Monday, September 14, 2009

Bookshelf: "Hollywood Under Siege: Martin Scorsese, the Religious Right, and the Culture Wars" by Thomas R. Lindlof

In 1988, Martin Scorsese (hot off the critical and box-office success of the Oscar-winning The Color of Money) was finally given the chance to fulfill a longtime dream: making a film adaptation of Nikos Kazantakis’ controversial Gospel-inspired novel The Last Temptation of Christ. Neither Scorsese nor Universal Pictures (which produced and distributed the picture) could have imagined the firestorm that would follow, mostly centered on the titular sequence, in which Christ is tempted to come down from the cross and shown the “normal” life that awaits him (which includes a brief glimpse of procreative sex with Mary Magdalene). Universal studios and theaters showing the film were picketed, boycotts were organized, death threats were received, and the film became a turning point for the floundering religious right (looking for a newsworthy cause after the falls of multiple televangelists) and its campaign against liberal Hollywood, as well as a rallying cry for defenders of the First Amendment.

Lindlof’s account of the controversy is exhaustively detailed—going clear back to Scoresese’s first attempt to make them film in 1983, when Paramount pulled the plug well into pre-production, skittish of exactly the kind of controversy that greeted the film five years later. Lindlof’s prose is tight and punchy, and he’s a skilled storyteller; I particularly enjoyed how we told the tale of an “advance man” for the picture, and how his savvy maneuvers prevented it from being seized by officials in Broward County (where else?). Only one minor criticism: the flurry of executive types and studio muckety-mucks are occasionally hard to keep track of, so an appendix of the book’s “cast of characters” might have been helpful. That note aside, Hollywood Under Siege is a smart, engrossing read.

"Hollywood Under Siege: Martin Scorsese, the Religious Right, and the Culture Wars" is currently in bookstores.

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