A NEAR OCCASION OF OVERKILL
I was at the Four Seasons for a meeting yesterday, coincidentally while the press junket for The Passion of the Christ was occuring. This was a junket that I was told a month ago was not going to happen. Turns out, the junket was for a select group of foreign and domestic press, but not for the usual line-up of legions of reporters that usually get wined and dined whenever there is a studio release. The misinformation about the junket seems to be just one more mess in a roll-out effort that has been remarkable for missteps and confusion. Icon seems to be doing everything wrong in marketing this project -- but the sheep will still find the film, in what will be yet another testament to its worth.
Anyway, a reporter friend of mine was at the junket. She is supportive of the film, and told me with nervous subdued tones, "Mel spent four hours with Dianne Sawyer." As I was picking my jaw up out of my breakfast fruit, I murmured, "What are they smoking?" My friend nodded solemnly, "Yeah. I know..."
Anybody who has ever done any kind of press interviews knows that this is a nightmarish scenario (ref. Michael Jackson's shock over the documentary that came from the all-points access he gave to a journalist once.). I have only met Mel once, and he struck me as someone whose picture might be found in the dictionary under "artistic temperment." I liked him, but he has a "spontaneity" about him that would make me excessively neurotic if I was one of his people.
For example, in one moment after the screening I attended last June, a minister-type was trying to show off his credentials as a Biblical expert, by challenging some of the artistic license Mel used in the film. The minister, a more fundamentalist type, kept insisting that the movie needed to have all of its scenes be rooted in the literal Scriptural texts. Mel went around with him a few times defending a certain scene as having been gleaned out of different texts, and then finally shurgged, "I don't know. I guess I just pulled it out of my ass." I almost fell off my chair with glee (particularly at the minister's resultant HORROR!). It was hysterical. And perfect. But not the stuff of primetime.
Mel is an artist. He's not a diplomat, a scholar, a theologian, or a politician. Hence, the idea of ABC having four hours of him to sift for the most incendiary remarks makes me shiver. I don't think it will affect the turnout for the film, which the industry is already predicting will top thirty million in the first week, but it could pull down more opprobrium on Mel, who has already paid every kind of price for getting this project produced and distributed.
I can't help admiring him for setting himself up for a personal Ecce Homo at the hands of ABC.