Moody: A.O. Scott Summary

picture of ao scott.jpg
For the benefit of those who heard my comments about NYT’s A.O. Scott (foto right) on Mark Elfstrand’s Moody Broadcasting show early this morning, here are the salient points!

(Dick’s Summary)
¢â‚¬¢ In one of the most honest assessments of lessons from the Passion the NY Times A.O. Scott lays out three lessons: 1) Religious filmgoers are a niche Hollywood can no longer ignore. * 2) There are Americans who believe Christianity is the only way to God, an exclusivism he thought was passé. 3) There are those who don’t allow a divide between sacred and secular a challenge to his secularist norm for evaluating film. Scott is, of course, proving what conservatives already believed that NYT writers are out of touch with mainstream America and in their elitist snobbery are actually clueless about it and are for the most part cordoned off from reality. Less useful is the usually insightful Charles Krauthammer whose embarrassing attempts at biblical hermeneutics in evaluating the Passion are themselves inflammatory.

* (In an earlier column I mentioned my concern about this possibility. While I am pleased with attention to faith as it relates to culture, personally I am concerned that Christian propagandist’s will see this as an opportunity to ¢â‚¬Ëœexploit’ Hollywood’s interest in this new market niche. Inspired and excelling Artists with a Christian worldview is what we need but our veering from a stance towards culture ranging from combat to conformity has not bred a generation of authentic artists devoted to both Christ and craft. Instead we’ve bred combatants, mindless consumers and imitative wanna-be-artists.)

(Scott’s Original Comments)
The Passion of the Christ is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it. Mr. Gibson has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one. It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace. Mr. Gibson has departed radically from the tone and spirit of earlier American movies about Jesus, which have tended to be palatable (if often extremely long) Sunday school homilies designed to soothe the audience rather than to terrify or inflame it.
A.O. Scott NYT February 25, 2004

(Scott’s Revelations After He Is Overwhelmed with letters)

I realize that this is a decidedly worldly, and perhaps irreverent, way of talking about a film that sells itself as an uncompromising expression of spiritual conviction. But in the movie industry, box-office numbers are both gospel and grail. So one predictable consequence of the financial success of “The Passion” will be the appearance, in the production pipelines of some of the studios that passed up the chance to distribute Mr. Gibson’s picture, of more movies aimed at the audience he has attracted. Not all of these movies will be as bloody as “The Passion,” and their directors will probably not be as bloody-minded as Mr. Gibson. But that box-office mammon is only the latest and most dramatic evidence of a market that Hollywood is unlikely to ignore. It has been evident for some time that there exist in this country a large number of people a “demographic,” in show business parlance who want their cultural consumption to be an expression of their religious devotion, and who will spend money on CD’s, movies and DVD’s that satisfy this desire.
A.O. Scott,Passion proves a niche, NYT March 7, 2004

The convergence of ancient religious traditions and postmodern pop culture challenges some of the most basic assumptions that many of us who write about popular culture bring to our work. To say that “The Passion of the Christ” has whipped up a new skirmish in the culture wars is to state the obvious. What makes the movie so fascinating, and so unnerving, is that it marches onto a battlefield much older, and much more brutal, than the continuing arguments about the moral direction of contemporary American society. Mr. Gibson, brushing aside any pretense of pluralism and interreligious politesse, seems intent on reopening a 2,000-year-old theological dispute about a radical Jewish preacher whose followers believed he was the son of God. To the consternation of many, he appears to have succeeded.
A.O. Scott, deplores Gibson’s exclusivism, NYT March 7, 2004

I will stay out of that one for now. For it seems to me equally important, even if it has been less widely noted, that Mr. Gibson’s film has also landed squarely on the centuries-old fault line one nearly as consequential as the fissure between Judaism and Christianity between the sacred and the secular. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about the ideological differences between believers and nonbelievers, but rather about the ways that people who profess various faiths (or none at all) divide the world into different realms of meaning and experience. To say that I, as a film critic, approach movies as secular phenomena is not to describe my religious beliefs, but rather the norms of my professional practice. I love movies you might even say that, on some days, I worship them but like most of my colleagues I understand them to be the products of human intention, rather than, say, expressions of divine will. What “The Passion” has taught me is that not everyone agrees. In the wake of my review, I received, not surprisingly, an unusually large number of phone calls and e-mail messages from readers.
A.O. Scott, dislikes the blurring of secular and sacred divide, NYT March 7, 2004

I take “The Passion of the Christ” to be an interpretation of Scripture, while some of my readers take it as something very close to Scripture itself. Mr. Gibson has, if anything, encouraged this conflation, playing the martyr on television and declaring that the Holy Spirit was working through him as he directed the movie. Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrays Christ, has described the cast and crew’s ability to overcome various obstacles during the production as miracles. Of course, the existence of any movie, big or small, devout or profane, can be described that way, but only in a loose, secular sense. The Bible may or may not be the revealed word of God that is an argument best pursued in a venue other than this one but in the gospel according to the end credits, “The Passion of the Christ” is “a film by Mel Gibson.” He will also, not incidentally, be the one who profits from it. And, if the law of blockbusters still applies, the box office will drop off significantly on this and subsequent weekends. “The Passion” will subside, and then Fox (one of the studios that declined to release it theatrically) will put it out on video. My last word on the subject is a sentence that, in normal circumstances, should be anathema to a film critic but that here seems both urgent and true: it’s only a movie.
A.O. Scott, Passion is only a movie!, NYT March 7, 2004

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