Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ doesn’t come out until the end of February, and yet it’s already been “reviewed” sight unseen by religious leaders responding to published reports or leaked scripts. The movie’s handpicked audience up to this point has been a curious congregation that includes conservative yak-packers, Nashville contemporary-Christian hitmakers, and web rats at the Harry Knowles Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin. Forget the hearsay, though, and check out this amazing artifact: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~scs273/01.mov
Sweet Jesus! Watch as strategic titles, percussive cutting, and the kick-ass “Battle Without Honor and Humanity” theme music turn Gibson’s passion play into the trailer for Kill Bill Vol. 1. The short belongs to a New York University student, Spencer Somers, who cut the clip using the movie’s theatrical trailer. Columnist David Poland reported on the Movie City News website (www.moviecitynews.com) that Gibson’s Icon production company and distributor Newmarket Films aren’t at all happy with the fake trailer. But as of yet they haven’t shut it down.
Bless them for having a sense of humorand proportion. The clip doesn’t mock The Passion of the Christ so much as its astoundingly brutal trailer, which resembles a cross (sorry) between Gladiator and an ecumenical snuff film. On this score, Gibson is fair game. The Passion trailer promises a Crucifixion to rival the ear-slicing scene from Reservoir Dogs. It quotes chapter and verse from the Book of Yikes, down to the obligatory shot of nail meeting hand. The fake trailer builds to a whopper of a punchline, which skewers pre-release worries that the movie means to inflame hostility toward Jews.
It isn’t clear whether the joke’s on Gibson or his critics, and it won’t be until The Passion of the Christ comes out Feb. 27. But the fake Passion trailer joins a fascinating new web-centered hybrid of recontextualized art, from the Phantom Edit alternate versions of the Star Wars saga to the recent MP3’s of Howard Dean goin’ off the rails on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” True, found (or taken) footage pieces are hardly new. Experimental filmmakers such as Peter Tscherkassky and Martin Arnold have rejiggered old-movie clips into eerie new forms. Anne McGuire’s 1992 feature The Strain Andromeda even reassembles the ‘70s sci-fi thriller The Andromeda Strain backwards shot for shot, dismantling the effect-follows-cause principle of narrative filmmaking (and watching).
But these new web clips, like Somers’ “Kill Christ,” have a spontaneity that functions as a new kind of criticism. They prowl the gray areas of copyright law the way sculptors scavenge junkyards. Godard once said the best way to criticize a movie is to make a movie. Maybe the best way now is to hijack someone else’s.