Go Tell It on the Video Mountain
There used to be a restaurant in Chicago with the terrific name of See Your Food. Less than a block away was a video store with the truly wonderfully name of Video Schmideo (which still exists, although oddly no longer in Chicago, and it seems to now be a production company. You'd think that by now they would've changed their name to DVD DVSchmee.)
Video Schmideo is a great name for a video store.
Video Mountain is not great name for a video store.
I have a friend who once lived across the hall from a woman who was obsessed with opening a video store called Video Mountain. The day after my friend moved in to his new apartment, there was a knock at his door. He opened it and on the other side was a woman who immediately launched into what my friend could only describe as a "sort of 'mantra'":
"Hi. I'm Laura from across the hall. I just wanted to say hello and to tell you that I'm thinking about opening a video store and that I'm going to call it Video Mountain. I mean, isn't that just the greatest name for a video store, Video Mountain?"
My friend, wisely deciding that it may not be such a great idea to express his true opinion about the name Video Mountain to someone who seemed so taken with the moniker and with whom he would be living in relatively close proximity to for at least the next year, lied:
"Um, yeah. Sure. I mean, I guess so. Video Mountain? Sure. Great name."
A few days later, my friend encountered Laura on the steps of their building. "Hi." Laura said. "Hello" said my friend. "Listen," said Laura, "If you don't mind, I'd like to get your opinion about something. You see, I'm thinking about opening a video store and I'm going to call it Video Mountain. I mean, isn't that just the greatest name for a video store, Video Mountain? You'd rent your videos from a place called Video Mountain, right? I mean who wouldn't?"
"I think you mentioned that the other day when we first met," my friend said.
"I did?" Laura said, seeming to genuinely not remember either meeting my friend or broaching the subject of Video Mountain.
"Yeah," said my friend, "because I remember telling you that Video Mountain was a really good name."
"Thanks," said Laura who then when inside.
That Sunday morning my friend was doing his laundry in his building's basement when Laura once again appeared:
"Hi. My name's Laura. I live across the hall from you. I think we may have already met. Do you mind if I as you a question? You see, I'm thinking about opening a video store and I'm going to call it Video Mountain. That's a really, really great name, right?"
My friend looked around for a few seconds to see if he could spot a hidden camera before finally giving in and saying "Yeah, great name. Whish I'd thought of it." Almost instantly my friend regretted making that last statement because Laura suddenly grew angry and shouted "Well, you didn't, and if you try to steal the name I'll see you in court and I will win because I thought of the name Video Mountain first and everybody knows that I did." And then she turned and stormed off.
As it turned out, she was right about one thing: everybody know she'd thought of the name Video Mountain. Later that day, my friend struck up a conversation with another (alius, alia, aliud) one (unus, una, unum) of the building's residents. When the other tenant asked my friend which apartment he occupied, my friend answered that he lived in 4C and within minutes he had the scoop on Laura.
As it turned out (over the next several months the story was confirmed by a dozen or so of my friend's neighbors) Laura, who although see appeared to be in her early fifties, was a thirty-something year old former employee of the Department of Transportation who had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown and was now known around the neighborhood as "Laura, the Video Mountain lady" for the obvious reason that no matter how many times she had told someone about Video Mountain she felt compelled to do so again. Many people in the surrounding two blocks had heard the god news about Video Mountain as many as a hundred times each. The man who had last lived in my friend's apartment said, upon leaving, that he was moving back to Pakistan so that he would never have to hear the name Video Mountain ever again.
When my friend pointed out that he was unlikely to be asked about Video Mountain again because he's apparently angered the nonexistent store's prophet, he was told that it didn't matter because Laura, the Video Mountain lady, suffered from short-term memory problems and would not remember the perceived insult. And sure enough, later tat very afternoon, my friend was once again approached by Laura, the Video Mountain lady and asked if he thought that Video Mountain wasn't the greatest name ever for a video store. "Yes, yes it is," my friend said, suddenly realizing why the rent on his apartment was so cheap.
And so it went for two more years until my friend saved up enough money to attend graduate school in another state.
The first question that I asked my friend when he first told me the story of Laura, the Video Mountain lady, over beers about five years ago, was "Did anybody ever fuck with her? I mean, did anybody ever tell her somebody had already opened up a sore called Video Mountain or say 'Hey, that's the worst goddamn name I ever heard'?"
"Oh, everybody fucked with her," my friend, who is too polite to fuck with anybody, said. "There was even a local band who used to do a cover of Neil Young's Sugar Mountain, only they changed the words to 'Oh to live on Video Mountain'. Somebody sent her a tape of them doing the song but she never said anything about it. I guess she just forgot. And then there was the smartass who plastered the neighborhood with posters announcing the grand opening of Video Mountain."
"So, let's say that she had opened a store called Video Mountain, you would've rented all of your videos from there, right? After all, it's such a great name!"
With no hesitation whatsoever, my friend said "No. No I definitely wouldn't. Because when you have to hear about something ten times a week for two years, you want to avoid it like it's a leper with the plague."
That pretty much sums up my relationship with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.The more people who told me that it was a really, really, really good movie and that I should see it, the more I wanted to avoid the film like it was an insurance salesman with a face covered in festering boils.
For years now, well-meaning Christians have been attempting to get me to watch The Passion of the Christ in the misguided belief that somehow upon viewing this film I would magically reject my commitment to rationalism and immediately welcome Jesus into my heart.
[Let's stop right here for a moment. The term "well-meaning" may be a bit of a misnomer. While I'm fairly certain that many of the people who've tried to talk me into viewing The Passion did so because they like me and therefore don't want me to go to Hell, there are plenty of others who've urged me to view the film because they're under the impression that they have a duty to convert godless Freethinkers like me or else they, themselves, might not get into heaven or be force to go to some sort of lesser heaven (the one filled with Mexicans). It's really a form of a spiritual pyramid scheme.]
Well, last week I managed to make it all the way through The Passion and at present…well, let's but it this way…
Attention Christians: If you're looking for new recruits, then The Passion is the last film that you want to be showing them. Shit Luther, you Christians would have better luck with King of Kings, Jesus Christ Superstar, or even the Eric Estrada vehicle The Cross and the Switchblade. The Passion is to Christianity what Battlefield Earth is to Scientology: I'm sure true believes get it, but the rest of us are just, pardon the pun, left behind shaking our heads with a mixture of revulsion and confusion.
In a way, you could say that The Passion reaffirmed my Atheism. Thanks, Mr. Gibson.
Before I piss all over Mel Gibson's magnum opus, I'd like to a few nice things about the film. I should also point out that I'll be using a rating system comprised of "units of Mel". Each Mel is approximately equal to the atomic weight of Bohrium multiplied by thirty Pieces of Silver and then divided by the distance from my house to Pat's Steaks. In other words, they mean nothing:
Overall Look of the Film - Six Mels
All-in-all, The Passion is a really good looking film. There are some very nice, darkly lit interior shots, and the costumes are pretty authentic. Unfortunately, you can say the same thing about Alexander, and The Passion doesn't have wannabe funeral director Angelina Jolie.
Fun with Native Tongues - Seven and a half Mels
You have to give Mel credit for deciding to film The Passion in Aramaic with English subtitles. Especially when you consider the low literacy rate of his target audience. Of course there was a smattering of Hebrew and decent chunk o' Latin (Someone should've told Mel that Pontius Pilate would've spoken Greek around the house). Speaking of Latin, there's a scene in which Jesus and Pontius Pilate hold a lovely conversation in Latin. Could Jesus speak Latin? Fuck if I know. Someone who would know, however, is John Dominic Crossan, a professor of religious studies at De Paul University, a Roman Catholic school in Chicago. Here's an actual quote for the good professor:
"Jesus talking to [Pontius] Pilate and Pilate to Jesus in Latin! I mean, in your dreams. It would have been Greek."
But I guess if you believe that Jesus was the son of God, he could've spoken Eskimo if he'd wanted to. However, there is some question as to rather or not Jesus could read Latin. If Jesus could read Latin, why would he need to ask whose face was on the coin in the famous "render onto Caesar" story?
Possible Subversive Message - Four Mels
The Passion includes an odd flashback scene (Truth-be-told, The Passion is pretty a collection of odd scenes) in which Jesus, while showing his mother a new table that he's just made (WWND: What Would Norm Do?) laughs. While there is no mention in any of the canonical Gospels of Jesus laughing, there is a Gospel in which Jesus does crack up: the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. I'm not sure how Mel's buddies in Opus Dei are going to take to his drawing inspiration from apocryphal text.
Unintended Irony - Eight Mels
At one point, Jesus' followers complain that he was arrested without cause and tortured. I guess it's different when it's being done at Guantanamo Bay.If the Ironically Challenged are ever allowed to compete in the Special Olympics, prepare your ears for plenty of victory speeches praising George Bush and Jesus.
Historic Accuracy - half a Mel.
As stated above, the costumes are fairly accurate. Oh, and the Jews look really, really Jewish (minus the spots and horns). No mistaking these Jews for Swedes. But that's about it for historical accuracy.
Of course, Mel Gibson has never let history get in the way of a good story. Take the movie Braveheart, among the numerous facts which Mel managed to ignore are: A) although jus prima noctis (the right of a Lord to deflower a peasant woman on her wedding night) did exist was definitely NOT practiced in either England or Scotland at the time the movie takes place [Don't forget; this is the film's major plot point] and B) William Wallace's second love interest, the Princess Isabelle, was actually nine-years-old and living in France when the film takes place. She never met Wallace and certainly did not give birth to his child.
Sure, Gibson adapted the screenplay for The Passion "from a composite account of The Passion assembled from the four Biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" (that's from the film's official web site), so the blame needs to be spread evenly around. In the interest of fairness, I'll be sticking to the historical inaccuracies in the film and not bringing up other New Testament errors like the Roman census that forced everyone to return to their hometown, or the Slaughter of the Innocents: both of which never happened.
Inaccuracy One: Pontius Pilate was a sensitive guy who really, really, really regretted crucifying Jesus.
Since the Gospels were being pitched to a Roman audience, it was in the authors' interests not to portray Pontius Pilate as a villain. The historic Pontius Pilate was a not a nice guy; like all good Romans, he was a brutal psychopath (Shit Luther, he managed to pick up the name Pilate, which means "armed-with-a-javelin", because of his skill with the pilum: kinda like being "Machine Gun" Kelly, or Tony "the big knife" Tarlucci.). He ruthlessly governed Judea and condemned thousands of people to death. Here's anthropologist Joe Zias on just how Pilate treated the Jews he governed:
"The Romans crucified so many Jews that "eventually they ran out of crosses and they ran out of space."
Inaccuracy Two: Jesus carried an entire cross all the way to his crucifixion.
Let's go back to Joe Zias who seems to know way too much about crucifixion for this one:
"Nobody was physically able to carry [the entire cross]. It weighed about 350 pounds. [Jesus] carried the crossbeam, maximum."
True believers may counter that Jesus, being the Son of God, could easily bench-press twice that amount of weight. If that's the case, then why didn't anybody along the crucifixion route point out the fact that they'd never seen anybody drag an entire cross after getting their ass kicked all day, and start worshipping Jesus on the spot?
Granted, rather Jesus carried the entire (totus) cross or just the beam isn't really a huge point, but it does help to establish a pattern of inaccuracy. Just like this next item:
Inaccuracy Three: Jesus was a long-haired Hippie
If you look at the frieze on Rome's Arch of Titus, you'll notice Jewish men with short hair being taken into captivity after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to Lawrence Schiffman of New York University:
"Jewish texts ridiculed long hair as something Roman or Greek."Inaccuracy Four: There is a God; he knocked up some broad; their son got nailed up by the Romans but, somehow, the Jews are to blame.
You know what? I've wasted too much time on this. If there ever was a Jesus, he'd want you to avoid The Passion like it was a guy in the woods wearing a goalie's mask and wielding a claw-hammeror a store called Video Mountain.