Back on Wednesday, February 25, I wrote:
THE PASSION: It opens today; the last film to generate this kind of controversy was probably Oliver Stone’s JFK (I was going to say The Last Temptation of Christ, until I remembered the angry debates on shows like Nightline that Stone’s film generated at the time of its release about its historical accuracy.)
In today’s review of JFK on The Digital Bits DVD site, Adam Jahnke writes:
Every so often, a film comes along that draws an ideological line in the sand, making it virtually impossible to simply discuss its merits as a motion picture. You cannot address its strengths and weaknesses as a movie without getting into a debate about its subject matter. Currently, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is the agent provocateur du jour. I don’t imagine Gibson and Oliver Stone would have too much common ground in a political discussion but I can’t help but wonder if Gibson solicited Stone’s advice on how to deal with the media in the wake of a firestorm of controversy.
Apropos of nothing, I’m not sure how well Jahnke’s analysis holds up. While critical opinion of the film was often on ideological lines, I’m not sure if viewership was. Somewhere I read that a fair number of its audience were African-Americans and Hispanics–and I’ll bet that a fair chunk of both groups don’t subscribe to National Review. And Roger Ebert, who last year gave an interview to The Progressive on his leftist views, gave The Passion four stars. Meanwhile William F. Buckley, of whom, rumor has it, gets comped his subscription to the conservative NR, had seriously mixed emotions about the film.
The ideological complexity holds true for JFK as well. I’d say I’m just ever so slightly to the right of Oliver Stone. But I saw JFK, bought the laser disc and later the DVD, and loved the film. Mind you, I think that other than Kennedy’s death and LBJ replacing him in the oval office, it’s entirely a work of fiction, but it’s tense, dramatic and exciting stuff, just as The Manchurian Candidate, another leftwing paranoid fantasy was.
(Incidentally, I passed by the late Clay Shaw’s house in New Orleans last week. It’s a handsome walled mansion located back and to the left, back and to the left, of Bourbon Street. The conspiracy of men who assassinated JFK–Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon, Gary Oldham, Joe Pesci and Tommy Lee Jones–were nowhere to be found.)
UPDATE: I hope I’m not sounding like I’m trashing Jahnke’s review of Warner’s new JFK DVD. He’s very good reviewer, and both his article–and apparently the new disc–are actually quite good. However, I’m also not sure if I agree with this comment of Jahnke:
The Kennedy assassination was a turning point for this country and continues to be a lightning rod for controversy to this day. Witness the recent brouhaha over a cable documentary that explicitly tied presidential successor Lyndon Johnson to the assassination (even Stone didn’t go quite that far).
He didn’t? Watching JFK certainly left me with the impression that Stone implicated Johnson in Kennedy’s assassination.