So Mel Gibson walks into a kid’s bar mitzvah. The kid’s mother is a journalist who used to be a lawyer. And then …
No, this isn’t someone’s dreadful imitation of a Jon Stewart joke. It’s real. You can find it in an utterly remarkable piece by Allison Hope Weiner in the Deadline: Hollywood website that first appeared Tuesday.
“Imagine the scene,” writes Weiner. “A room filled with Jews. In walks the person who, in their minds, might be the most notorious anti-Semite in America. Gibson attended alone and I can only imagine what was going through his head when he walked into the party.”
The result, by party’s end, seems to have been mutual charm and affection and peace, not violence or hatred.
And that, it seems, is Weiner’s whole point in one of the more fascinating pieces about movies to hit the Internet in a while.
“The Passion of the Christ” opened 10 years ago. And on its 10th anniversary, Weiner says, the time has come for Hollywood to end its unofficial blacklist of Gibson.
He is persona non grata to the Hollywood powers-that-be – the same studios “that work with others who’ve committed felonies and done things far more serious than Gibson,” she says. “As a journalist who vilified Gibson in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly until my coverage allowed me to get to know him, I want to make the case here that it is time for those Hollywood agencies and studios to end their quiet blacklisting of Gibson … The Gibson I’ve come to know isn’t a man who’ll shout from the rooftops that he’s not anti-Semitic or hold a press conference to tell media those audiotapes were released as part of a shakedown and that he never assaulted the mother of his infant daughter. He won’t explain to people that he first got himself into a career spiral because he’s a long struggling alcoholic who fell off the wagon and spewed hateful anti-Semitic remarks to an arresting officer who was Jewish. He won’t tell you that he’s still got a lot to offer Hollywood as a filmmaker.”
And, implies Weiner, his very disinclination to play America’s standard and wholly fraudulent public redemption game is what she admires. I do too.
Just to refresh your memory, after “The Passion of the Christ” became the most successful independent film of all time – while attracting much critical dismay over its capacity to inflame anti-Semitism – Gibson was busted for DUI in California by a Jewish cop. It’s in no dispute whatsoever that he said vile anti-Semitic things to her.
He immediately moved out of his family home. His later relationship with Oksana Grigorieva, which produced an infant daughter, brought him back into public obloquy when she released tapes of his terrifying drunken rants on the phone. No one could listen to that screaming with equanimity. They made tapes of Alec Baldwin’s phone messages to his daughter sound like familial doting and cooing.
His reputation imploded. He became, to all intents and purposes, unemployable in Hollywood except as stunt casting by Sylvester Stallone or Robert Rodriguez. His interesting film for his friend Jodie Foster as director – “The Beaver” – was originally intended to cause an upward reassessment of both. Instead, it was a commercial dud and a critical hot potato few wanted to handle.
I have long argued that in many ways Hollywood and American movies need Gibson as much as he needs them, if not more. No major star and director has ever ascended so high and then crashed so thoroughly. No reputation (best film Oscar for “Braveheart” remember) ever tumbled so precipitously.
Weiner admits to now being a friend of Gibson’s though “for the longest time I thought he was a Holocaust denier, homophobic, misogynistic, racist drunk. I wrote as much in articles for Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times.”
She says she’s under no illusions about him now. She calls him “a man with a frightening temper, capable of saying whatever will most offend the target of his anger.”
Before her declared friendship with Gibson, when she was interviewing him for an Entertainment Weekly cover story about his travails, she writes, “He never asked me for anything or tried to play me and I’ve interviewed enough movie stars to know when they are working you. … It developed into something like friendship. … It happened with a man disdained by my colleagues, friends and family who are, like me, observant Jews.”
That doesn’t describe me at any time in my adulthood, but it certainly describes my background. And despite a huge number of reservations about “The Passion of the Christ,” both as film and possible cultural influence, I’ve always argued that Gibson’s life and career are completely incompatible with the kind of resolutely anti-Semitic monster he had come to represent in so many minds. His director all through the hugely successful “Lethal Weapon” series, for instance, was the Jewish Richard Donner.
Though it wasn’t Gibson who made the fact public, it has long been known that it was Gibson who personally put up the insurance bond for Robert Downey Jr. – at life’s lowest ebb from narcotics – to make “The Singing Detective.”
The evidence about Gibson’s nature as a human being is, at worst, complex. Why would Downey and Foster be so loyal otherwise?
The movie, frankly, that most won me over to Gibson as a filmmaker wasn’t “Braveheart” or “Passion” but “Apocalypto,” an authentically visionary and wildly ambitious American film that incredibly – doubtless because his name was on it – came from Disney.
He has now been sober for seven years, Weiner reports.
Considering how sickening and public was the thud when his life and career crashed to the bottom, who could imagine that a man who lived through such a descent wouldn’t have extraordinary cinematic stories to tell?
Or roles to play as an older actor that might be deeper and infinitely more moving than any he’d done before?
I am, as I said, with Weiner. I wouldn’t dream of claiming that Gibson isn’t a man with appalling flaws. I don’t think he’d claim that either.
And that’s only one reason why, as an often gifted filmmaker and actor, he may have more information to offer us about our species than two-thirds of the better people regularly working around him.