The Last Temptation of Christ

I finished my lecture and returned to watched the Blu-ray Criterion Collection of “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It was a very controversial film when it was originally released in 1988. When I watch it again, Willem Dafoe looks the part of Jesus, but he didn’t sound the part to me. After the Spider-Man movie, I can’t erase the image of him as the Green Goblin from my mind. It’s difficult to show any conflicted character in any film, much less a conflicted Jesus. We don’t like our movie heroes to sit around pondering decisions or showing any appearance of weakness. When Dafoe as Jesus tells us that he is the farmer, or that Heaven is like a wedding to which everybody is invited, he had a look in his eyes that made me not believe him. Some of the other actors considered for the role of Jesus were Aidan Quinn, Eric Roberts, Ed Harris, and Christopher Walken. I could see the movie being even more controversial with Walken in it. Harvey Keitel is Judas, and I had the strong memory of him in “Pulp Fiction” as I watched him. He also brought traces of “Taxi Driver” with him, as did Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplay of both “Taxi Driver” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Jeff Bridges supposedly wanted to play Judas. Barbara Hershey is Mary Magdalene. I nearly laughed at a couple of scenes with her in them, including the stoning scene. Reportedly, Barbara gave her a copy of the novel “The Last Temptation of Christ” during the filming of “Boxcar Bertha,” and that eventually led to the making of this film. Harry Dean Stanton was in the cast, and I thought he was out of place in a Biblical story. David Bowie was Pontius Pilate, and he has always seemed like an alien presence, in this movie, in “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and in real life. In high definition, what I kept noticing were the branches and leaves. The images did look sharper and brighter than I remember from years ago. A filmmaker has to break away from the familiar and successful formulas to reach for something deeper, and that’s what Martin Scorsese did with this film. It took him years to make this film. I can see why he had difficulty getting it made. I couldn’t see too many people wanting to rush out and see it. I didn’t at the time, despite all the publicity. I liked the Peter Gabriel music on the soundtrack. I thought the last moments of the film are powerful, and almost worth waiting the length of the film to see. Two things I remember from this film are Jesus gaining followers walking along towards the camera, and Jesus seeing visions like he was on a vision quest. This film seemed too personal to appeal to moviegoers. It was too much for audiences to take, like “New York, New York” was. I thought it was certainly better than “The Color of Money.” I imagined Martin Scorsese eating his Chinese food during the editing and having his fortune cookie. Robbie Robertson visited and probably commented on Peter Gabriel. I think this movie has strong qualities to it, and on balance I still like it. I think I’d rather watch it over something like “Mean Streets.” According to one of the trivia notes on IMDB, the original plan with the casting in 1983 was Aidan Quinn as Jesus, Sting as Pontius Pilate, Vanity as Mary Magdalene, and Ray Davies as Judas Iscariot. A couple of other interesting notes about the film are that the Jews have American accents, while the Romans have British accents, and that Antonio Banderas has a cameo appearance. I read through the Roger Ebert review of the movie. He wrote a lot about the perception of the movie, with the complaints about the final sequence. I read some more from Roger Ebert. He said he was on vacation in London when he was invited to a screening of the film. He was told not to tell anyone about it. He also said that he believed that he believed that the film was as much about Scorsese as it was about Christ. After one of Scorsese’s divorces, he told Ebert that he believed that since he was living in sin, he would be going to Hell. I felt that I had to look up Ebert’s review of “The Passion of the Christ” and read it. I watched a Siskel and Ebert episode in which they reviewed “Betrayed,” “Stealing Home,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Married to the Mob,” and “Hero and the Terror.” Ebert liked only the Scorsese movie, and his comments were just like his movie review in print. Siskel disliked only the two movies “Stealing Home” and “Hero and the Terror.” The program was aired 27 years ago, and it’s sad to think that both of these men have died after being part of our lives for a long time. Siskel said that Scorsese did a masterful job of directing “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Watching this program, I wished Siskel and Ebert could have spent at least a few more minutes talking about the Scorsese film than the Chuck Norris film. I thought about how precious the few minutes would have been. Martin Scorsese’s next film will be “Silence.” Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield are in the cast. Jay Cocks, who worked as a writer on “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Age of Innocence,” and “Gangs of New York,” is the screenwriter. Some of the people who died on November 18 include Chester A. Arthur (1886), Marcel Proust (1922), Niels Bohr (1962), Man Ray (1976), Cab Calloway (1994), Doug Sahm (1999), and James Coburn (2002). Today is a birthday for Owen Wilson (47), Kevin Nealon (62), Linda Evans (73), and Susan Sullivan (73). According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for November 18, “Steamboat Willie” with Mickey Mouse made its debut at the Colony Theatre in New York City in 1928. In 1959, “Ben-Hur” premiered at Loew’s State Theatre in New York City. In 1978, Billy Joel had the Number One album on the Billboard chart, “52nd Street.” In 1980, “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” made its debut on NBC.

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