Just imagine a story line like this. With the help of an individual who has been called "our Deep Throat," some academics get their hands on a stolen draft of a confidential script. Next, using ideas and notes from the pilfered preliminary screenplay, a report is generated that distorts and twists the film's message. Then a bunch of news stories and commentaries spring up.
That is what has been going on with Mel Gibson's upcoming film called "The Passion." There has been an effort to kick up a dust storm of controversy over a movie from Icon Productions on the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ, before the thing is even completed.
Franklin Graham's words seem hauntingly appropriate: "After all these centuries, just why is the Name of Jesus so controversial and still stirring such a brew of conflicting passions?"
Conflicting passions are the operative words here. And for some people, conflicting passions somehow permit theft to become a means to an end.
It's as if we're hearing a story about some robbers who steal a car off an assembly line and then publish their complaints about the shoddiness of the vehicle in consumer advocacy venues.
The press has downplayed the fact that the script was criminally obtained. But not only did these so-called critics receive something that had been illegally acquired, the stolen product that they used to make their quiver of poison arrows was obsolete and had already been significantly revised.
As Icon producer Steve McEveety tells me, the script "is not a true representation of the film. It was, and is, a work in progress, as any filmmaker would appreciate."
McEveety also notes that the folks at Icon "respect everyone's right to their opinion about the film." But "no one has a right to publicly critique a film that has not even been completed, let alone base their critique on an outdated version of the script which has been illegally obtained."
Here's the unprecedented way that "The Passion" is being assaulted. The press is quoting scholars who have written a supposedly confidential report. But the report has somehow landed in the hands of the news media. And some of the report's authors appear to be more than willing to let their criticisms be aired in public; this despite the fact that the report is based on incomplete, dated, confidential and pirated material. Kind of makes you wonder just how elastic the definition of "scholar" has become.
Although a lot of Mel's muggers don't seem to have the guts to state their names, a few have come forward and identified themselves.
For example, there's Paula Fredriksen of Boston University. If you're making a film that involves the Christian faith, this is one lady you'll probably want to avoid.
When PBS's "Frontline" put together a four-hour program in 1998 called "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians," which, by the way, aired during the Easter season, it enlisted the help of Fredriksen. Dismissing the idea of seeking factual information from the Gospels, Fredriksen called the sacred books "a kind of religious advertisement." She explained that the Gospels "proclaim their individual author's interpretation of the Christian message through the device of using Jesus of Nazareth as a spokesperson for the evangelist's position."
Three days before Christmas 2001, the Washington Post decided to play Grinch by publishing a Fredriksen comment about the trustworthiness of the New Testament. Fredriksen is quoted by the Post as saying, "I can't think of any New Testament scholar who takes [the Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth] to be historically reliable," adding that most scholars believe that Christ was not born in Bethlehem. (Apparently, Fredriksen hasn't run across the scores of traditional scholars who certainly make their homes in Beantown, as they do in every other city in the U.S.)
And in the secularly riddled "The Search for Jesus," which aired in June 2000, ABC's Peter Jennings also turned to Fredriksen to get her input.
Philip Cunningham, executive director of Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College, is another vociferous critic of a film he hasn't yet seen. In March 2003, Cunningham told Jewish Week that "it is impossible to do a film based strictly on the Gospels." This professor is apparently claiming that a film on Christ's death shouldn't use the Gospels as a source because "they disagree with one another on some essential details."
The whole bunch reminds me of the same dopes who are trying to make Play-Doh out of the Constitution. Just like the cleverly crafted references to a "living, breathing Constitution," these folks are prattling on about "progressive interpretation" and "historical context" when what they really want is an eventual rewrite of the Good Book.
Because some of the stories that appeared in the press indicated that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was associated with the report, the bishops apparently felt they had the need to apologize as well as distance themselves.
"We regret that this situation has occurred, and offer our apologies," stated Mark E. Chopko, general counsel for the USCCB. "I have further advised the scholars group that this draft screenplay is not considered to be representative of the film and should not be the subject of further public comment. When the film is released, the USCCB will review it at that time."
What a novel idea actually waiting until a film is done before reviewing it.
Mel Gibson is so widely respected in the entertainment industry that charges from the critical cabal look silly. Mel explains that any notion of him being discriminatory runs counter to the core message of his movie.
"'The Passion' is a film meant to inspire, not offend," says Gibson. "My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds (or none) who have varying familiarity with this story. For those concerned about the content of this film, know that it conforms to the narratives of Christ's passion and death found in the four Gospels of the New Testament. This is a movie about faith, hope, love and forgiveness something sorely needed in these turbulent times."
Not much to quibble with there. Makes you wonder what the devil has gotten into these people.