One reason why a lot of “Old Hollywood” (to coin a Rumsfeldian-sounding phrase) may hate Mel Gibson is that he broke the cardinal rule in Hollywood–never spend your own money on a project–and his $26 million risk paid it off for him, in spades.
That’s more than Orson Welles could ever say. As I wrote a couple of years ago:
Welles was far from blacklisted–a far, far too loaded a word to describe what happened to his career post-Kane. He worked constantly in movies, both in front of and behind the cameras. He just couldn’t come to grips with the seemingly obvious fact that movies have to turn a profit, which means they have to connect with a mass audience. Even Kubrick, the most avant-garde of American directors, knew instinctively that he had to build his films around large, popular themes – nuclear hysteria, outer space, horror, Vietnam, and sex. (His one film that didn’t have a theme that a large audience could immediately tap into, Barry Lyndon, failed to turn a profit in the US. He wouldn’t make that mistake again for the three films he had left in him.) Welles couldn’t find a plot or protagonist that a mass audience could bond with.
Not that The Passion is on the same level as a film as Citizen Kane is–but Welles had the best studio technicians at RKO working on it, and Herman Mankiewicz and John Houseman to help him with the screenplay. Without the access to craftsmen of those caliber again, Welles would spend most of the money he made as an extremely in-demand Hollywood character actor to make his own films, but never live up to Kane’s potential.
In contrast to Welles, in terms of finding a character and a story that connects with an audience, Gibson’s movie, funded by his own efforts as an extremely in-demand Hollywood actor, has certainly accomplished everything its maker set out to achieve. But will Hollywood get the message?