Sunday, December 31, 2006

Critical Consensus: The Films Of 2006 (MCN)

1 United 93 917.5
2 Queen, The 887
3 Departed, The 867
4 Letters From Iwo Jima 571
5 Pan's Labyrinth 569.5
6 Borat 495.5
7 Little Miss Sunshine 460
8 Babel 381.5
9 Little Children 365
10 Children Of Men 343.5

11 Dreamgirls 327.5
12 Half Nelson 327
13 Volver 291
14 Flags of our Fathers 284.5
15 Army Of Shadows 278
16 Death of Mr Lazarescu 266
17 L'Enfant 212
18 A Prairie Home Companion 202
19 Casino Royale 182.5
20 Proposition 157

21 Inland Empire 149
22 Old Joy 148.5
23 Notes on a Scandal 142
24 Three Times 141
25 An Inconvenient Truth 140
26 Deliver Us From Evil 133.5
27 Thank You For Smoking 118.5
28 A Scanner Darkly 109
29 Brick 107
30 Last King Of Scotland 97.5

31 Science of Sleep 95
31 Fountain 95
33 Marie Antoinette 90
34 Happy Feet 88.5
35 Tristram Shandy 88
36 Stranger Than Fiction 84
37 Apocalypto 83.5
38 Descent 78
39 Climates 77
40 Good Shepherd 75.5

41 Inside Man 74.5
42 Lives Of Others 72
42 Battle In Heaven 72
44 Dave Chapelle's Block Party 70.5
45 Neil Young: Heart Of Gold 67
46 Prestige 63.5
47 V For Vendetta 60
48 Painted Veil 57
49 Blood Diamond 53.5
50 Lady Vengeance 52

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Best Films of 2006: Critic Lists

Updated Dec 31

I think of it as the YIFF - the Year-End International Film Festival. Opens in November sometime, closes around Oscar time, when there's an avalanche of good new films at the cinemas (in time for Oscar contention) and an influx of good newish films at the video stores (in time for Christmas holidays). Everybody starts posting their year-end Top Ten (or Twenty, or Whatever) lists, awards are announced, and cinephilic listomaniacs such as myself can ring out the old year with glee.

Movie City News is a veritable cinematic Santa Claus, making a list and checking it often, compiling all the critic year-end lists into one big meta-list. ("I never meta-list I didn't like..."). Here's their latest update, including my notes on where you can see the various films. Indiewire provides a compilation of the lists of the best independent critics: their rankings are listed in brackets at the end of each line.

See you at the movies!

1 United 93 - Videomatica, Rogers ( 8 )
2 Queen, The - Fifth Avenue, etc ( 11 )
3 Departed, The - Feb 13 DVD ( 3 )
4 Pan's Labyrinth - "Coming Soon," Fifth Avenue ( 14 )
5 Letters From Iwo Jima - "Coming Soon," Fifth Avenue ( 19 )
6 Borat - Riverport, Paramount, etc ( 15 )
7 Little Miss Sunshine - Videomatica, Rogers (
8 Babel - Fifth Avenue, Paramount, etc (
9 Half Nelson - Feb 13 DVD Videomatica ( 10 )
10 The Death of Mr Lazarescu - Videomatica, Rogers ( 1 )

11 Children Of Men - Dec 29 wide release ( 9 )
12 Army Of Shadows - ( 5 )
13 Volver - Tinseltown, Fifth Avenue ( 17 )
14 Little Children - Granville 7 (
15 Dreamgirls - Riverport, Paramount (
16 Flags of our Fathers - Denman (
17 L'Enfant - Videomatica, Rogers PV ( 2 )
18 Inland Empire - Dec 29 wide release ( 4 )
19 Old Joy - ( 7 )
20 Three Times - Videomatica ( 6 )

21 A Prairie Home Companion - Videomatica, Rogers ( 16 )
22 Notes on a Scandal - "Coming Soon," Fifth Avenue
23 Casino Royale - Richmond Centre, Paramount, Riverport, etc
24 A Scanner Darkly - Videomatica, Rogers ( 13 )
25 The Proposition - Videomatica
26 Deliver Us From Evil - Oct 13 release
27 Battle In Heaven - Videomatica ( 18 )
28 Climates - Oct 27 limited release ( 12 )
28 Brick - Videomatica, Rogers
30 Marie Antoinette - Hollywood

31 Inconvenient Truth - Videomatica, Rogers
32 Last King Of Scotland - Tinseltown
33 Tristram Shandy - Videomatica, Rogers
34 The Science of Sleep - Videomatica
34 The Fountain - Granville 7
36 The Lives Of Others - Feb 9 07 limited release
37 The Descent - Videomatica
38 Happy Feet - Various
38 Stranger Than Fiction - Tinseltown, etc
40 Dave Chapelle's Block Party - Videomatica, Rogers

41 Good Shepherd - Rio, Dunbar, Paramount, etc
42 Inside Man - Videomatica, Rogers
43 Neil Young: Heart Of Gold - Videomatica, Rogers PV
44 Feb 20 07 Prestige - Denman, Granville 7 Feb 20 DVD
45 Shortbus - Mar 13 DVD
46 Thank You For Smoking - Videomatica
47 World Trade Center - Videomatica, Rogers
48 Iraq in Fragments -
49 History Boys - Fifth Avenue
50 Miami Vice - Videomatica, Rogers

51 Blood Diamond - Park, Paramount, Riverport, etc
52 Lady Vengeance - Videomatica, Rogers
53 Superman Returns - Videomatica
55 Days Of Glory - Dec 8 limited release
57 The Road to Guantanamo - Videomatica, Rogers
58 Devil Wears Prada - Videomatica, Rogers
59 Duck Season - Videomatica
60 Mutual Appreciation - Feb 13 Videomatica ( 20 )

61 49 Up - Videomatica
62 Illusionist - Eagle Ridge Jan 9 DVD
63 V For Vendetta - Videomatica, Rogers
64 War Tapes - Videomatica
65 Apocalypto - Tinseltown, Riverport, etc
66 Venus -
66 Painted Veil - Fifth Avenue
67 Our Daily Bread -
68 Perfume - Jan 5 wide release
69 Woman is the Future of man -
70 Pursuit of Happyness - Tinseltown, Richmond Centre, Riverport, etc

71 Fateless - Videomatica
75 When The Levees Broke - Videomatica
76 Jesus Camp - Jan 23 DVD
85 Devil & Daniel Johnston - Videomatica
94 Sophie Scholl - Videomatica
96 Akeelah and the Bee - Videomatica, Rogers PV
100 Tsotsi - Videomatica, Rogers PV

P.S. Movie City News also posts a tally of major film awards. Here are the leading award-winners in each category so far;

Picture: The Departed (6 awards), United 93 (5 awards)
Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth (12 awards)
Foreign Language: Pan's Labyrinth (9 awards)
Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed (11 awards)
Screenplay: The Departed (6 awards)
Actress: The Queen (16 awards)
Actor: The Last King Of Scotland (13.5awards)
Supporting Actress: Dreamgirls (5.5 awards), Notes On A Scandal (5 awards)
Supporting Actor: Little Children (6 awards)
Animation: Happy Feet (6)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I saw this one last week, and I'm still figuring out what I think of it. The utterly linear, even primal storyline doesn't provide lots of subtlety or food for thought, but it's certainly a powerful, immersive experience. I figured critics would write it off as the violent indulgence of a bigoted action-movie actor with more money and ambition than taste or judgement. Not my opinion (of Mel or the movie), but that's what I expected.

Found myself quite excited to hear Joe Morgenstern's review (which I listen to on the KCRW podcast) - guess at heart I'm still pulling for Mel. Morgenstern is a formidable film writer, Pulitzer Prize and everything. He's got some pretty bold things to say about Mel as a film-maker. He's also pretty funny.

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is a Yucatec-language action adventure set in the waning days of the Maya civilization. After the first few impalements, amputations, rapes, eviscerations and beheadings, I thought Apocalypto might be the most obsessively, graphically violent film I'd ever seen. By the end I felt sure it was the most obsessively, graphically violent film I'd ever seen, but equally sure that Apocalypto is a visionary work with its own wild integrity. And absolutely, positively convinced that seeing it once is enough for one lifetime.

However Mel Gibson may present himself in public these days, he's a singular presence in contemporary American films; no one else is making movies like Apocalypto or "The Passion Of the Christ," let alone paying for them out of personal bank accounts. Yet he's also rooted in the Hollywood tradition of flamboyant obsessive-compulsives—such filmmakers as Griffith, Von Stroheim and De Mille who combined the power of primitivist themes with all the razzle-dazzle technique at their command.

The technique deployed in Apocalypto is elegant, though that shouldn't be surprising, given the superb craftsmanship of The Passion of the Christ. Dean Semler's cinematography, Tom Sanders' production design and James Horner's music illuminate the story of one man and his family trying to survive in the ghastly chaos of a pre-Columbian society that's grown rotten to the core. (The screenplay was written by Gibson and Farhad Safinia. If it suggests that any other civilizations are rotting, that's as the writers intended.) In the department of razzling and dazzling, Apocalypto embraces an assortment of reliable action clichés dating back to the silent cinema--brilliant chases, spectacular leaps and falls, a creepy seeress, women and children in constant jeopardy, waters rising, quicksand gurgling, lives saved by a solar eclipse, cliff-hangers on the edge of sandy cliffs. Due to the absence of ice floes off the Yucatán, there's no Mayan equivalent of Lillian Gish.

The hero, Jaguar Paw, is played by Rudy Youngblood, a Native American artist and musician making his acting debut. In a production that boasts a cast "made up entirely of indigenous peoples from the Americas," Youngblood builds on his indigenousness with a bag of shrewd actor's tricks that date back to early Marlon Brando. The result is impressive -- a protagonist who keeps our disbelief more or less suspended, and that's no easy feat.

At the outset Jaguar Paw, his pregnant wife and their young son are among the peaceful, jovial and poetic residents of a village whose worst plague is a mother-in-law reminiscent of the one played last year by Jane Fonda. When the village is invaded by stone-age body-builders with bad teeth but great costumes, Jaguar Paw is taken prisoner, made a slave and put through all sorts of hell while he tries to make good on a promise to his wife that he will return.

The film takes that promise solemnly. It's a moral fable about the primacy of the family, and other things as well: strong fathers; overcoming fear; standing up to corrupt authority; the need for new beginnings, the sanctity of the land and, again not surprisingly, given the radical fundamentalism of Mel Gibson's religious beliefs, a tacit rejection of the Christianity that arrives by Spanish galleon on the Yucatán shore. Since my Yucatec-language skills are wanting, I can't pass judgment on the quality of the dialogue, or the accuracy of the subtitles, which include the memorable phrase "We must not let this man make feet from us." I can tell you, though, that by the time Jaguar Paw's journey was over, I could not wait to make feet from the theater.


Almost makes me want to see it again. Even if Joe doesn't.


BIG NIGHT (1996, USA, Stanley Tucci & Campbell Scott, wr Tucci & Joseph Tropiano)
To eat good food is to be close to God. To have the knowledge of God is the bread of angels. I'm not sure what it means, but...

Maybe it's because I live in a city that's got more restaurants than patrons, maybe it's because I love to eat, I don't know why, but whenever things get too tough and I think it's time to shut down the theatre company I started a couple decades ago, I think about bakeries. I imagine Pacific Theatre is this bakery that makes these kinds of bread and pastries and cakes you can't get anywhere else, and we've got these customers that come through the door regular like clockwork to pick up their knishes and strudel and cranberry bread (especially good for turkey sandwiches, you oughta try some). It's where people get their soul food. There are other outlets, you can get some pretty good stuff at churches and libraries and other theatres around town, but nobody bakes what we do. And when I think about closing up shop, I think of all those customers, all those friends, who won't be able to get the kind of nourishment they want. Who'll have to settle. I mean, they're not going to starve, but something will be gone from their lives, and they'll be the poorer for it.

And I also think, what about me, what am I gonna do? 

I bake bread. That's what I do. I like the work, I know just how I like it to come out, I like the people who work at the store with me, and hey – if I stop baking, what kinda bread am I going to have to eat? No disrespect, but...

We could switch over to other products, put preservatives in, mass produce, there are things you can do to attract customers. But I'm just not interested: I only want to bake the stuff I want to eat. It takes time, most people don't appreciate, but hey – they don't have to buy. Wonder Bread you can get at the Safeways.

So, for better or worse, I stick it out. It's not always a living, but it's a life. 
I think you can see why BIG NIGHT strikes a particular chord with me. It's the story of two Italian brothers who start a restaurant – the only business as unlikely to succeed as live theatre – where they're going to cook real Italian food. It isn't fast and it isn't the most popular, but it's done right. Problem is, people want spicy tomato sauce and meatballs, people are in a hurry, and besides there's no extra money for fancy advertising. So the brothers hit on a plan: they talk Louis Prima into coming to the place, and it's obvious, in one big night their reputation and success will be secured. They fill the place with friends and neighbours – you don't want Louis Prima eating in an empty restaurant, for God's sake! – and then they wait.

And I'm thinking what it's like when you spend a year writing a play and a hundred and twenty hours and forty thousand bucks rehearsing it, and you open the darn thing and nobody comes except the comps. And I'm thinking of Luke 14:21, I'm thinking FIELD OF DREAMS, I'm thinking about divine calling, I'm thinking of Lizzie Curry who puts the fancy dress on and the beau don't come, I'm thinking of Jesus who sits down to a meal with His friends just before it all comes to a terrible end, who fulfills His calling and their worst fears all at once. But first they eat together.

There's something about food that's close to soul, that has to do with art and with spirit and with sacrament. Think of all the movies where food and creation and the Creator and people in communion are all connected up.

BIG NIGHT is about brotherhood and conflict, about compromise and idealism, about vision and calling, about the heart of an artist and the hands of a craftsman, it's even – the subtlest soupcon – about God. But mostly it's about food.

Bon appetit!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Verhoeven: Jesus book, not movie

Verhoeven Talks Jesus
Exclusive: On his religious project
01 December 2006
Empire Movie News
In this month’s Empire magazine Paul Verhoeven opened up about his upcoming project based, perhaps surprisingly, on the life of Jesus.

“Well, first of all it is a book,” says Verhoeven. “It may be a film after. Essentially it is about Jesus the human being. That's a big step isn’t it? To see him only as a human being, and it’s as historical as possible. It really goes into the politics of the time and tries to show a lot of things that have been buried and eliminated by Christianity. My scriptwriter told me not to do the movie in the United States because they might shoot me. So I took his advice and decided to write a book about it first.”

So are we talking more Passion of the Christ or Last Temptation? “My [portrayal of Jesus’] life will be much more realistic and much more historical. I just want to go for what is historically, sociologically and politically real, and is defendable. I mean we couldn’t have the scene of Jesus praying at Golgotha when everyone else is sleeping. How could we have a report of that when everyone’s sleeping? That’s a contradiction in the text already. So all those will be eliminated.

And Gibson’s film? “It seemed to be saying the more blood is shed the more we are purified. I mean, honestly, such a thing is not possible. Nobody is purifying anybody else. The Church, not knowing how to handle the death of Jesus, this idea had to be presented. It is the ultra-fabrication. This is a corrective to 2,000 years of Christianity. I don’t know what the title will be but the tagline should be something like ‘Getting Jesus Back!”

Well, it’s something of a break from the norm for the director of Showgirls and Starship Troopers, but it will be interesting. “I was interested in Black Magic and the Occult and then started to be interested in miracles [laughs]. My view was always, “Well this is impossible, in fact it’s self-contradictory”. So I became interested in the historical facts: what time did he get up and so on. I feel like Hercule Poirot investigating Jesus!”

For more from Paul Verhoeven on this and other projects, as well as much more, pick up this month’s issue of Empire.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Verhoeven Jesus Movie notes: Spring '94

In my files I have a photocopy of material from the Spring '94 Jesus Seminar, apparently notes by filmmaker Paul Verhoeven on a Jesus screenplay he was developing at the time. Recently the director has begun mentioning the project again (probably because Mel Gibson's PASSION made messiah movies bankable), so I figure these notes might be of interest.


Paul Verhoeven - Cinema Seminar


Around the year 27 CE, John appears on the stage of history. According to one of the Gospel writers (Luke) he is a priestly family and may have had a Qumran or similar background (“Historical introduction to the N.T., R.M. Grant).
Hollenbach (“Social aspects of John the Baptiser’s preaching mission in the context of Palestinian Judaism") supposes that John was an alienated priest who, through some bitter experience (Kraeling “John the Baptist”) transformed himself into an "alienated profit of the apocalyptic cursing and blessing of God".

John starts to preach and baptize in Perea on the east bank of the Jordan. The choice of this location (Jordan, Desert) suggests prophetic intentions. When people would come to John they had to travel through the wilderness and across the Jordan (or vice versa) - symbolizing the journey from Egypt to the promised land (Webb: "John the baptist and prophet" page 364).
The baptismal act was probably accompanied by a confession of sins - sins that were forgiven by God, but de facto: by John - who apparently had a very healthy ego! The effect of John's message was that the people of Israel were divided into two groups. One, the true Israel, the holy remnant, would escape the quickly approaching judgment of God (and experience some restoration? John is never too clear about this, see Schillebeeckx "Jesus", page 106 Dutch edition). All the others, the "wicked", would be destroyed - clearly indicating the temple aristocracy, Antipas and even the Romans (Webb page 189-202).

John's baptism provided an alternative to the temple's sacrificial system as a means of forgiveness (Webb page 204-205). John in fact denied the temple aristocracy their claim to power and suggested their imminent removal from their position of authority. Because the temple rite was replaced, bypassed by John's baptism, we must view his preaching as a frontal attack on the temple (see also Schillebeeckx page 109). It was to this man that Jesus went (on his own? In the Gospel of the Nazoreans his mother and brothers intend to go too). He was struck by John's message and believed that God revealed truths through John (Hollenbach "the conversion of Jesus - From Jesus the baptizer to Jesus the healer"). Jesus’ baptism by John means that he identified with John's preaching and that he confessed his sins there and then. It also means that he saw in John an alternative to - and condemnation of - the temple. And that he was now waiting for the imminent arrival of the "expected figure" who would burn off the chaff (temple aristocracy etc.) and bring the wheat (the true remnant, now including Jesus) to the granary (Webb 288-303).

After the baptism most people would go back to their homes, reenacting the crossing of the purified through the desert and river into the promised land. Crossan (“Jesus, a revolutionary biography") points out that John was forming “a giant system of sanctified individuals, a huge web of apocalyptic expectations, a network of ticking time bombs all over the Jewish homeland" - a network that Jesus would use himself later when he started to preach his kingdom here and now.

At this moment however, Jesus becomes a disciple of the Baptist and makes friends with other disciples: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel (Gospel of John 1:37-45. There were more: the "other" disciple, perhaps to be identified with the "rich youngster" of the secret Gospel of Mark; the “beloved” disciple: and of course women). His association with John, which included participating in his discipline of dieting, fasting and prayer, must have been quite substantial - later he had to justify his relationship with John (Hollenbach "Conversion of Jesus"). Also, the length of time that he stayed there should not be underestimated (Murphy O'Connor "John the Baptist and Jesus").

From John's Gospel it becomes apparent that Jesus somehow becomes a coworker or assistant to John (Hollenbach, Murphy O'Connor): in other words, his first lieutenant. Some passages in the same Gospel could suggest that Jesus began his own baptizing ministry, then separated from John, and even competed with him (John 3:26 "he is now baptizing and everybody is flocking to him", 4:1 "Jesus is recruiting and baptizing more disciples than John"). But it seems incredible that Jesus, who later held John in such high esteem, would have tried to set up a competing ministry. At this point in his life he believed that John was the mediator for God and what ever Jesus did was under the authority of John (the above-mentioned passages can be seen as the result of competition between the early Jesus movement and the still existing John-group, after the death of both their leaders).

Jesus, as John's lieutenant (and a relative of John's? Is that why John trusted him more than his other disciples?) is a very effective promoter - "publicist" – of John's case. He speaks to the people that come to see John: "why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? To see a person dressed in soft clothes, like your rulers and powerful ones?" (Gospel of Thomas 78). Q reads here "what did you go out to see" which seems to put it more in the past, as if the conversation took place after John's death, when Jesus had already switched to the preaching of his "kingdom".

But the lines might have been spoken when Jesus was promoting the still living Baptist, contrasting the prophet with Antipas (Theissen argues that the reed points to Antipas because of first coins he was minting around 20 CE: on them was the image of a reed, "Gospels in context" page 30-39).
Jesus’ prominent position might also be deduced from Acts 18:25, where Luke talks about Apollos in Ephesus, who "was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus" and yet only "knew the baptism of John". Murphy O'Connor argues that this baptism was administered by Jesus when he was preaching John's baptism.

As time is running short John decides that more people need to hear his message. As he himself goes to Samaria (Aenon near Salim, "Shechem" in the heart of Samaria) he sends Jesus with some other disciples as his assistants to Judea (John 3:22, see Murphy O'Connor). In his immature enthusiasm Jesus also decides to go to Jerusalem (or perhaps John had asked him to do so, in order to prepare the way for his own arrival there?). In any case, when Jesus starts to present John's ideas in the temple he gets himself in serious trouble.

The temple was the largest employer in Jerusalem, and almost all the inhabitants of the city were indirectly dependent on it (especially when the temple was rebuilt from 20 BCE to 62 CE). Upper and lower classes profited from the status quo and would protect it (Theissen "Sociology of early Palestinian Christianity" page 52-54). John's preaching bypassed the temple however, and the imminent destruction by the "expected figure" seemed to include the destruction of the Temple.
Jesus, promoting John's case in the temple courtyard, announced the destruction of the building and to make his point he reversed some of the tables of the moneychangers. This was a (naïve) prophetic gesture, where Jesus tried to copy his master (desert, river crossing). As he had to defend himself in the following argument he pointed to (hid behind) the Baptist: "who gave you authority to do these things?". Answer: John the Baptist! (This is a "rabbinic" dispute: they will find the answer to their question by answering the counter question, see Boers "who was Jesus", page 42 - omitting Mark 11:31-33 as non-authentic. Also realize that 11:28 seems to follow seamlessly 11:18a, linking this dispute directly to the "cleansing", Schillebeecks page 110. In addition: in John's Gospel the "destruction" of the temple follows the "cleansing" immediately through a similar question "What miracle can you show us doing all this").

This polemic was probably highly disturbing to the audience, who were all dependent on the temple. It might've led to violent reactions and even to an attempt to stone Jesus (several passages in John's Gospel talk about stoning, i.e. 8:59 and 10:31). But Jesus and his "assistants" escape. They have to leave the city immediately. On their way back to the Baptist (John 10:39-40 reads "they tried to arrest him - he went away to the place across the Jordan where John first baptized") the news reaches them that John has been arrested by Antipas and was led to Machaerus.

The John group is confused, disillusioned. They start to scatter: Peter and Andrew go back to Galilee, some go back to Bethany. Jesus realizes that he might be the next target: he is the most prominent member of John's circle and his action in the temple got him notoriety. He hides in the Judean desert.

When we meet him again in Galilee, where he joins his former associates in Capernaum, he is changed radically.

Putting the "cleansing" and the arrest of John chronologically close together gives us the possibility of a powerful buildup to this change. There are now successive "disasters": first the failure in Jerusalem and on top of that the arrest of John. Both elements together push Jesus towards a non-apocalyptic vision, represented in the Kingdom of God "already there in action".

There might be an even stronger build up if, after the temple scene, Jesus had heard that John was executed instead of arrested. But in Matthew this is not the case: "when Jesus heard that John had been locked up he headed for Galilee" (4:12, immediately after the retreat in the desert). And later Matthew 14:13 "when Jesus got word of John's death he sailed away to an isolated place". This scene then leads immediately to the "feeding of the multitude". If we see the story of the feeding (Dodd "Founder of Christianity", page 131-134) as a cover story for an event that in reality was a political uprising we could argue that the anger and sorrow over John's death led to the rebellious sentiments.
We might then ask if the unique formation given in the Gospel of John that "they wanted to make Jesus King" was based on Jesus’ own personal performance for (at least partially) on the fact he'd been the most prominent of John's disciples.

Of course the chronology of Matthew could be false and Jesus might have gotten the news of John's death shortly after the temple scene. There might have been just a very short (and for John's disciples very confusing) period between the arrest and the arrival of this news. Or the arrest took place before Jesus went to Jerusalem (see my spring ‘93 paper "Proposal for sequence of events"). The rest might even have activated Jesus to go to Jerusalem. Was there a feeling that this was the beginning of the apocalyptic period foreseen by John? But the disaster in the temple and the death of John brought Jesus to the realization that there would not be any apocalyptic intervention by God.

If the temple scene is eliminated from the beginning of the passion it also eliminates the very convenient cause for Jesus arrest. Why then WAS Jesus arrested?

Crossan has suggested (personal conversation November ‘92) that the repeated presence of Bethany in all the Gospels (including Secret Mark) meant more than meets the eye. In my spring ‘93 paper I then focused on Lazarus, speculating that Lazarus was originally a disciple of John (if there is only one Bethany instead of two - see note at the end of this paper - John would've been working in the same place as letters live). Jesus befriends Lazarus and his sister(s). After the death of John, Lazarus falls into a post-Baptist depression (Crossan). Later, when Jesus has started his own ministry he renews the friendship and Lazarus becomes his disciple.

In that case I argued that the "resurrection of Lazarus" would be no more than a metaphor for psychological revival induced by Jesus and his new ideas. But this strikes me now as a too innocent explanation.

If the "miracle" of the feeding of the multitude is a cover story for a political uprising I would speculate here that the "miracle" of Lazarus is another cover for some (dangerous) political event.

In the Gospel of John (11:44-47) the "rising" of Lazarus results in a council meeting where the authorities plot to kill Jesus. In John 12:9 the same group "plans to put Lazarus to death, because of him many of the Judeans were defecting and believing in Jesus". Jesus seems to hesitate to go and visit Lazarus (he lingers two days at the Jordan, John 11:5). Later, when he is in Jericho after the miracle, he refuses to see Lazarus's sister (Secret Mark, between 10:48a 10:46b). And although John does not acknowledge any problem between Jesus and the Lazarus family (Jesus has a nice dinner with them sometime after the "miracle"). In mark that same scene is situated at the house of Simon the leper. (It's possible that "Secret Mark" originally read there "the house of the young man that Jesus raised" and was changed when the 46a/b passage was eliminated. My guess is however that John made the change to cover any problem between Jesus and the Lazarus family).

Free speculating now as a scriptwriter (and incited by a conversation with Crossan, January ‘94) I propose that Lazarus represented the militant wing among Jesus followers. Lazarus, like so many socio-religious revolutionaries through history, might have thought that the arrival of the kingdom had to be provoked by violent action. If Lazarus started out as a disciple of John, whose apocalyptic ideas already contained a period of destruction ("chaff in the fire") it's easy to see how this "abstract" punishment by God could be changed into active human participation in the punishment.

Lazarus could've been, in Jesus eyes, one of these men that "tried to enter/take the kingdom with violence", provoking the authorities into repressive action, first against Lazarus and ultimately against the leader of the group, Jesus himself. This would explain Jesus’s hesitancy to go to Bethany and also (as Sarah Winter pointed out to me, conversation January ‘94) the pretty extreme statement of the disciple Thomas when Jesus finally goes finally decides to go to Bethany: "let's go along too, so we can die with him" (if "him" is meant to be Lazarus here, that could certainly suggest that Thomas expected militant action - John 11:14 and 15).

Does the "raising" of Lazarus cover up for some specific event? Crossan suggested that Jesus might have gone to Bethany to restrain Lazarus, "cool him off". Did Jesus succeed in this confrontation ("fuming inwardly") with Lazarus? If not, that would explain why he avoided Lazarus's sister later on, why the authorities plot against Jesus (and Lazarus both), and why Jesus "withdraws to a region bordering the wilderness" - where he could hide in the many caves.

Another possibility is that the news that Lazarus's sister brings Jesus is that Lazarus is arrested ("he is sick"). Jesus hesitates to go to Bethany, but finally decides to find out what happened to his friend. Now compare the similarity between Secret Mark and Mark, describing Jesus’ death: "a great cry (apparently coming from the young man/Lazarus - in John changed to a cry coming from Jesus) - a tomb in the Garden - rolling the stone away" (see Crossan "Four Other Gospels" page 10 4-106: also conversation with Winter). Perhaps this indicates that Jesus, upon arrival in Bethany, heard that Lazarus was executed.

Jesus withdraws into the wilderness. Several months later, when things might've cooled off, he returns. Perhaps he was informed that the Sanhedrin has not been able to reach a verdict on him and that there is enough support in Jerusalem that he would be safe (Nicodemus's faction?). Or was the situation in Jerusalem still so dangerous that he could not enter the city openly? It does not seem too realistic to assume that the authorities feared to arrest him because of the crowds. His preaching in Jerusalem during daytime and going back to Bethany every evening could be a compression in the synoptics of the years before into one week. (John, who portrays Jesus is visiting Jerusalem several times before the passion, does not describe the going back and forward between Bethany and Jerusalem every day).

But during one night at least Jesus attends a secret meeting in Jerusalem (Mark 14:13-17 seems to point to preparations done in secrecy. John does not say that the supper is in Jerusalem. In fact in the chapter before Jesus is described as being "in hiding", 12:36). During the supper he is informed (probably by the "acquaintance of the high priest" of John 18:15) that the Romans and Temple police are preparing his arrest: Anna has decided to bypass the Sanhedrin and arrest Jesus in an undercover operation. At that point it must've become clear to Jesus that the secret gathering was betrayed. But it was not clear by whom. Perhaps they found out only months later that Judas was a traitor. The account where Judas is part of the arrest team seems strange. By making himself known as a traitor Judas would have set himself up for retaliation by the other disciples (who apparently were used to carrying swords). It is even possible that the disciples only found out that Judas was the traitor AFTER they had formed their circle of twelve. (That would in fact eliminate the argument that only Jesus can be the creator of the "twelve", as the early church would not have invented the embarrassing presence of Judas among them).

As Jesus tries to escape to Bethany he is arrested in an olivegrove called Gethsemane. (I don't think that he intended to go to Gethsemane, he wanted to go to Bethany, but the road to Bethany starts at Gethsemane).
There was a short fight. If Lazarus was still alive he could've been one of the men who resisted the arrest (and perhaps he got away, naked, as we read in Mark - also compare "naked" in Secret Mark). Or he and some others were arrested together with Jesus.

Within the next 12 hours all were crucified.

Note: the well known Bethany (1) is situated 2 miles east of Jerusalem. Another (2) is supposed to have existed about 20 miles east of Jerusalem, close to the Jordan: “All this took place in Bethany on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing". This village has not been found, and is not described anywhere else.
In John 10:40 Jesus comes back to this place ("he went away once more, to the place across the Jordan where John had first baptized"-but here John "forgets" to mention the name of the place). In John 11:17 this leads to the amazing coincidence that Jesus, in order to visit Lazarus, now has to travel from Bethany (2) to Bethany (1).
Perhaps there was only one Bethany and Parker ("Bethany beyond Jordan" JBL 74, page 257-261" is right in translating the passage in John 1:28 as "all this happened in Bethany, across from the point on the Jordan where John had been baptizing".

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dec 4: Babette's Feast at VIFC's "Film Salon"

Indisputable masterpiece of "spiritual cinema" (or whatever inadequate phrase we want to try on for size today). Takes time getting where it's going, but it's all essential, recalibrating us to the world of the film, preparing us for what's to come. A very important film for many Christians.

Monday, December 4, 7:30pm
Vancouver International Film Centre

PRESENTER: John Bishop, Restauranteur
John Bishop, internationally acclaimed chef, restauranteur and promoter of West Coast cuisine, is best known for his elegant Bishop’s restaurant, considered one of the city’s best.

How perfect that one of Vancouver’s finest restaurateurs is presenting Babette’s Feast, which won the Oscar in 1988 for Best Foreign Language Film. Babette’s Feast is based on a story by Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen), whose novel Out of Africa was also produced as a feature film. In the mid-19th century, two pious sisters give up their lives to serve their father’s strict Lutheran sect in a seaside village in Jutland, living a life of denial and unrequited love. Babette, a refugee from Paris whose husband and child were killed during the French civil war, comes to work as their servant. When the sisters commemorate the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth, Babette surprises them with an act of kindness and sensuality that neither the sisters nor the village could have imagined. (Hint: the recipes used in the film are on the Internet!)


Guarantee yourself a seat at Vancouver's finest evening of cinema and conversation!

The Cinema Salon Pass guarantees you access to all 11 events in 2007. At $95, you're also saving 10% off the individual ticket price. We're starting the 2007 season with one of Canada's favourite stage stars, Nicola Cavendish, as she presents Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Buy your Cinema Salon pass online or at the door.

Note: Cinema Salon will move to Tuesdays in 2007.

Cinema Salon is a one-of-a-kind event for film fans, unique to Vancover. Once a month, Melanie Friesen invites a distinguished guest to present his/her favourite film. After the screening, audiences and guests will have the opportunity to discuss the film over drinks and snacks in our spacious lounge.

Toward a Soul Food Film Course?

One of my favourite places on earth is Schloss Mittersill in Austria. A couple summers ago I led their annual arts conference. Holy smokes. Can you imagine: two weeks in a castle that's half a millenium old, talking and making art with Christians gathered from more than a dozen European nations? Musicians, painters, filmmakers, actors, writers, architects, poets... Sheesh.

Anyhow, I'll do anything to worm my way back onto their schedule again. Why shouldn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience happen twice, that's what I'm thinking. So there's been talk of something to do with film. We thought of a mini film festival, we thought of a film-making workshop course, and now we're talking about a film appreciation course. To give you a glimpse of the possibilities, here's the email I sent them this morning: all completely speculative at this point, but hey, I'm excited! And if something doesn't come of it all over there in Europe, maybe a venue or occasion will take shape on this side of the pond? Could be fun though, don't you think?

There are a lot of directions such a course could take. Indeed, it's easy to imagine a series of courses that would inter-relate and build on one another.

My greatest strength in this area is in encouraging and equipping others to look at films well, and in modeling and offering a variety of ways to integrate our faith with our experience of film (and, by extension, the other arts). I'm an amateur theologian (I have a Diploma of Christian Studies from Regent College) but a professional theatre artist (an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and 22 years experience as actor, playwright and director, as well as being founder and artistic director of Pacific Theatre, a professional stage company in Vancouver Canada). So my approach will always be to start by looking closely at the film itself, then moving in the direction of placing the work in dialogue with our experience of Christian faith, with scripture, with Christian thought.

One possible shape for such a course would be to survey film-makers who have a particular interest in Christian faith or Christian themes; Dreyer, Rossellini, Bergman, Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, Tarkovsky, Scorsese / Schrader, Peter Weir, Agnieszka Holland, possibly the Dardenne brothers, Kieslowski, Ermanno Olmi, even Lars von Trier?

For the most part that is a pretty daunting list of auteur directors: maybe that would be best as a more advanced course, preceded with a survey of more accessible films that might culminate in a Bresson or Kieslowski? Something like "Landmarks of Spiritual Film: Looking Closely at Faith at the Movies"? Maybe a progression from CHARIOTS OF FIRE (England), SOPHIE SCHOLL (Germany), THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (Finland) and NOT OF THIS WORLD (Italy) through TENDER MERCIES (USA) and JESUS OF MONTREAL (Canada) or RUN LOLA RUN (Germany) or BABETTE'S FEAST (Denmark), culminating in something from DEKALOG (Poland), maybe L'ENFANT (Belgium) or SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (Sweden). We could compare and contrast two recent films created from the same historical incidencts, REQUIEM (Germany) and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (USA). Or look closely at the original CAT PEOPLE by Paul Tourneur, a fifties B movie which is immensely admired by cinephiles the world over, and compare it to Calvin-haunted Paul Schrader's remake in the eighties, which aimed to be a tribute but turned out to be an embarrassment.

I think two weeks would be far preferable to one. Three weeks would actually be ideal, but I don't know if you offer courses that run that long. Each "working day" we would want three to five hours of class / seminar time to interact about the films, plus an evening or late afternoon screening of the next day's film. Actually, in this day of notebook computers, we could make a number of copies available for people to view on their own as well, which could be helpful for people who would rather view selected films with different subtitles in their own language? If that were available.

Those are just a couple of ideas. Can you give me some ideas of the parameters on your end? More specifics about length, format, content. Any response to the ideas I've started expressing above? Which may spark more ideas on my end, or help me refine those?

Exciting even to be considering these possibilities!

Ron Reed