Monday, May 03, 2004

Joel’s Movie Reviews
As indicated in the previous creative writing experiment, I’ve been using my Golden Week vacation to visit the cinema a few times, so I thought I’d include a few thoughts on what I’ve been watching.

Kill Bill 2
I walked out of “Kill Bill 1” not sure I wanted to go back to and see “Kill Bill 2”. But it had gotten such good reviews, and I was somewhat curious to see the conclusion, that I thought I’d give it a try. And I did enjoy it actually.

Those of you who have seen the movie (and since it was released later in Japan, I’m sure by now everyone who was planning on seeing it has seen it) will remember that unlike the first volume, the second one did not have such a prominent Japanese theme. There were a couple throw away references though, which did seem to be appreciated judging by the laughs of the Japanese audience I saw the movie with.

And a bit of little trivia: I’ve mentioned before I’ve started to get into Japanese oldies over here. The Japanese music group “The 5,6,7,8s” featured in Kill Bill 1 and in the credits of “Kill Bill 2” is a real Japanese group from the 1960s. I haven’t been able to find them on CD yet, but I’ve seen their old records in used Japanese record stores. Anyway, those women must be getting pretty old now. I’m guessing that Tarantino did a good job of making them look young by using a lot of make up and no close ups.

The Passion
I’ve been reading with interest about the controversy this film had caused back home, so when I found out it was now released in Japan, I came out the next day to see it. I had wanted to weigh in on the issue a long time ago, but was trying to restrain myself from forming an opinion until after I had seen the movie.

Of course as with a lot of the political/social commentary I put on this blog, my timeliness has been handicapped by the fact I live in Japan. I know this is old news now in the States, and everyone is talking about other movies now, but I thought I’d post my two cents here anyway.

As noted in the previous entry, I had some criticisms in mind, but the wind was somewhat taken out of my sails by the fact that the film actually did not included the “blood curse”. (I could have sworn I read in a Washington Post article that the blood curse was included, but apparently I was misinformed.)

Some of you know I am a big fan of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.’ I admit this somewhat sheepishly because it is a guilty pleasure. As with any musical, the music is probably the most important thing, and one of my guilty pleasures in the cheesy rock musicals from the late 60s and early 70s. I’m also a big fan of “Hair” and “Tommy”.

As with other people who are raised Christian, I was very familiar with the story of the crucifixion, and had seen numerous Church passion plays growing up. They were always boring affairs, trying to emotionally drain the audience as much as possible in an attempt to make you realize the sufferings of Christ.

I think “Jesus Christ Superstar” helped me realize for the first time what an exciting story the whole thing really was. Jesus was born into a politically turbulent time. He outraged the existing religious authorities. He was surrounded by people who didn’t understand him, and even his closest followers didn’t get it. He was betrayed by one of his inner circle, and saw all support fall away from him at the end by both his disciples and the crowd. The story was always there, but most Christian movies and plays stifled it with boredom and reverence and overkill. "Jesus Christ Superstar" was able to do away with all that, and leave just the excitement of the story behind.

It really is an amazing story if you think about it. But Mel Gibson’s movie, like many of the Passion plays I’ve seen in my youth, seemed determined to sap all life out of the drama. Every moment seems to be over acted, over emphasized, and over emotionalized.

This is true right from the beginning in the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, when Judas betrays Jesus, and Peter subsequently cuts off the ear of one of the guards, only to have Jesus rebuke him and heal the man. The slow motion, the long close-ups, and the sappy music all seemed to rob the story of what could have been a very vivid scene if the director was not determined to drain every emotion out of it. This was true of the long walk to Calvary as well, all the sad music and slow motion seemed emotional overkill.

And, like a lot of people, I was left somewhat wondering what the point of the movie was. It didn’t seem an effective missionary tool. Surely if that was the point, a movie on Jesus’ life or resurrection would have been better than his death.

It may have been aimed at the faithful instead, but if that was the case perhaps a theater release was inappropriate. Maybe screenings at local church’s would have been better. (Although it wouldn’t have made as much money). I’m sure I’m not the only one who encountered a moral dilemma at the concession stand.  Normally I buy popcorn when I'm at the movie theater.  But did I really want to be munching on popcorn and drinking coca-cola while I watched Jesus be crucified.  It seemed inappropriate somehow.

Perhaps (and I’m just throwing this out as an idea), the debate over this movie was an example of a larger phenomenon in the American culture wars, in which religious conservatives are so eager to put Christian images in prominent places they don’t stop to think about whether God is truly being glorified. Is God truly being glorified when we force unbelievers to recite “under God” in the pledge of allegiance? Or the debate over Jesus’ picture in public schools. Sometimes I think Jesus doesn’t really care if his picture is displayed in public schools or not. Or the 10 commandments in the court room, etc etc etc.

Perhaps some religious conservatives where so excited to have a box office hit about the crucifixion, many of them didn’t stop to think if it was appropriate. (You’ll notice I’m qualifying my remarks with "some", as I am aware that many of them did consider these concerns).

At any rate in Japan, a land with a great ignorance of Christianity, it will be interesting to see how this film is received. After viewing the movie, I spent the next hour trying to answer the questions of the Japanese friend I saw it with. Whether such a graphic and bloody movie is the best possible introduction to Christianity is another question.

I’m going to contradict myself somewhat here in that in this case I am going to comment on a movie I haven’t seen. I’m also going to make a disclaimer that what followers probably deserves a “Geek Alert.”

I’m eagerly awaiting, but somewhat worried, about the upcoming “Troy” movie. Those of you who knew me in my youth (around 7th and 8th grade) will recall I went through a phase of great interest in the Trojan War.

Anyone familiar with this ancient Greek legend knows the amount of literature produced on the Trojan War is just overwhelming. If I remember right, it was something like half of all ancient Greek literature, not even counting the Romans and Shakespeare and Chaucer. How this will all be crammed into a 2 hour film I shudder to think about.

I’ve always thought the Trojan War would be very difficult to transfer into a movie. For one thing the subject is much too vast for a 2 hour film. For another thing it will be difficult for modern audiences, as there is no discernible “good guy” or “bad guy”. In some ancient works, the reader is made to feel sympathetic for the Greeks. In other ancient works, the reader feels sympathy for the Trojans (in the latter case usually works by Roman authors, since the Romans believed themselves to be descended from the survivors of Troy). In the hands of most authors, the reader feels sympathy for both the heroes of Greece and of Troy. It is a story that can not easily be made into the standard “sword and sandal” epic.

I do think that “The Iliad” if done right, could have been a good film, because the focus of the story isn’t the about justness of the war as much as it is about the conflict of egos in the Greek camp and the parallel quarreling of the gods in Olympus. But “The Iliad” deals with only a few months during the 10 year war, including neither the beginning or the end of the war. It is asking a lot of audiences to be dropped into the middle of the war, and then to finish the movie without a conclusion.

Perhaps, like Tolkien’s works, Troy should have been made into a Trilogy. There would certainly have been enough material to do it. But I’ll wait and see what happens with the new movie.

Video Version Kill Bill 2

Video Version The Passion of the Christ

Video Version Troy

1 comment:

Joel Swagman said...

This addendum is probably long over due, but I was completely wrong bout the 5,6,7,8s. They're not from the 1960s at all.
I got a bit confused because I found one of their CDs in the oldies section in a Japanese music store. And the CD cover itself was deliberately designed in a retro way, so I got fooled.