The Last Temptation of Christ
Voyager Co./The Criterion Collection
What does it take to get a $6 million movie made in which Jesus Christ is shown coming off the cross to have sex with Mary Magdalene? And besides striking a deal with a major theater chain such as Cineplex Odeon, what does it take to get that movie shown in America? Does it require the filmmaker to spill his own blood, sweat, and tears? To have himself crucified?
Apparently so. Among other magnificent obsessions, Voyager/Criterion's 10th-anniversary laserdisc of The Last Temptation of Christ drives home director Martin Scorsese's tack of self-punishment as part of the creation process. "Even when I was doing it, I knew I was never gonna be satisfied with it," he explains on the disc's supplemental audio track--while, for the more zealous Scorsese fan, Side Four contains the auteur's own camcorder footage of himself scratching his beard on the Morocco set, torturously confessing his guilt about how little time he has for videography. Oh, the humanity!
But the real anguish came upon Last Temptation's hellfire release, the result of its bold attempt to present "God as the ultimate headache" and Jesus (Willem Dafoe) "as a metaphor for the human condition" (per Dutch Calvinist screenwriter Paul Schrader). On the film's mean streets of sand, the quest for divinity is a pain; the human condition keeps rearing its ugly head. Accordingly, Scorsese cast Harvey Keitel as Judas, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Andre Gregory as John the Baptist (My Baptism With Andre?). In terms of dialogue, "Let you who is without sin cast the first stone" became "Which one o' you people has never sinned? Whoever that is, come up here! And throw these!" (Who, me? You talkin' to me?)
Sickeningly, the right-wing fundamentalist set typed Scorsese as a Judas who'd sold out their savior to the "Jewish money" at Universal. The director's public redemption would have been the standing ovation the film earned after its world-premiere matinee screening at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. But when his best friend, screenwriter Jay Cocks, telephoned Scorsese to spread the news of this Good Friday, the masochist--at home working, of course--reportedly couldn't believe it. Indeed, why stop to acknowledge your accomplishment when there's so much more work to do?