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Could someone do with 9/11 what Mel Gibson did with the crucifixion?

I have not seen The Passion of The Christ, and don’t plan to. A friend of mine told me that after a while The Passion just became boring, and I think that is probably how it would be for me. It is not so much that I am opposed to Christianity (although I am), more that I do not like horror movies, although of course part of the reason I am opposed to Christianity is that the crucifixion parts of it are to me a lot like a horror movie already.

But as a movie phenomenon, The Passion is fascinating. Mel Gibson has made a fortune with this movie not because he was trying to make a fortune, but because he was trying not to. He wanted other people to invest in it. But everyone else thought it would be money down the drain, so they refused. So Gibson invested great gobs of his own money, and now he gets this Niagara of profit. From a film about Jesus Christ. The ironies just pile up.

Hollywood also disapproved of the The Passion on ideological grounds, because an accurate presentation of the Gospels version of the crucifixion sets the Jews up, yet again, as the villains of Western Civilisation. The Gospels, as far as Hollywood is concerned, are anti-Semitic. I agree with Hollywood about this. This is yet another reason why I am not a Christian. But none of that stopped Mel Gibson from doing The Passion. The great thing about the free market is that anyone can join in.

Changing the subject only somewhat, I note that James Lileks today ruminates about why there has not been much in the way of movie making about or around the subject of the 9/11 attacks. Basically, he says, the reason is that Hollywood disapproves of what such movies would have to say. Arabs bad. America good. George W. Bush good. Israel not part of the story. And Hollywood does not believe any of that. So, no 9/11.

It would anger people anew, and we’re supposed to be past that. It would remind us what was done to us instead of rubbing out noses in what we do to others – I mean, unless you have a character in the second tower watching the plane approaching and saying “My God, this is payback for supporting Israel!” it’s going to come across as simplistic nonsense that denies the reality in the West Bank, okay? It would have to tread lightly when it came to the President, because even though we all knew that he wet his pants and ran to hide, we’d have to pretend and do scenes in Air Force One where he’s taking charge instead of crying help mommy to Dick Cheney, right? I mean the idiots in flyover people believe that stuff, and you’d have to give it to them or they write letters with envelopes that have these little pre-printed return address stickers with flags up in the corner. Seriously. Little flag stickers. Anyway, we would have to show Arab males as the bad guys, and that’s not worth the grief; you want to answer the phone when CAIR sees the dailies of the guys slitting the stewardess’ throats? And here’s the big one: if we make a patriotic movie during Bush’s term, well, it doesn’t help the cause, you know. People liked Bush after 9/11. Why remind them of that? Plus, you can just kiss off the European markets, period.

I think “the idiots in flyover people” should be something more along the lines of “the idiots in flyover states”. Apart from that, I think this is a definite part of what is going on here.

In the first version of this posting I asked at this point: why can’t some gung-ho pro-war-on-terrorism guys do with 9/11 what Mel Gibson did with the crucifixion? As in: some such people could do with 9/11 what Mel Gibson did with the crucifixion, minus the question mark. Why does “Hollywood” have to agree with this story? Why does “Hollywood” have to make 9/11, any more than “Hollywood” made The Passion? There would, of course, have to be Republicans who know how to make movies, just as Mel Gibson is a Christian who knows how to make movies, and that might be asking a lot. But surely there are some.

But actually I think there is another reason why there is no Hollywood version (or version by anybody else) of 9/11, which is that there already is a fantastically dramatic 9/11 movie, upon which it would be nearly impossible to improve, namely the TV footage that was shot of 9/11 at the time.

Few successful movies have been made about major sporting triumphs, real or imagined. There have been some, but not compared to the number of potential subjects for them, and many of those that have been made have been very bad, mixing movie stars and real sports stars in ways that make you want to cringe.

The obvious contrast here is between sport and crime. Crime is more important than sport. It is, for example, more often a matter of life and death. But there is also the fact that criminals – and the policemen who chase after them – sneak around unfilmed, until Hollywood gets to work. So Hollywood has gone into overdrive about crime, and shows no sign of ever easing up.

Major sporting triumphs, on the other hand, have, by their nature (major equals televised), already been filmed, when they happened. What is there to add?

Sometimes there is a fascinating behind-the-scenes, before-the-race, before-the-fight, after-the-fight, drama, which can make a good movie. But when it comes to big, grand, complicated games like baseball or all the various variants of football, or all the various ways you can race racing cars, what is there to add? Everything of importance has already been shown.

Who needs other stars to rehash the doings of the original stars? Why have some wimp actor redo the life of Jonny Wilkinson during the recent Rugby World Cup, climaxing with Fake Jonny kicking a fake drop goal in the final minutes of fake extra time to clinch the win for England, when there is already perfectly adequate video footage of Real Jonny kicking the real drop goal? You just don’t need it.

And that, it seems to me, is the other problem about 9/11. The already shot, as-it-actually happened TV footage of 9/11 is so dramatic that we scarcely need any more stuff to watch. We have already seen the story that matters. We have all of us seen this movie, when it opened with such stunning impact on September 11th 2001.

To put it another way, if the original crucifixion had itself been televised, would Mel Gibson’s Passion have even been made, let along been made and been a huge commercial hit? I don’t think so.

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18 comments to Could someone do with 9/11 what Mel Gibson did with the crucifixion?

  • Eamon Brennan

    Wasn’t there a film called “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis” made recently?

  • 9-11

    On September 11, 2001, filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were filming a documentary on a rookie New York City firefighter when they noticed a plane overhead. That plane would hit the World Trade Center. The firefighter and the Naudets rushed immediately to the scene. The Naudets filmed throughout Sept. 11 and the days afterward from the firemen’s perspective, as it became clear to them that this was the only known footage from inside the Twin Towers that day.

  • Part of the issue is that Hollywood’s production process is slow. For a big budget Hollywood film, it normally takes two years between the studio saying yes and giving the money to the producers and the film being finished. (It can be done in one year for relatively low budget projects, particularly sequels, but the resulting film will end up looking cheap). Thus if a studio decides that the audience for a particular film is there and that it wants a film made, it will take two years, and it has not been much longer than this since September 11. (And given that American’s emotional response to S11 was still uncertain two years ago and probably still is, the studios probably were not willing to allocate that much money simply out of uncertainty). If a studio had been really determined to make a S11 picture, one could be out by now, but I cannot see any reason why they would be determined.

    This is not the same thing as saying the studios have anything against a S11 picture though. That two year production process is the time from a studio saying yes. Most movies spend a long time in the pre-production process before they get to that point. Between a screenwriter or a producer having an idea and the studio saying yes, there can be a long period (known in Hollywood jargon as the “development hell” period) in which scripts are written and rewritten, directors and stars lined up, and all manner of negotiations. Five years from start to finish is entirely normal, and it sometimes takes a lot longer than that. (For instance, the film Phone Booth, which was filmed starring Colin Farrell last year, was orinally written for Alfred Hitchcock in the late 1970s, and took 25 years to be filmed).

    The first Gulf War took place in 1991, and the first big budget Hollywood film to be set in the war was Courage Under Fire, released in 1996, and the next was Three Kings in 1999. Hollywood saw no pressing need for Gulf War films, but when writers and producers came along with projects that looked good, they were interested. But it took at least five years before we saw such films.

    Television has a much shorter production cycle, where projects take at the most months (and sometimes weeks) to come to fruition. Which is why it isn’t especially surprising that we have seen S11 projects on TV but not in cinemas.

    Which is not to say that Brian is wrong about anything he says – just that I don’t really think the absence of S11 movies proves much either way. I don’t think Hollywood’s politics come into it greatly – they care far more about money than they do about politics – and politics happens over two short a timescale for it to be even possible for Hollywood to campaign for a particular election through their movies.

  • Oh, and there was a so-so TV movie about Rudi Guliani starring James Woods that I saw on ITV last September.

  • “because an accurate presentation of the Gospels version of the crucifixion sets the Jews up, yet again, as the villains of Western Civilisation.”
    It doesn’t matter – it happened 2000 years ago for Gods, Jehovah’s, whoevers, sake. TWO THOUSAND YEARS!

  • “because an accurate presentation of the Gospels version of the crucifixion sets the Jews up, yet again, as the villains of Western Civilisation.”
    It doesn’t matter – it happened 2000 years ago for Gods, Jehovah’s, whoevers, sake. TWO THOUSAND YEARS!

  • The proper term is “flyover country,” East- and West-coasters’ term of contempt for the rest of the country. Lileks, of course, knows this, but typos happen.

    As to why Hollywood has to be involved, well, that’s where the know-how for film distribution resides. Even Gibson’s The Passion was distributed by an outfit based in Hollywood, albeit an independent one.

    Even if you want to make a cheap ($125,000) direct to DVD (D2DVD) flick, you still have to get it distributed to retail and rental chains and, again, most of that knowledge is in California. Of course, for a film about 9/11, such a small budget is unthinkable simply in terms of cast size and location fees.

  • I agree that someone can make a movie out of 9/11.

    However, as a Catholic myself, I would like to point out that the crowd that called for Christ’s crucifixion was made up of the entire community, not only Jews.

    Also, I believe that Christ died to forgive all of our sins and clear a path to Heaven — for eternity. Therefore, EVERYONE who ever lived, lives now, and will live is responsible.

    I don’t mean to offend, I just want to clear up the fact that the passion of Christ is in no way anti-semitic, whether it appears in a movie or in the Bible. I think that people of all faiths should learn to share this world together. If you can’t accept the faith, please don’t try to label it.

  • Sandy P

    I can still hear the “whump” of the bodies of the jumpers hitting whatever.

  • Susan

    Hollyweird would never allow a film portraying 9-11 sympathetically to be produced and released. The only films they would bankroll about 9-11 would be ones that showed it as retribution for Muslim “root causes.”

    Gibson only got away with going against Hollyweird because he’s rich as hell and put up all his own money, to the tune of $30 million.

    And even then they’ve threatened that he will never work again. For having the temerity to produce a film that is sympathetic to one of Hollyweird’s biggest bugaboos, Christianity.

  • The notion that Gospels are somewhat anti-semitic was disproved so many times I wonder why it’s still coming up, again and again. Second, if the crucifixion was televised, Gibson would still have made his movie: it’s an artistic exploration of a historic event. Why would filmmakers create one version of Zatoichi after another? Because the story is strong, and allows for multiple re-creations.

    Why there is no 9/11 movie? You could be right about Hollywood not wanting to help Bush with a big patriotic movie, however, it’s always about money. If the producers smelled big bucks, they would say “what the fuck” and make the movie anyway, regardless of their support for the liberal politicos. I believe the reason is that the 9/11 is still a painfully fresh in people’s minds, and the time has not come to capitalize on it. Consumers would ultimately reject it.

  • Zevilyn

    Hollywood is dominated by Democrats, and it’s films reflect a Clintonesque (The West Wing and The American President being two very blatant examples of the political leanings of Hollywood).

    Hollywood does not care whether or not a 9/11 film would be insensitive to Americans, but it is concerned about the international market, and will be so desperate not to offend Arabs that I am sure a fictional “nice” Arab character would be inserted into the story.

    Hollywood will happily make “pro-feminist” films like “G.I. Jane” and “Courage Under Fire”, but I seriously doubt we will ever see a serious film about Jessica Lynch, despite her story’s enormous emotional potency, because she does not fit the “Amazonian Feminist” stereotype which Hollywood propagates.
    When JL went public with the rape and likely torture, the media and indeed Hollywood, ran for the hills; this does not fit their simplistic PC politics (besides they would have to satirise the media, and the media never truly critiques itself).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The record is mixed at Hollywood, to say the least. The film with George Clooney, Three Kings, which was made about seven years ago, subtly conveyed much of the prejudices of the leftist/liberal class (it was all about oiiiiiiilllll, blah, blah). We of course have had Black Hawk Down, which I quite liked, but not much else.

    I think there is another reason why, even by 1943, America made films about WW2 while three years after 9/11, nothing has been made. It happened on American soil. That matters. Pearl Harbour, the Russian Front, the war against German forces in north Africa, etc, were all thousands of miles away. The attacks on New York, Washington and the Flight 93 struggle were far too close to home, and memories are still too raw.

    Yes, I am prepared to admit that the film industrry may have ideological reasons for not making a film that might portray George Bush in a positive light, but other factors are at work too, to be fair.

  • nikos

    It seems that michael moore is making a film about 9/11 http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php

  • nikos

    It seems that michael moore is making a film about 9/11

  • Antoine Clarke

    1) According to Jewish beliefs of the time,
    Jesus would have been a heretic, so his treatment would have been no more humane than the way Christians have treated their heretics. I do not see how the Cruxifiction is “anti-Semitic”. Besides the portrayal in the film heaps as much of the blame on the Romans as the original script will allow. I have not heard the film described as “anti-Italian-American”.

    2) A great film was made about 9/11 BEFORE it happened: The Siege. True there was no aeroplane flying into the WTC. But it had the lot: the intelligence screw ups, the terror cells alowed into the US, the cost of the War on Terror in terms of liberty, even some good pointers as how to fight the WOT.

    Also I would endorse the praise for the Naudet brothers’ documentary film.

  • John B

    Commenting about a movie that you haven’t seen seems a bit narrow minded. Gibson portrays a period in the life of a man that has religious significance to him. That’s no different from any movies about the holocaust. He’s not blaming anyone in particular, in fact he has stated that we are all to blame. The history of mankind is rife with events of persecution and ethinic cleansings, Armenians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, all have undergone some sort of prejudice at some time or another. Narrow minded approaches and generalizations only serve to foster hatred and mistrust. Truth is always harder to deal with, and harder to find as those who lack courage and honesty find it easier to hide behind their insecurities. Peace and freedom demand courage, conviction, empathy and compassion. Anything short of that diminishes us all.