Of films, riots and hatred III: Scorsese and Verhoeven

[ by Charles Cameron — The Last Temptation of Christ troubles, an early warning re the upcoming Jesus of Nazareth movie — the blood libel and more ]

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American and European Christians, too, can react violently to films they perceive as blasphemous, and this too we should remember as we weigh our own responses to the rioting in Cairo and elsewhere.

Martin Scorsese‘s Last Temptation of Christ gives us a sense of how modern American and European Christians can react to perceived blasphemy, while the forthcoming Paul Verhoeven movie of his own book Jesus of Nazareth will test the degree to which we’ve learned the lessons of a quarter century ago — and of this last week.

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Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ: stirred strong feelings when it opened. I was in LA at the time, and was following the controversy fairly closely having attended an early screening, and having both literary and theological interests.

The short video clip below is a little choppy, it doesn’t make it particularly clear that the clips you see are from the film Martin Scorsese made of a novel — written by the Nobel laureate Nikos Kazantzakis — which makes no attempt nor pretense to be a historical or religiously orthodox portrayal of Christ. IMO, it is worth watching for the glimpse it gives of just how strong the undercurrents of emotion aroused by Scorsese’s film were at the time:

YouTube video

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I’m bringing this subject up and attending to it in some detail because NBC World News mentioned Martin Scorsese’s movie on the 13th of this month, in an explanation as to Why films and cartoons of Muhammad spark violence, but without gwetting the picture quite right:

Director Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of a book by the same name showed Jesus struggling with lust, depression and doubt, and engaging in sex — in his imaginings — before snapping back to reality and dying on the cross. That movie was seen as blasphemy by some Christians, who — though not violent — were vocal enough to prevent the film from being shown in many parts of the United States.

There may have been no violence done to humans in the US — but there as certainly damage to property, and some vicious threats made, as The Encyclopedia of Religion and Film records:

At the Cineplex Odeon Showcase Theater in New York City, vandals slashed seats and spray-painted threats aimed at the chairman of MCA: “Lew Wasserman: If you release ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ we will wait years and decimate all Universal property. This message is for your insurance company.”

In parts of Europe, the violence was more intense:

Overseas, at the September 28 opening in Paris, demonstrators who had gathered for a prayer vigil threw tear gas canisters at the theater’s entrance. Catholic clergy led rock-throwing and fire-bombing assaults on theaters in many French municipalities. A thousand rioters in Athens trashed the Opera cinema, ripping apart the screen and destroying the projection equipment.

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