03 March 2008

"Hey Jesus, You Want Pizza or What?"

Part of our Lenten discipline at St. Francis House this year has been a weekly Movies with Meaning series. Admittedly, eating free food and watching movies on Monday nights hasn't felt like much of a sacrifice compared to the usual "oh shoot, I didn't do enough homework this weekend" tone of a typical Monday night. Still, we've had the struggling and contemplating part down the last two weeks as we've tackled Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the book of same name by Nikos Kazantzakis (which latter was apparently a big reason why a friend of mine went to seminary).

After finishing up the movie this evening, we did a little amateur film criticism in addition to the theological discussion you'd expect. As a bit of a follow-up, I tracked down this post from from Matthew Dessem, a fellow user of the exceptionally clean Minima template by designer Douglas Bowman.

I love the "separation between Spiderman and state" bit at the beginning of Dessem's post, and I thought both his theological and filmic discussions were well worth reading, though when it comes to the theology he cleverly warns us "I don't really have a dog in this hunt, so take my opinion with a pillar of salt."

Let me quote at some length his discussion of the apostolic accents, which our group discussed in depth (and came mostly to the right conclusions, from the sound of it). If you've seen the movie, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on the film's dialog and how it was delivered, or about anything else.

So that's the theology; what about the film? Many people had problems with the casting and the accents. Harvey Keitel speaks like, well, Harvey Keitel, with a pronounced New York accent, as do the apostles. This may seem crazy, and the movie took a lot of heat for it, but it was a conscious choice. Scorsese says on the commentary track that the traditional approach here here, using the language of the King James translation, wouldn't work because, "if the audience heard that language, and heard a British accent, they could be safe, they could turn off. it's just a Biblical movie." Scorsese, Schrader, and Cocks wanted to engage the audience more directly. That's why the dialogue echoes the Bible but almost never quotes it directly [Good call, Scott. ~KMO]. And as Schrader puts it, colloquial English is "as appropriate as King James's language. It's not as appropriate as Aramaic but you're not gonna get Aramaic." I like to think Mel Gibson heard this commentary track and said to himself, "Oh, yeah?" For the most part, for me, the colloquial English worked the way it was supposed to. For one thing, giving the lower-class apostles New York accents sets up a nice contrast when the Pontius Pilate shows up, with a British accent. It creates the same cultural divide that Aramaic and Latin do in The Passion of the Christ. It's the Rebel Alliance/Galactic Empire school of dialogue coaching, and it works very well here.

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