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Mel Gibson Observations

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By Michael Rizzo
Now that the blood-splattered dust has had time to settle, you’d think I might have calmed down, but I haven’t. A brief sound bite reporting box-office grosses or glimpse of a magazine headline while waiting in the checkout line sends my blood pressure through the top of my head. Why can’t I just take a deep inhale and let go of this angst on the slow exhale?
I’ll tell you why: sirens. Subtle sirens. At times, inaudible sirens—the kind only dogs can hear, except we can hear them too. We hear these sirens a thousand times a day. We even see them, although we’re not aware of what is happening to our senses… or our minds.
As a film educator I accept the responsibility of how I affect the perceptions and ideas of the students exposed to my teaching propaganda. I assume they are there because they have paid the price of admission and want some bang for their buck. That’s reasonable. But someone like me can easily wreak havoc with an open and willing mind dashed on the submerged rocks of irresponsibility or unintentional deceit. My students rely on the unspoken code of my professionalism.
As a professional filmmaker, my responsibility is even greater. Why? Because the power of an idea expressed in a single image, or trope, if you will, can create a tangible fantasy or shatter a harmful illusion. When one stops to consider that kind of influence, the basic moral questions that arise are staggering and humbling.
Consider this: One of the most powerful images branded into the consciousness of humanity is that of the crucifixion—for believers and non-believers alike. This image is as inflammatory as the Swastika or the brutalizing of a pregnant woman, evoking indelible emotion in all who visually participate. Why is it necessary, then, to revisit the drama of the event of the crucifixion as presented in The Passion of the Christ? It is not about galvanizing one’s own passion of religious fervor because of its other inflammatory implications. I firmly believe that all creativity should elicit healthy debate. I am not knocking Mel Gibson’s right to be creatively expressive, nor questioning his motives. It is more a case of what is depicted.
The “what” is the power the images contain, and the cruelty of those images is indelible. Whether images are presented that are impregnated by the fervor of Islam or Catholicism, they are permanent.
Those religious leaders, politicians or filmmakers who rely on the long-lasting power of disturbing images embedded in our collective consciousness, are guilty of the brilliance and evil of dogma. Fear mongering is an extension of dogma. Dogmatic image crosses effortlessly the membrane between the information-glutted consciousness and the eternally branded subconscious.
Perhaps Mel Gibson doesn’t understand why he was truly compelled to make this film—another dogmatic victory for the mystery of the Trinity of Catholicism—but given his vast experience as an actor and director, he should know better as an icon himself! Perhaps as a fellow romantic and ardent filmmaker, he sees himself as Odysseus in the midst of the epic journey of his own creativity. But like Odysseus he is blind to his own vision and prey to the irresistible song of the Sirens of his own ego.
In my mind, the sirens are still blaring, shrill and inescapable. For me, the process of filmmaking is nonpartisan; as a medium of expression its form and function should be interchangeable. Film language is fraught with images containing layers of meaning and implication. As a filmmaker, the responsibility of affecting the consciousness of the masses is potentially paralyzing, but must be effectively addressed nonetheless. It’s time to focus on the real issues at hand, than on the cinematic or political smoke screens currently distracting us. Even if Odysseus is momentarily blind, it doesn’t mean that we ought to be.
Michael Rizzo is an art director, Local 800.

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