rediscovered the Gospels about 12 years ago. He began meditating on the passion and death of Jesus. In doing so, he said the wounds of Christ healed his wounds. And I think the film expresses that.

Has the controversy around the film and the fact that Mel's been accused of anti-Semitism surprised you?

It's been the most frustrating thing to watch. I can tell you this much, the guy is not in the least anti-Semitic. I never saw it. Maia Morgenstern [who plays the Virgin Mary] is this beautiful Jewish Romanian actress whose parents were in the Holocaust. Every day he'd say, "Maia, tell me about your traditions. Is this OK to do?" He wanted to make this film very Semitic. Instead of having an Aryan, blue-eyed Jesus, he wanted to have a very Semitic Jesus. Our faith is grounded in our Jewish tradition. We believe we're from the House of David. We believe we're from the House of Abraham, so we cannot hate our own. That crowd standing before Pontius Pilate screaming for the head of Christ in no way convicts an entire race for the death of Jesus Christ any more than the actions of Mussolini condemn all Italians, or the heinous actions of Stalin condemn all Russians. We're all culpable in the death of Christ. My sins put him up there. Yours did. That's what this story is about.

Was it hard to keep silent when Jewish leaders were voicing their concerns?

They have every right to defend their faith. But I believe that when all my Jewish brothers see this film, they will realize that it's not about assigning blame. It's about love. It's about sacrifice. It's about forgiveness and hope.

Friday, February 06, 2004

"Passion" at The 700 Club

Scott Ross interviews Jim Caviezel

Part 1 (Read Transcript Here)

Part 2 (Read Transcript Here)

Father Thomas Rosica on "Passion"

National Director of World Youth Day 2002 Weighs in on Film

TORONTO, FEB. 6, 2004 ( A priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002 and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto says he was overwhelmed by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, head of Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and the first national Catholic television Network in Canada, was invited to view Gibson's movie late last year.

Father Rosica is a trained Scripture scholar and represented the Canadian bishops' conference for nearly 10 years on the National Christian-Jewish Consultation. He shared his views about "The Passion" with ZENIT.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Mel Gibson's 'Christ' Reveals Crucifixion

In his first nationally broadcast interview about his starring role in Mel Gibson's much-anticipated film "The Passion of Christ," James Caviezel - Gibson's Jesus - detailed on Friday the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to Catholicism.

"I was on the cross about five weeks in 30 degree temperatures," Caviezel told nationally syndicated radio host Sean Hannity. "It was up on the side of a cliff. It's like going up to the Grand Canyon. When the wind gets going, you're in the center of a twister. The Cross is teetering and I'm looking down on all these people shivering in their jackets and mittens. I'm up there for days - nothing on, my arms tied down."

Caviezel said Gibson did his best to make filming the Cross scenes more comfortable by positioning heaters at his feet out of camera range. But the effort merely resulted in giving him "fried toes," he said. The frigid temperatures and cooked flesh turned out to be the least of Caviezel's problems.

"During the scourging scenes, there was a board on my back and the Romans would wind up and hit it," he told Hannity. "And this guy hit me square on the back and I had a 14 inch scar on my back and it really knocked the wind out of me."

The physical punishment, however, wasn't as traumatic as the lightning that struck him while he was hanging on the Cross. "I was lit up like a Christmas tree," the actor told Hannity. "It felt as if I had two hands slapping my head and all of a sudden I had 200 extras scurrying. I had no idea what happened. All I was seeing was pink and a kind of a fuzzy static in front of my eyes." Caviezel said that when one of the crew came over to check if he was OK, he was struck by lightning, too. Asked if he thought the lightning strike was "a sign from God," Caviezel told Hannity, "I think the whole thing has been that way."

Noting "the amount of conversions on the movie," he said the experience of filming Christ's story "really changed people's lives." Caviezel recalled telling Gibson, "I think it's very important that we have mass every day - at least I need that to play this guy." "I felt if I was going to play him I needed [the sacrament] in me. So [Gibson] provided that." At the same time, Caviezel said, Gibson went out of his way to be "very respectful to people like Maya Morgenstern, who's Jewish and whose parent was a Holocaust survivor." Morgenstern plays the Virgin Mary in the film.

He defended "Passion" against charges by critics that the film encourages anti-Semitism, stressing that it offers sympathetic portrayals of Mary, the Apostles and other Jewish figures. "There's no broad brush applied here to any particular group," he told Hannity. "This film does not play the blame game. "We are all culpable for the death of Christ," added the film's star. "My sins, your sins put him on that cross."

Caviezel credited Gibson with pulling off the immensely difficult project. "Working with Mel Gibson was a little bit like waltzing with a hurricane," he told Hannity. "It's always exciting and you're never quite sure where it's going to take you. The guy is kinetically a genius."

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Jim Caviezel: How "The Passion of The Christ" Changed Him

December 21, 2003 / Inperson Interview

Jim Caviezel was already a devout Catholic when he got the role of Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ. But after acting out Christ’s harrowing death in the movie, scheduled to be released Ash Wednesday, he says his faith is stronger still. The actor’s career includes a breakout performance in The Thin Red Line, a role opposite Jennifer Lopez in Angel Eyes and the starring part in The Count of Monte Cristo. Register staff writer Tim Drake interviewed him on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

How did you get the part of Christ?
It all started when I got a phone call from my agent saying that Steve McEveety, Mel Gibson’s partner, wanted to meet with me on a film called Mavericks. What I later found from Steve and Mel was that was just a front to see what I was really like. So we met at some picnic table up in Malibu, and we started talking.

It went on for about three and a half hours, and Mel finally brings up this story about what he’s been thinking about for many years. He asked, “You know how Jesus really died?” And it hit me and I just said, “You want me to play Jesus, don’t you?” He stopped and looked at me and said, “Yeah.”

The next day he called me and said, “Do you still want to do this movie? If I were you, I wouldn’t want to play this role.” It was like he was trying to talk me out of it, because it could be a career killer. And my response was that each one of us has our own cross to carry — we either pick it up and carry it or we get crushed under the weight of it.

Was there anything in particular Gibson had you do to prepare for the part?
Mel and I are just administrators of God’s work, and that’s all that we continually ask for. And that’s why we centered every day on the Mass and receiving the Eucharist. There was not one day that I was on film that I didn’t receive Communion. I just try to be the best Catholic. I go back to the truth — what does the Lord want? It always comes down to that — what does the Lord want?

What did you have to go through to make the part work?
This movie was torture right from the beginning in all forms. I was spit on, beaten, and I carried my cross for days, over and over the same road; it was brutal. I had a 2 a.m. call time to get skin and makeup put on for the flagellation and crucifixion scenes, so I was there long before the rest of the cast and crew. I considered all of it worth it to play this role; it’s important to me.

I’ve always made acting follow truth, and Mary has always pointed me toward that truth. I really believe that she was setting me up, getting me ready to play her Son. She architected this whole thing. People have asked me, “Were you scared about getting this film?” And I say, “Yes, a part of me.” But the other part of me says that I’m absolutely honored that he, through Mary, would pick me to play this role.

How has playing the part of Christ impacted how you pray the rosary?

Before going to the set every day I prepared myself in meditation or through the rosary, always through Mary. I also went to confession, and the Holy Spirit would convict me of my sins. Once I’d done that, the rest was very fundamental; it really was.

The scourging at the pillar, I understand, was a painful scene for you. Literally.

Every day when I came to play, when I started to complain of the pain, that pain gave in to understanding as to what this was like. During the scourging scene, Mel had set it up so there was a board behind my back so the Roman soldiers wouldn’t hit me. They were to strike and I could see through a mirror “off-camera” when it was coming.

I had an idea how bad that would hurt, but one of them missed and it hit me, flush, right on the back. It ripped the skin right off my back, but I couldn’t scream because the pain knocked the wind out of me. It was so horrendous that my voice got away from me, quicker than I could scream. I fell over and Mel said, “Jim, get back up.” He didn’t realize I got hit.
But that mark on my back was the mark that we based all the other scourging marks off of and how it really looked. I wasn’t struck again after that, but that incident let me begin to understand what it was like.

What was the experience of the crucifixion scene like?
When I was on the cross, I was in a loincloth in incredibly cold conditions. They stick heaters on both sides of you, but it’s useless when the wind just blows past you. I would look out and see a good hundreds of crew members, shaking from the cold, with mittens and scarves and jackets on. And there’s nothing you can do because your arms are tied up. So they move the heaters closer, and you start to feel the heat, but when the wind slows down just a little bit it fries your skin off. I remember just calling out to God at one point, “So you don’t want this movie to be made?”

One time I was up there for an hour, and because of the wind chill, I had difficulty keeping my core temperature up. It was extremely hard, and I was getting nauseous all the time. Also, because the makeup was so severe I couldn’t see out of my right eye, which caused me to hyper-focus out of the left eye. Because of all the makeup I was wearing, my skin was just ripped to shreds. It was like the healing stages after a sunburn, when you want to itch every single part of your body and you can’t.

As a result of playing this part, I have become even more passionate about the way of the cross. It is about Our Lord’s sacrifice for mankind, for our sins, bringing us back to God, and it’s love that did this.

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register, Dec. 21, 2003 - Jan. 3, 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 08, 2003

"Passion" on Review at the Vatican

Exclusive Interview With Father Di Noia of the Doctrinal Congregation

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 8, 2003 ( Several high-ranking Vatican officials who attended a private screening of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" this past weekend in Rome came away impressed.

Members from the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the group that oversees Catholic doctrinal questions, expressed unanimous appreciation and approval of the film.

The following is an exclusive ZENIT interview with one of the viewers, Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation. Father Di Noia taught theology in Washington, D.C., for 20 years, and served for seven years as the theologian for the U.S. bishops' conference before coming to work for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the doctrinal congregation a little over a year ago.

The film is scheduled for release in 2004.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Maia Morgenstern (Mary) Defends "Passion"

Jewish Actress Defends Mel Gibson's Film

ROME, NOV. 4, 2003 ( Jewish actress Maia Morgenstern, who plays the role of the Virgin Mary in Mel Gibson's "The Passion," has defended the film in an interview.

In the latest issue of The Jewish Journal, Morgenstern, 41, says that the film is not "anti-Semitic." "Yes, the villain is the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas," she said from her home in Bucharest, Romania. "But he clearly represents the regime, not the Jewish people."

"Authorities throughout history have persecuted individuals with revolutionary ideas," said Morgenstern, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Morgenstern says that "The Passion" opposes such oppression. "It is about letting people speak openly about what they think and believe," she adds. "It denounces the madness of violence and cruelty, which if unchecked can spread like a disease."

Monday, October 13, 2003

Lightning Strikes "Passion" Set 3 Times

About halfway through the filming of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” the crew was high on a hilltop in the town of Matera, Italy, and rain began to fall. The production was over budget and behind schedule, so instead of wrapping, Gibson decided to run for cover and wait it out. One older woman couldn’t run, so Jan Michelini, an assistant director, grabbed an umbrella and went back to help her. No sooner had he stepped from safety when a massive bolt of lightning struck the umbrella, running through Michelini and down into the ground. He suffered light burns on the tips of his fingers—but that was about it. For the rest of shooting, Michelini had a new nickname: “Lightning Boy.”

A few months later, in the midst of the worst European drought in decades, the crew flew back to Italy to get one final shot of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. They were on a remote location, a couple hours from Rome. Lots of extras, lots of gear. And a few minutes before filming, out of nowhere, a freak storm rolled in. At the time, Michelini, again carrying an umbrella, was standing beside star Jim Caviezel on top of a hill.

“I’m about a hundred feet away from them,” recalls producer Steve McEveety, “when I glance over and see lightning coming out of Caviezel’s ears. Both Caviezel and Michelini got struck this time. The main bolt hit Caviezel and one of its forks hit Michelini’s umbrella." And again, neither were hurt.

Just in case you were wondering, scientists and oddsmakers put a person’s chances of being struck by lightning at one in 600,000. What the odds are on a triple strike during the making of one film has never been calculated.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Jewish Movie Critic Denounces Unfair Conflict about "Passion"

'Passion' elicits unfair conflict
By Michael Medved

Any piece of pop culture that touches on serious religious themes inspires its share of controversy, but the noisy assaults on Mel Gibson's unfinished film The Passion, which describes the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, seem unfair and painfully premature. Indignant denunciations of a movie that its critics haven't even seen, coming nearly a year before that picture's scheduled release, suggest an agenda beyond honest evaluation of the film's aesthetic or theological substance. The explosive charges of anti-Semitism being directed at this project may even threaten the emerging alliance between devout Christians and committed Jews.

In March, The New York Times Magazine launched the controversy with a hostile story mentioning the movie and featuring an interview with Gibson's 84-year-old father, Hutton Gibson. According to the magazine, the old man questioned the commonly accepted figure of 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and entertained conspiracy theories about 9/11. While employing guilt by association and attempting (without evidence) to connect the views of an obscure father to his world-famous son, the Times piece raised alarms about a possibly slanderous portrayal of Jews in the film's graphic depiction of the crucifixion.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other groups devoted to combating anti-Semitism issued critical statements about The Passion based on an early draft of the screenplay that the Gibson camp called a "stolen" script. Gibson insists he has altered the screenplay substantially since that early draft, but this didn't stop the ADL from issuing an angry statement on June 24, asking: "Will the final version of The Passion continue to portray Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of Jesus? ... Will it portray Jews and the temple as the locus of evil? ... ADL stands ready to advise (Gibson's) Icon Productions constructively regarding The Passion to ensure that the final production is devoid of anti-Semitic slander."

Of course, the ADL might have advised the producers more "constructively" with a private phone call, memo or meeting rather than with a thermonuclear press release. As it is, assaults on his unseen film leave Gibson in a painful predicament. If he ignores the ADL and other critics, he faces accusations of "insensitivity," but if he responds to their condemnations by allowing activists to shape his picture's content, then he undermines his announced intention of sparing no expense (including $25 million from his own production firm) to create a film of fearless, uncompromising Gospel authenticity.

In fact, the worries about anti-Semitic messages in the upcoming epic seem overblown based on known facts about the project. Of course, members of the religious establishment in ancient Judea come across badly in New Testament accounts, but beyond these villains, the new movie boasts a Jewish hero (or Hero) — not to mention many other sympathetic Judeans, including Christ's disciples and mother. Moreover, Gibson emphasizes the Hebraic identity of the Man from Nazareth. Production stills show actor Jim Caviezel as perhaps the most Semitic Jesus in cinema history — a welcome change from the Nordic Messiahs in many previous films. To make certain no one ignores the Jewish identity of Christ and the Apostles, Gibson insisted that his actors speak nearly all of their lines in Aramaic, the language of ancient Judea and a close cousin of Hebrew.

Of course, even the most responsible, well-intentioned movie treatment of the last hours of Jesus will provoke concern in the Jewish community, because so many millions of Jews have suffered and died over the centuries due to Gospel-based charges that they are "Christ killers." But the fact that persecutors and bigots have distorted teachings of the New Testament for their own cruel purposes doesn't mean that those Gospel texts, sacred to all Christians, must be scrapped, revised or ignored in a serious work of cinema.

In fact, the plea that Gibson's movie should place exclusive blame for the Crucifixion on Roman authorities contradicts not only mainstream Christian teaching, but also elements of Jewish tradition. In a courageous piece in the national Jewish weekly The Forward, Orthodox scholar David Klinghoffer points to Jewish sources more than 1,000 years old that "teach that Jesus died at least partly thanks to decisions taken by his fellow Jews."

Ironically, the new debate over these issues comes at a time of unprecedented cooperation between Jews and Christians. Since 9/11 and the chilling wave of homicide bombings in Israel, Jewish Americans have increasingly abandoned their instinctive fear of Christian evangelicals to make common cause with them in defense of the Middle East's only democracy. This troubles liberal activists, who worry over the ever-increasing influence of religious traditionalism in American life. The ADL, for instance, has been outspokenly critical of the so-called Christian right for more than 20 years, despite unstinting support for Israel by these conservatives. In this context, the dispute over The Passion draws attention from the virulent and dangerous anti-Semitism emerging from the Islamic world and instead refocuses concern on the long, tortured history of hatred of Jews by Christians. The controversy also raises pointed questions about Christian conservatives, who have conspicuously embraced many of Gibson's recent projects, including The Patriot and We Were Soldiers.

The beleaguered director hopes to discredit his critics with his movie's artistic quality. In almost plaintive tones, Gibson insists it always has been his intention that The Passion would "unify people rather than divide them."

Perhaps his efforts may yet achieve an uplifting ending to the story of his production, allowing the ADL to go back to doing what it does so effectively: concentrate on real dangers to Jews from real enemies who wish us real harm. Certainly, the Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers who loathe both "Zionists" (Jews) and "Crusaders" (Christians) can only smile at the utterly gratuitous divisions between the two faiths over an unfinished movie.

Film critic and former synagogue president Michael Medved hosts a daily, nationally syndicated radio show on politics and pop culture. He is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

Monday, July 14, 2003

The Passion Trailer is out!

[Note: Music is from Peter Gabriel's score for "Rabbit-Proof Fence."]

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Report of Screening of "Passion"

Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun and film connoisseur, was given a screening of "The Passion" with Mel Gibson and some Icon folks and a few others in the audience. Barbara founded Act One, Inc., a training ground for Christian screenwriters and executives to be "salt and light" to Hollywood, and regularly blogs at Church of the Masses. Her review and answers to questions here:

So I was at a private screening at Icon Productions yesterday, and got to see a rough cut of The Passion. There were about twelve people in the room, including Mel Gibson, his producing partner Steve and four or five other Icon staffers. After the screening, we talked to Mel and friends for about an hour. (As cool as that was, the quality of the film was such that the celebrity stuff was completely gone from the moment. I can't explain it really, except that it would be like standing in the Sistine Chapel next to, well, someone like Mel Gibson. Great art is a great leveler....) The rough cut we saw obviously didn't have the final score or special effects, and there were many more sub-titles than they will have in the finished film.So, here's my take...

The Passion is a stunning work of art.

It is a devout, act of worship from Mel and his collaborators - in the way that Handel's Messiah and Notre Dame were artistic acts of worship in previous times.

Let's get the controversy out of the way right at the top. The film is faithful to the Gospel, particularly St. John. It is no more anti-Semitic than is the Gospel. There are at least two members of the Sanhedrin who come forward to protest on Jesus' behalf during the sham trial. The Romans are just as guilty of cruelty and hatred against Jesus in the film. And best of all is a final look right into the camera of Mary, holding her dead Son. She is looking at all of us with a kind of , "Look what you've done"/This is for you" expression. A cinematic Pieta worthy of Michelangelo.

Having seen the film now, I can only marvel that the attacks are pretty much demonic. Hopefully, the devil will end up spitefully biting his own tail on this one-- as he does in The Passion by inciting on the executioners of Christ, and thus being complicit in his own ultimate defeat. The Passion is high art. It is the greatest movie about Jesus ever made. In the discussion following the film, Mel and co. were asking us how mainstream theater audiences would react to the film. I told them, "Who cares? What you have here is so much more than just a product to sell. It will live forever, regardless of whether it is a commercial success for you or not."

For those of us who love Jesus, The Passion is devastating to watch. It is so good, I almost couldn't stand it. There is one moment on the way of the cross sequence, in which the whole tragedy unfolding devolves into a vicious riot of hatred between Romans and Jews with the Savior on the ground in the middle of it getting it from both sides. It was so frenzied and terrible, I wanted to run from the room. But then, the film again finds Mary, Jesus's Mother on the sidelines, and her presence gets us through it. Kind of like how Mary's presence helped Jesus get through it, it seemed to me.

The film is lovingly Marian. Mary is perfectly portrayed here. She is contrasted repeatedly with the really super creepy Satan character, who is also a woman (something for the feminist theologians here? heh heh...).

The film is strongly Eucharistic. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of images that cuts from the stripping on Calvary to the unwrapping of the bread to be used at the last Supper. Fabulous stuff.

Every Christian needs to see this film at least once. Just to remember, in our current comfort zones while evil is closing in, the price that was paid for us. On my way home from the screening, I found myself praying in the car, "Jesus, I'm so sorry, I forgot..." How many films have led you to compunction lately? The Passion is a miracle.

I'll take questions...


I said I would answer questions about my comments on the screening. I will not enter into the frenzied trap of trying to convince people that the Gospel is not anti-Semitic. Nor will I address the specific list of depictions that someone has decided would render the film anti-Semitic. It wouldn't prove anything.

The film is not anti-Semitic. It is beautiful. Think how insane it is to be condemning something without any experience of it. It is absurd and frivolous. No one will even remember this discussion once the film is released. And I only enter into conversations that have the possibility of being thoroughly memorable... But if some of you want to look really foolish, keep on keeping on with the sniping in the darkness.

From the Comments....

Did you discuss problems with getting a distribution company with them? Do you know the status?
No, we didn't discuss this. I don't know the status.

... you mentioned subtitles. Was he ever serious about not having them?
I don't know if Mel was ever serious about not having any sub-titles. If he was, he has moved beyond that now. The version I saw actually had too many sub-titles. We don't need distracting translations flashing on tthe screen when the Roman soldiers are saying obvious things like, "Hey, you, move!" Mel, noted that they were going to eliminate some of the sub-titles in future edits.

And, what was Jim Caviezel like as Jesus compared to, say, Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth (the standard for actors, I'd imagine)?
It's hard to answer this. This movie is completely other. I would say that Powell was great in Jesus of Nazareth, and Jim is great in The Passion. It's not really about performance. He embodies the role in a way that makes discussions of performance feel inappropriate.

does the film end with the Resurrection?
I'm going to say wait and see. It is really the only possible suspense left to the filmmaker isn't it? Because we all know what happens on Good Friday. I think it would be ungrateful of me to put this out there. Someone will probably leak it in the next nine months. It won't be me.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Monica Bellucci (Mary Magdalene) Defends "Passion"

Monica Bellucci, who stars in Mel Gibson's upcoming Passion, downplayed to SCI FI Wire reports that the movie about Jesus Christ's last days would cast Jews in a bad light. Controversy has swirled around Gibson's pet project, which some fear may resurrect the canard that Jews killed Christ—a position formally denounced by the Catholic church. Gibson has previously taken issue with some of the church's more recent policies.

"It's so funny for me that everybody's talking about it being so controversial, and nobody's seen the movie," Bellucci said in an interview while promoting her upcoming sequel film The Matrix Reloaded. "Visually it's going to be something beautiful and strong, but ... everybody [already] knows the story. So I don't understand what can be so controversial." She added: "It's not the Jews. I mean, it was the political situation. It was the Romans who killed Jesus. They put Jesus on the cross, not the Jews."

But Bellucci acknowledged that she had not yet seen a finished version of Gibson's movie, which stars Jim Caviezel and was reportedly shot in ancient languages, such as Latin and Aramaic, with no subtitles. "We just finished about two months ago," she said. As for the controversy, she said, "It's good for us. It's good to be controversial. ... I have nothing against controversy." Passion is tentatively slated for an April 2004 release.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Three Nails, a Camera and a Cross: On the Set of Mel Gibson´s ´The Passion´

ROME — "Okay, cameras are rolling! Silence, please!" shouts the production assistant. Mel Gibson is staring intensely at the monitors in front of his director´s chair at Rome´s Cinecittà Film Studios. Actor Jim Caviezel (High Crimes, Count of Monte Cristo, The Thin Red Line) is dressed only in a loincloth. His arms are shackled to a low, granite pillar and he is dancing about in his bare feet on the cold pavement in order to keep warm between shots. "The Scourging at the Pillar!" comes the voice again. "Scene 2! Take 3!"After five hours of makeup, Caviezel´s body is an oozing mass of lacerations and open wounds, a scary - and realistic - representation of a Roman flagellation. "Aaaand … ACTION!"

In spite of his long and successful career, Gibson isn´t treating The Passion like just another movie; it is the fruit of his unique spiritual experience - it´s his baby."I have meditated a lot on the passion of Our Lord," he told the Register. "When I was 35, I started praying the Prayers of St. Bridget and they really helped me understand what the passion was all about. Now I want to share it with others."

Last June, Gibson hand-picked the 34-year-old Caviezel to play the role of Jesus Christ. For the last six months, Gibson has been in Italy shooting a different kind of film. The Passion will show the final hours of the life of Jesus - from the Last Supper to the Resurrection.And this movie will be quite different from anything Gibson - or any director - has ever done before: It is a Catholic film, starring a Catholic actor, about the quintessential Catholic subject.

In his Inperson interview with the Register last year, Caviezel showed what might have made him a candidate for the role. "There was a point in my life when I got tired of being mediocre," he said. "So I started praying the rosary really from my heart, not just lip service. The next day I went through this horrible darkness inside. It was very painful, like a purging process."After I went through it, I said, ´If this is what will be necessary to get closer to God, I will go through it.´" It was important training for his new role. Gibson wants realism, above all. He is striving for a perfect reproduction of the passion - from the ancient languages spoken at the time of Jesus right down to the bloody wounds.

Blow by blow

Standing behind Caviezel in the scourging scene are two Italian actors dressed as Roman soldiers. They are using authentic-looking whips studded with sharp metal chunks to scourge Caviezel. During the editing phase, the impact of each strike on Caviezel´s back will be digitally added.One of the acting coaches is standing off-camera with a couple blocks of wood, calling out the cadence for the whippings.When the shooting begins, the coach claps the two blocks together loudly in unison with each blow of the soldier´s whip."Three, two, one, CLAP. Three, two, one, CLAP," the coach screams out, throughout the scene.At each clap, Caviezel´s body jerks forward, mimicking the pain that Christ must have felt with each strike.One camera catches the Roman soldiers and their helpless victim. Another zooms in for a close-up on Caviezel´s face as he reproduces the horror of each lashing.

Although The Passion might be considered too graphic for younger age groups, Gibson isn´t pulling any punches when it comes to showing the reality of Jesus´ suffering."There is no gratuitous violence in this film," Gibson said. "Understanding what he went through, even on a human level, makes me feel not only compassion but also a debt: I want to repay him for the enormity of his sacrifice."Behind the CamerasWhile it seems simple enough, the scourging scene took six full days to shoot, in large part because of Gibson´s minute attention to details - a hallmark of the films he directs."He might have to repeat a mundane shot 50 times, but the minute he sees a good take, he doesn´t have to think twice. He just knows instinctively what will look good and what will look bad on film," says Jesuit Father William Fulco, the film´s Semitic-language expert.

At this point in his career, Gibson´s talent as an actor and director goes uncontested. But he is unique among Hollywood´s mega stars because he hasn´t allowed his fame to get to his head.When a young actor asks for advice, Gibson is more than willing give him a few pointers. Between shots, he is often seen chatting with the extras. And he refuses to ride in the back seat of his black Mercedes, preferring to sit up front and chat with his chauffeur, Fabio.Then there´s the spiritual side of Gibson that few people see. He had a makeshift chapel installed on the set and goes to daily Mass, often joined by Caviezel and other crew members. He isn´t afraid to share his faith with friends and co-workers. And even after a long day, he always makes time for his wife and children (he has seven) when he gets home.

Spiritual Impact

Although the major film distributors are, for the time being, politely keeping their distance from The Passion, Gibson has brought along a "coalition of the willing" from Hollywood and has no shortage of volunteers.Bruce Davey, Gibson´s partner at Icon Productions, is fully supporting the film. One of the best cameramen in the business, Caleb Deschanel, is on board (The Natural, The Right Stuff, The Patriot). And Gibson has tapped his longtime friend Steve McEveety (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers) as his producer.What´s more, the film crew of The Passion is not exclusively comprised of Christians. Members of the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist religions also form an integral part of Gibson´s team.And the film is already reaping spiritual fruit, which in Gibson´s mind is much more important than monetary returns."It´s about changing lives and changing hearts," he says.

One of the Italian actors has come back to the sacraments after a long hiatus. He now joins Gibson and his family for Sunday Mass. Another member of the film crew, an atheist, is exploring the Catholic faith.But they are not the only ones affected by this film. During the scourging scene, tears welled up in more than one crew member´s eye as the reality of Christ´s suffering came to life."The attitude on the set has totally changed since we began this film back in September," says McEveety. "People are more aware of the importance of kindness and working together - much more than I´ve seen on other productions I´ve worked on."Gibson concurs. "I think that the true horror of the passion will surprise people," he told the Register.

The Passion is due for release in April 2004.Gibson thinks the film will be a great success, in spite of Hollywood´s initial shyness toward the project. "I doubt they will give us an Oscar for it - it´s going to be a grass-roots thing - but it is still going to be a very good film and people will respond to it."And after all, what doth it profit a man to gain all the Oscars in the world if he loses his soul?

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The "Passion" Controversy Continues

Apparently, the attacks regarding "The Passion" have been ramping up, presumably because of the subject matter that is being approached with reverence, rather than satire, from a Hollywood darling that dares to express his faith in the saving atonement of Jesus Christ. The two main camps from which the criticism appears to be coming from are from a) the leftist media and b) some from the Jewish community. Below is a list of the growing controversies that will be added as they occur, including the date they arise, a brief synopsis of the issue, the link where the information was reported, and any defenses of the issue by others.

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Jewish organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center has expressed concerns that he thinks Mel's traditionalist Catholic views--which eschew Vatican II that absolved the Jews (past and present) of being responsible for the death of Christ--will cause his movie to include blame towards the Jews for killing Christ. “What concerns me, however, is when I read that the film's purpose is to undo the changes made by Vatican II.” The rabbi went on to say, “If the new film seeks to undo Vatican II ... it would unleash more of the scurrilous charges of deicide directed against the Jewish people, which took the Catholic Church 20 centuries to finally repudiate.” There are no indications from Gibson’s production group that the purpose of the film is to undo anything.

The New York Times journalist Christopher Noxon has written an article attacking Mel about his movie by tracking down his 85-year-old father to interview and reporting that he is a "Holocaust denier" in order to damage Mel's credibility. Apparently Noxon's father lives in the area where Mel is building a Catholic Church on his land, so Noxon is attempting to retaliate against Mel's Catholic views as expressed through his church and his movie.

The author, who is Jewish, fears that Mel's movie may resurrect anti-Semitism, particularly based on his traditionalist Catholic views, as well as his incorporations/influence by nuns whose writings he thinks are anti-Semitic. He has not seen the movie, but he also makes the point that he thinks not enough Jewish people have been invited to the advanced screenings of the film for their feedback to Mel. This article additionally echoes Frank Rich's views, stating that the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Abraham Foxman also fears that "Passion" will be anti-Semetic, particularly since Gibson is using Emmerich's "Dolorous Passion" book.

Friday, March 07, 2003

The Greatest Story, Newly Told

Mel Gibson on "The Passion," and the passion behind it.
Friday, March 7, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST

ROME--Bounding around Studio 5 on the Cinecittà lot, not far from the catacombs, Mel Gibson is giving the performance of his life. In the shadow of an olive tree, wrapped in blue fog, he is at first a trembling Judas yanking at his lip, now a torch-toting member of Herod's guard. After expelling a cough (the remnant of a flu bug) and running a hand though his mane, he is suddenly a placid Messiah.

Sadly, none of this is being captured on film. But the athletic directing style betrays a zeal--an almost spiritual possession--to tell a story still confined to Mr. Gibson's mind yet known to millions. "It's going longer than I'd like," he whispers, as the actors try to copy his performance. "They've got to get into my head to see what I see . . . and you should see what it looks like from the inside." With a roll of his eyes, he is back on set demonstrating for the Italian day players.

Today the actor-director is shooting the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane for "The Passion," his first directorial effort since the Academy Award-winning "Braveheart" (1995). This arresting, graphic production explores the torture and death of Jesus Christ. Aside from a single press conference and a couple of interviews, Mr. Gibson has not spoken at length about his vision for the film or about the faith animating the production. But he recently granted me an interview and access to the set. I also received the first look at a rough cut of the film.

Already "The Passion" has stirred passions--journalists are trying to figure out what Mr. Gibson is about, whether he will bring some eccentric view to the Passion story, perhaps giving offense or pushing an agenda. Mr. Gibson is painfully aware of the digging around that is going on, as if, with this movie, he is suddenly striking out in a new direction that requires investigation.

But "The Passion" should come as no surprise. Since Mr. Gibson's directorial bow, "The Man Without a Face" (1993), his work has shown a Catholic sensibility. "Braveheart," "We Were Soldiers," "Signs": Each dealt with sacrificial heroes who rely on their faith for survival. Mr. Gibson's current project was conceived during a reappraisal of his life 13 years ago. "I read the New and Old Testaments and tried to just focus on that to maintain myself," he says. Reflecting on Catholic theological works and the sacrifice of Christ, he found various images surfacing. "I began to imagine what that must have been like," Mr. Gibson says. "I mean really like. No mere man could have survived this torture."

Based on the Gospel accounts, the dramatic visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (a 17th-century stigmatic) and "The Mystical City of God" by Venerable Mary of Agreda (a 17th-century nun), "The Passion" focuses almost exclusively on the sacrifice of Christ. "We are talking about the single event that influenced civilization as we know it: the law, the arts, our knowledge of good and evil," Mr. Gibson says. "It has touched every possible aspect of everyone's life whether they realize it or not."

To underscore Christ's physical sacrifice, Mr. Gibson and special-effects artists have created some of the most graphic scenes ever committed to celluloid. To become the brutalized Jesus, actor Jim Caviezel ("The Count of Monte Cristo") often spent up to eight hours a day in the makeup truck. Buried under a wig and prosthesis, he may be the most Semitic-looking Jesus ever on screen. He endured 15 days on a cross in freezing weather, a separated shoulder, the flu and literal scourging for the role. "One day they missed the board on my back and hit me full on. It hurt so badly I couldn't find my voice to scream," Mr. Caviezel says. "I see people pulling Jesus off the cross these days. They just don't want to see how he suffered, but this is what happened."

Dissatisfied with "cheesy" portrayals that miss the political situation and "prettify" the torture and death of Christ, Mr. Gibson is struggling to recapture the historical reality, right down to the clothing and eating customs of the Jews under the old law--to "make it truly about a man born to the House of David." "The Passion" is being shot in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew with no subtitles--a point of honor for Mr. Gibson. "There is power and mystery in these dead languages, and this is what was spoken at the time," he says. The movie will rely on its visuals to tell the tale.

Does it all work? Can the images convey the story? Will audiences endure dead languages they don't understand? And is the violence too much? Having seen a half-hour of the 90-minute film, I must say that it is as disturbing as it is comforting. It's like watching a documentary by Caravaggio. The images are so vivid, and the story so familiar, that language becomes almost incidental.

At moments Mr. Caviezel looks like a bloodied skeleton. Wearied and stumbling, with one eye swollen shut, he keeps a knowing dignity and strength. The violence, though intense, is never gratuitous, at least in the rough cut I saw. It rescues Christ from myth and grounds him in a reality that makes his actions more heroic.

Mercifully, Mr. Gibson has chosen to interrupt the brutality with artistic breathers: flashbacks to the Last Supper and to Christ's early life. At one point we see Christ fall under the weight of the cross through the eyes of his mother. For a moment we flash back to the child Jesus falling near his home as a concerned Mary rushes to console him. Now on the harsh streets of Jerusalem, she can do nothing but watch her boy suffer.

Focusing on the trial and death of Christ will inevitably cause some controversy. "This is dangerous territory we're in here," Mr. Gibson admits. As for the question of blame for Christ's crucifixion--a vexed subject that has fueled anti-Semitism over the centuries--Mr. Gibson says that "this is not a Christian vs. Jewish thing--'He came into the world and it knew Him not.' Looking at Christ's crucifixion, I look first at my own culpability in that."

Potential controversy aside, the whole project has been a challenge. "There have been a lot of obstacles thrown in the way of this picture; it's full of discomfort," Mr. Gibson confides. "And I understand it's the other realm warring. So I have taken steps to put on armor." A priest says Mass on the set each day. I also notice that Mr. Gibson wears a crucifix and brown scapular around his neck; Mr. Caviezel carries relics of the saints in his costume during shooting. "And I try to stay squeaky clean," Mr. Gibson adds. "For Mel and Jim, their belief is their whole lives, and they are committed to telling this story," Steve McEveety, Mr. Gibson's producer and partner, observes.

Back in Studio 5, Mr. Gibson is like a giddy child. The actors have finally gotten the arrest scene right. "It's happening, it's happening. Ha. This is so cool," he sputters. Then: "OK. Take your places, one more time." Without the support of a studio or a distribution deal, Mr. Gibson and his Icon Productions are reportedly financing the $25 million project themselves, believing "The Passion" will find its audience. "I look at myself as a conduit here--a tool, using what God gave me," Mr. Gibson says. For those who still doubt the power of faith and the merits of sacrifice, one has only to peek into Studio 5 to see them in bold, passionate flower.

Mr. Arroyo is news director of EWTN, the world's largest religious TV network.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Zenit Interview with Mel Gibson

ROME, MARCH 6, 2003 ( Oscar winning actor-director Mel Gibson is in Rome these days, working on a film on the passion of Christ at the Cinecittà studios.The movie focuses on the last hours of Christ’s life and stars Jim Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line," "Angel Eyes," "The Count of Monte Cristo") as Jesus. Gibson granted the following exclusive interview to ZENIT.
News Story:

Q: What made you decide to do this project?
Gibson: It’s been slowly coming on for about 10 or 12 years now. I’m a pretty old guy, but if you go back 12 years I was 35. That’s when I started to investigate the roots of my faith. I had always believed in God, that he existed, and I was brought up to believe in a certain way.But in my middle years, I kind of drifted, and other things took center stage. At that point, I realized I needed something more if I was going to survive. A closer investigation of the Gospels, of the story, of the whole piece, was demanded of me.That’s when the idea started to percolate inside my head. I began to see it realistically, re-creating it in my own mind so that it would make sense for me, so I could relate to it. That’s what I want to put on the screen.

Q: So many movies about the life of Christ have already been made. Why make another one?Gibson: I don’t think other films have tapped into the real force of this story. I mean, have you seen any of the others? They are either inaccurate in their history, or they suffer from bad music or bad hair. This film will show the passion of Jesus Christ just the way it happened. It’s like traveling back in time and watching the events unfold exactly as they occurred.

Q: How can you be sure that your version is so accurate?
Gibson: We’ve done the research. I’m telling the story as the Bible tells it. I think the story, as it really happened, speaks for itself. The Gospel is a complete script, and that’s what we’re filming.

Q: This seems like a switch from the usual Mel Gibson productions. Your specialty is action, adventure and romance. What made you decide to do a religious film?
Gibson: I’m doing what I’ve always done: telling stories I think are important in the language I speak best: film. I think most great stories are hero stories. People want to reach out and grab at something higher, and vicariously live through heroism, and lift their spirit that way.There is no greater hero story than this one — about the greatest love one can have, which is to lay down one’s life for someone. The Passion is the biggest adventure story of all time. I think it’s the biggest love-story of all time; God becoming man and men killing God — if that’s not action, nothing is.

Q: Who will want to see a film like this?
Gibson: I think everyone will. The story has inspired art, culture, behavior, governments, kingdoms, countries — it has influenced the world in more ways than you can imagine. It’s a pivotal event in history that has made us what we are today. Believers and nonbelievers alike, we have all been affected by it.So many people are searching for meaning in life, asking themselves a lot of questions. They’ll come looking for answers. Some will find them, some won’t.

Q: So this film isn’t only for Christians?
Gibson: "Gandhi" was a blockbuster hit, but it wasn’t just for Hindus. This film is for everyone. For believers and nonbelievers, Jesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most important historical figures of all time. Name one person who has had a greater impact on the course of history.

Q: But if this film is focused on bringing the Gospels to life, won’t it be offensive to non-Christians? For example, the role of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ death. If you depict that, won’t it be offensive?
Gibson: This isn’t a story about Jews vs. Christians. Jesus himself was a Jew, his mother was a Jew, and so were his Twelve Apostles. It’s true that, as the Bible says, "He came unto his own and his own received him not"; I can’t hide that.But that doesn’t mean that the sins of the past were any worse than the sins of the present. Christ paid the price for all our sins.The struggle between good and evil, and the overwhelming power of love go beyond race and culture. This film is about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. These are things that the world could use more of, particularly in these turbulent times. This film is meant to inspire, not to offend.

Q: Even so, some people are going to think that you just want to "push your beliefs on others." Is that true?
Gibson: I didn’t invent this story. I do happen to believe it. It’s something that just gets inside of you and has to come out. I’m just trying to tell it well, better than it’s ever been told before. When you’re dealing with non-fiction, a director’s responsibility is to make it as accurate as possible. Open-minded people will appreciate it for what it is.

Q: What about the violence? Won’t people find some of the more graphic scenes inappropriate?Gibson: Some people might, but, hey, that’s the way it was. There is no gratuitous violence in this film. I don’t think anyone under 12 should go see it — unless they’re a very mature 12-year-old. It’s pretty heavy.I think we have gotten too used to seeing pretty crucifixes on the wall and we forget what really happened. I mean, we know that Jesus was scourged, that he carried his cross, that he had nails put through his hands and feet, but we rarely think about what this means.Growing up I didn’t realize what was involved in this. I didn’t realize how hard it was. The full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption didn’t really strike me. Understanding what he went through, even on a human level, makes me feel not only compassion, but also a debt: I want to repay him for the enormity of his sacrifice.

Q: What about the language barrier? You’re filming in two dead languages — Latin and Aramaic — and you’re not planning to use subtitles. Won’t that be a turnoff?
Gibson: Caravaggio’s paintings don’t have subtitles, but people get the message. The Nutcracker Ballet doesn’t have subtitles, but people get the message. I think that the image will overcome the language barrier. That’s my hope.I’m just trying to be as real as possible. There is something kind of startling about watching it in the original languages. The reality comes out and hits you. Full-contact. I know we are only re-creating, but we are doing the best we can to simulate an experience of really being there.And I think it’s almost counterproductive to say some of these things in a modern language. It makes you want to stand up and shout out the next line, like when you hear "To be or not to be" and you instinctively say to yourself, "That is the question."But if you hear the words spoken as they were spoken at the time, it can kind of stun you. I’ve seen that happen when we’re working. It gets a clarity to it through the acting, through the nuances of the characters, the movement of the camera — it’s the movement, it’s the timing, it’s everything. All of a sudden it’s very, very clear to me. That’s when I cut and move on.

Q: When you finish this project, will it be a letdown to go back to less sublime subject matter?Gibson: No, it will be a relief to do something that’s a little lighter. There is a tremendous burden of responsibility in this one, not to sell anything short. I just hope I can do justice to the story. You can’t please everybody, but then again, that’s not my goal.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Mel Gibson to Direct "Passion"

Mel Gibson has apparently decided to make his own movie about Christ's last day, encompassing the suffering His Passion. Jim Caviezel is to play Jesus, and the movie will be shot in the ancient languages of Aramaic and Latin, with a little Hebrew (and Mel doesn't want subtitles, it would distract from the experience). Aside from using the Gospels, he will be drawing from the books "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" by the mystic nun Anne Catherine Emmerich and "The City of God" by the mystic nun Mary of Agreda to flesh out some of the chronology. He has also tapped Caleb Deschanel as his cinemetographer, and wants the film to look "Caravaggio-esque." They are filming in Rome and Matera, Italy, to give the feel of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Currently, Gibson is financing it himself but has no distributor. Mel is creating it as an expression of his own faith that has come full circle in the last 12 years, and he noted that many spiritual and miraculous things have happened on the set.

What's particularly fascinating is the way God seems to be working in incredible ways through miraculous situations both on and off the set. "There is an interesting power in the script", Gibson notes. "There have been a lot of unusual things happening, good things like people being healed of diseases, a couple of people have had sight and hearing restored, another guy was struck by lightning while we were filming the crucifixion scene and he just got up and walked away. There was even a little six year old girl (the daughter of a person connected with the crew) who had epilepsy since she was born and had up to 50 epileptic fits a day, she doesn't have them anymore for over a month now." He marvels at how this movie has effected or touched most of the cast in some deep and personal way. "And they really give you a lot of hope, it's like wow! I mean, we're not kidding around about this, it's really happening."

When asked about why he decided, seemingly suddenly, to focus on a movie about Jesus' Passion, Gibson replied:

"When I was growing up the whole story of the Passion was very sanitized and distant, it seemed to me very much like a fairy tale. Then from about the age of 15 to age 35, I kind of did my own thing as it were, not that I didn't believe in God, I just didn't practice faith or give it much consideration. I went through that period in my life where you put a lot of other things first. So coming back 20 years later, it seemed so distant, you know? I had to reconsider and say to myself, now hang on a minute, this isn't a fairy tale and this actually happened, this is real. And that started me thinking about what it must have been like, what Christ went through and I started seeing it in film terms."

What does Gibson hope the film will accomplish?

Mel Gibson’s heart, passion and hope for his film is simply this; "My hope is that this movie has a tremendous message of faith, hope, love, forgiveness and a message of tremendous courage and sacrifice. My hope is that it will effect people on a very profound level and somehow change them and that message is a pretty good message to be pushing right now. There's so much turmoil in the world today, on the brink of everybody at each others throats, I think usually when the world is tried in this way people usually start going back to something higher to fill a void in their souls, particularly if the earth is crying out in pain from all the suffering and fear that's inflicted by war and hatred. For me, I don't think there's a better message you could put out there, than what's in this movie."