Sunday, February 29, 2004

Howard Kurtz on the internal politics of the Dean campaign. Technology can't fix some things. It's time to spike forever the idea that the Internet caused Dean's demise -- beyond allowing his campaign to grow so quickly to the point that internal tensions, message problems, and the candidate himself led it to implode.

UPDATE: Howard Dean says, "The quotes attributed to me by others in Howard Kurtz's gossipy rendition of the divisions in the Dean for America campaign are entirely false, as is the description of my reaction after losing the Iowa caucuses, before the famous speech." (Thanks to the indefatigable Dave Winer for the pointer.) The general facts of Kurtz's story, though, still jibe with things I've heard from Trippi, and Matt Gross says "it is an accurate portrayal of the internal tensions within the campaign."

10:39:34 AM    comment []

This is my News & Record column that ran in this morning's paper.

Gibson's statement of faith


News & Record

"The Passion of the Christ" is many things, including heartfelt, moving, gory and shrewdly marketed, but as a journalist and a Jew I knew I was supposed to be watching it for the anti-Semitism.

So there I was at the Grande on Wednesday night, reading the subtitles and following the plot and apprehending the statement of faith, all while forced to recalculate the reputation of the Jews as it fell with every word from Caiaphas before recovering somewhat with the appearance of Simon the Cyrene.

What I saw was a movie version of a story in which some of the bad guys are Jews, and in this telling of the story the responsibility of these Jews for the death of Jesus is emphasized more than it is in some other tellings, and I recognized this emphasis as a choice made by Mel Gibson when he wrote and directed the film.

This incremental emphasis on the relative guilt of the Jews doesn't answer the question of blame for the death of Jesus. Some individual Jews are portrayed sympathetically, and Gibson lingers on the sadism of Roman soldiers even as he gives Pilate a pass. A very creepy Satan is always lurking nearby.

It would not be a stretch to blame worldly power, in the form of organized religion and imperial soldiers, for the crucifixion. And Jesus himself says his death is part of his father's plan, which is what evangelist Alex McFarland, citing Isaiah 53, said when he addressed the sold-out house before the show.

The crowd did not seem focused on the Jews. That really was not the point of the movie, which was concerned with the suffering and death of Christ for the sake of humanity. There were gasps as Jesus was scourged, beaten, and finally crucified. People bowed their heads. The woman beside me cried quietly. For believers, this movie may be more like a documentary, and the empathy evoked for the pain suffered on their behalf was evident.

Critics have noted Gibson's focus on gloom and gore, and it is a shocking movie. Graphic depictions of the agony of Christ are part of a rich artistic tradition, and film violence is a Mel Gibson tradition. Armed with state-of-the-art Hollywood makeup and slow-motion photography, he shows Jesus suffering interminably, scene after scene. There is almost no context for these actions, no parables or miracles, only the briefest flashback to the Sermon on the Mount; it helps to have read the book.

Gibson knows how to make a movie. He gets a performance from Maia Morgenstern as Mary that deserves an Oscar. There are shots that look like Medieval paintings and the pacing is brisk, until the long walk to Calvary, which is supposed to be agonizingly slow. But as played by Jim Caviezel, Jesus is noble but uncharismatic -- his suffering is more important here than his personality.

The question of anti-Semitism seems to have been carefully nurtured by Gibson, with the help of Jewish and Christian groups who protested a movie they had not seen, and a media always eager to play the game my dad used to call "let's you and him fight." In the process, "The Passion" became a full-blown cultural event and Gibson a hero to many conservative Christians.

I have no reason to believe that Gibson is an anti-Semite himself. He is not responsible for the clearly expressed anti-Semitism of his father, Hutton, and I would not call "The Passion" an anti-Semitic movie. Could it be used to incite hatred of Jews and violence toward them? Probably it could, but that is not why it was made, and there was no shortage of hatred-inciting material out there before this movie came along.

"The Passion" is not a movie aimed at pleasing Jews, and it is not a movie that will please all Christians. It is one man's statement of faith, and that is how the world should have been talking about it all along.

9:51:29 AM    comment []