Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Watching Mel Gibson Movies

Several people have responded to my post about Mel Gibson by saying that they’ll never see his movies again. I have to confess to being baffled by that. I don’t get it when those on the right do it and I don’t get it when the left does it either. When those on the right freaked out about the Dixie Chicks because they criticized the president (“on foreign soil”, they always add, as though that is the least bit relevant – does the validity of a criticism change as it crosses a border?) and started burning their records and boycotting their concerts, I frankly thought they were acting like idiots. If you like the Dixie Chicks’ music (I don’t), then listen to it and see their shows. Their music is the only reason you know about them at all and is the only thing you should care about.

The same is true of Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Sting, Bono or any other performer who speaks their mind on political issues. I simply don’t care what their political views are or whether I agree or disagree with them. Their political views are as irrelevant to my decision to see their films or buy their CDs as their taste in clothes or their choice in fine wines. Sean Penn is a shallow, pretentious poser; he’s also a hell of an actor who tends to do very good work on film. And since his ability as an actor is the only reason I am even aware of his existence, it’s the only thing I care about in that context. I don’t care if he hates President Bush or loves him any more than I care whether he wears boxers or briefs or what basketball team he roots for.

Mel Gibson seems to me to be a bit of a nut and, on the whole, not very bright. He says lots of stupid things. If he tried to write a book about his views, I likely wouldn’t read it because I think he’s an ignoramus. But that has nothing to do with his acting or the quality of his movies. In that department, he’s a mixed bag. He’s done some good work and some bad work. But if I see a film he’s made that looks interesting, hell yes I’m gonna see it and his stupidity when it comes to evolution or politics won’t even enter into the decision.


  1. #1 Sauron
    December 30, 2005

    What about Arnold Schwarzenegger?

  2. #2 KeithB
    December 30, 2005

    Sting and Bono are probably bad examples because their politics is reflected in their music, so you may validly (is that a word?) dislike the lyrics and music because of the political views.

    Now, Linda Ronstadt on the other hand…

  3. #3 Perry Willis
    December 30, 2005

    Life would be very dull if I used my political and philosophical beliefs as an artistic filter. I think John Lennon’s line “imagine no possessions” is stupid, but I love the song “Imagine” anyway. I agree with some of the song’s sentiments, and not others, but mainly it’s just a beautiful song. The same applies to “Amazing Grace.” The idea that I need God to save me because I am the way he made me, and that this somehow qualifies as “amazing grace,” is repulsive to me, but the song is still heart-breakingly beautiful.

    On another front, I haven’t a clue what T.S. Elliot’s poems are about, but I sure love reading them. And Hemingway’s fiction lacks for tension and plot, but I love reading him too.

    Life is short. Enjoy what you can while you can. And if you have trouble letting the bad things pass, take some ExLax.


  4. #4 Jeffrey A
    December 30, 2005

    Art should be judged on its merit alone; not on the personal viewpoints or idiosyncrasies of the artist.

  5. #5 raj
    December 30, 2005

    Art should be judged on its merit alone; not on the personal viewpoints or idiosyncrasies of the artist.

    Maybe. But it isn’t just art. It’s business.

    One might argue that it isn’t art at all, but that’s another issue.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2005

    Sauron wrote:

    What about Arnold Schwarzenegger?

    Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse, Ahnold the actor of Ahnold the governor. But since I wasn’t likely to see his movies before he entered politics, I’m no less likely to see them should he choose to make them again.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2005

    KeithB wrote:

    Sting and Bono are probably bad examples because their politics is reflected in their music, so you may validly (is that a word?) dislike the lyrics and music because of the political views.

    Even when it comes to lyrics, I don’t put much stock in them. As Perry mentioned above, there is much religious music with lyrics that are irrelevant to me but which is still incredibly beautiful. Ave Maria is a prayer and prayer means little to me, but it is a stunningly beautiful song that never fails to move me to tears. I still listen to old Amy Grant albums whose lyrics mean nothing to me religiously simply because I love the music.

    As far as Sting and U2 go, only a small percentage of their music is political in nature. And Sting is actually a perfect example. I have a friend who was signed to Sting’s record company and knows him quite well. Sting produced his first CD. He has also performed a great deal with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, Sting’s Police mates, and they are all unanimous in saying that Sting is exactly what his reputation suggests – equal parts egomaniac and megalomaniac. He also happens to be, in my opinion, the finest songwriter in a generation, and that is all that matters to me. I don’t know him, so I don’t have to like him. My only interaction with him is his music, and on that count he does just fine.

  8. #8 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2005

    This is why I try so hard NOT to know about the personal lives of actors I enjoy; I just want to see the movie. There are lots of fine actors of whom I have never heard, and I like those best of all.

  9. #9 The Heretik
    December 30, 2005

    Well said. But how to tell the dancer from the dance?

    The question of whether the art’s meaning is skewed by knowlege of the artist for better or worse is a curse of the ages. Elliot? Raging anti-semite. Ezra Pound? More talented, more of an anti-semite.

    Is art a refuge from the world or the forge that fires its change? Oy.

  10. #10 spyder
    December 30, 2005

    Gibson has acted in 45 films, or more, but the sixteen or so in the 90’s were probably some of his better work as an actor. And while they aren’t monumental performances, they did generate considerable revenue (business raj?) for the studios, the various production companies, and for Mel. His directing and producing activities haven’t been all that well done, and as such they might be more representative of his personal views and opinions, where his acting is the product of mostly other directors and producers.

    At least Mel can speak English, unlike the California governor’s attempts to do so, both as an actor, and as a politician.

  11. #11 raj
    December 30, 2005

    I’m not going to opine about Gibson as an actor. As far as I’m concerned, Gibson’s best work ended with that silly low-budget movie from Australia–which I can’t find on the Internet Movie Database–regarding a post-nuclear war.

    But regarding Ed’s

    Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse, Ahnold the actor of Ahnold the governor. But since I wasn’t likely to see his movies before he entered politics…

    Maybe. Ahnold the actor was a comedian, and he knew it. Actually some of his movies weren’t bad. The movie that he did with Danny DeVito was actually pretty good. Some of the others were silly as heck.

    The problem with Ahnold now is that the Ahnold the politician is not–or should not be–a comedian, and he apparently does not recognize that fact. Ahnold apparently took himself to seriously, which is always a problem with a politician. All of his referenda lost big-time in a general election. That is amazing.

  12. #12 KeithB
    December 30, 2005

    I can’t tell if you are kidding, but the movie was Mad Max:

  13. #13 Pieter B
    December 30, 2005

    Love Bono’s politics, but listening to U2 for more than three minutes makes me want to eat my own head. Hate Charlie Daniels’s politics, but would go to see him perform in a heartbeat.

    In a film appreciation class hosted by Rod Lurie (producer of Commander in Chief) we saw Mel Gibson’s Payback, a film that I watch every once in a while to try to figure out how the hell they can make me root for an amoral career criminal seeking revenge against other amoral career criminals, and I don’t think anyone besides Gibson could have played that character as well.

    I didn’t see The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, but he wasn’t in it, he just directed it; I’d probably go see a movie with Mel in it if it got good reviews from people I trust. If I avoided every movie with jackasses, egomaniacs, intellectual lightweights and pretentious fools in it, I’d see about three a decade.

  14. #14 Matthew
    December 30, 2005

    Agreed, I generally stay away from Mel Gibson movies because they are laughably unrealistic and bombastic, not because he’s a crank. I’m sure I’m happily consuming art by plenty of crazy people all the time without realizing. Wonder if I’m being brainwashed….

    About Arnold though. It was rather ironic because his campaign for governator came just after the Dixie Chicks ordeal and some other instances of celebrity liberals criticizing the war, and a segment of the right-media were just brutal on them all, not because of their views, but because they were celebrities and shouldn’t use their celebrity to propagandize. I’m not sure if you agree with that or not, personally I think they are as qualified as anyone including politicians to speak on political issues (it’s not like politicians come from a political science background). But anyways, it was a huge issue with the right-media, you might remember the cleverly titled “Shut Up and Sing” book by Laura Ingraham. Then Arnold announced he was running as a republican (even though he is ideologically center-right, if that), they completely forgot about how they were against celebrities publicly speaking on politics, presumably because he was on their team and stood a chance to win. Anyways that’s one of the funniest instances of blatant hypocrisy in political rhetoric campaigns that I can recall.

  15. #15 raj
    December 31, 2005

    KeithB at December 30, 2005 06:56 PM

    I wasn’t kidding, but thank you for reminding me of the name of Gibson’s Australian movie.

  16. #16 Armageddon Kitten
    December 31, 2005

    Ehm. Haven’t we been having this discussion since Wagner?

    I’m going to break with most of the commenters and say that I find it harder to enjoy works produced by raving lunatics such as Gibson. (Although he makes great cannon fodder for South Park.)

    The problem isn’t one of boycotting or not boycotting the artistic works of those with whom one has political disagreement. The problem is that the artist becomes /inherently less appealing/. Their star power begins to wane, and it’s difficult to watch them at work on film and not think, “This guy’s a raving psycho.”

    For the next few movies, I imagine I won’t be able to stop thinking of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch, and that’s a problem. We cannot help but make these mental associations, and it inevitably reflects negatively on such people.

    I’ll give you a great for-instance: In my town, we have a car dealership called Limbaugh Toyota. Every time I see or hear an add for it, I cannot help but make the instant negative mental connection of “Rush.”

    You might not think you do such things, but you do. All those little neurons clicking in your brain have networks that are designed to bring up associations among seemingly disparate objects in order to find patterns among apparent randomness.

    Marketers spend a whole lot of money picking names for products that will have universal appeal and instant recognition. There’s a reason for this: they’re taking advantage of the human capacity for making sense out of disorder. (Which really makes me question the choice of the name ‘Dodge Ram,’ but I guess that’s another kettle of fish.)

    The whole thing boils down to: It’s a big of bad marketing on Mel Gibson’s part. If he wants people to associate his name with things like Passion and his lunatic father, then… more power to him. But it’s always going to push me a little closer to the edge of eventually finding him repulsive instead of appealing.

  17. #17 spyder
    December 31, 2005

    “For the next few movies, I imagine I won’t be able to stop thinking of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch, and that’s a problem. ”

    Not to mention that it is now part of the lexicon of amerikan slang:
    To “Jump the couch,” meaning “to exhibit strange or frenetic behavior…” “… A new slang term was obviously needed to describe this behavior. Jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, in front of millions, is truly bizarre,” noted Grant Barrett, project editor of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

  18. #18 raj
    January 1, 2006

    I didn’t see Tom Cruise bouncing up and down on Oprah’s couch. The last decent movie he was in was Legend, directed by Ridley Scott, in the mid-1980s. It was actually a very good movie, but it bombed in the US–too complex for US audiences, I guess. On the other hand, maybe the distributor could not figure out how to market it. From the Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089469/

    Going up a bit, perhaps one of the reasons that people react to the actors rather than the characters that they play is that the movie studios started encouraging that in at least the 1930s, and possibly earlier. They were marketing movies based on who was in them rather than what the movies were about. That was the “star system.” Also, more and more we have seen the actors playing the leading characters in the movies going out and marketing the movies that they are in. So the actors become associated with the movies, rather than their characters becoming associated with the movies.

    Quite frankly, the actors who do that should be well advised to avoid controversy, unless they want to limit themselves to particular market segments. Michael Caine (a fine actor) famously said something to the effect that I come to the set, don’t charge too much, say my lines, collect my paycheck, and then leave. Meaning that he doesn’t become embroiled in politics, religion, or other issues.

  19. #19 Phillip J. Birmingham
    January 1, 2006

    Ed, I think that for a lot of people, it’s an economic warfare thing. I know of one conservative who refused to see “Bowling for Columbine,” not because he thought it would be a bad movie, but because he didn’t want his money going to “the enemy.” (His words.)

  20. #20 Treban
    January 2, 2006

    I bloody well refuse to watch Mel Gibson movies because they tend to suck. I watched Consiracy Theory because I was forced but other than that it’s been since the Lethal Weapon movies when I was a teen. . .

    Raj – thank you so much – I was bloody well trying to remember the name of that movie the other day when trying to describe the landscape on one of my favorite trails in the Columbia River Gorge.

  21. #21 raj
    January 2, 2006

    Phillip J. Birmingham at January 1, 2006 11:20 AM

    I know of one conservative who refused to see “Bowling for Columbine,” not because he thought it would be a bad movie, but because he didn’t want his money going to “the enemy.” (His words.)

    It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that Michael Moore is laughing all the way to the bank.

    NB: we haven’t rented Bowling For Columbine either. We did rent F9/11, and it was funny as heck.

  22. #22 raj
    January 2, 2006

    Treban at January 2, 2006 01:20 AM

    I assume that you are referring to Legend. It was a beautiful movie.

    Recall that Ridley Scott directed one of the best horror movies of all time–the original Alien. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078748/ We saw it in a very large movie theater here in Boston. About a half hour into the movie I looked around at the audience. The audience was so silent you could probably hear a pin drop. Good? Yes. Effective? Most definitely yes.

    I have since seen it on TV with commercial interruptions, but it is still enthralling.

    Legend is a wonderful movie, but it is not easy to comprehend. There are too many sub-plots.

  23. #23 Treban
    January 2, 2006

    One of my favorite trails goes from a section carved into a cliff with a railing to dense forest area where all teh trees are covered entirely with a bright almost neon green moss, continue down the trail and there is also a water fall split in the middle by a 15′ expanse of rock that is multi colored from the various deposits and molds. It is very reminiscent of “Legend” – I was trying to describe it a few weeks ago and couldn’t remember the name of that movie. It has been driving me insane since.

    I love Ridley Scott, he creates stunning imageryand interesting stories that, alas, many Americans don’t like because they’re “too complicated.”

  24. #24 Pieter B
    January 3, 2006

    Treban, I’ve carried a pack for several thousand miles, and if I’m not mistaken, you’re describing what I consider the most beautiful seven miles of trail I’ve ever seen, Eagle Creek State Park.

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