Friday, December 8, 2006

Going to Disney: A One-Act Play

The office of a reasonably well-informed Hollywood studio film producer with a conscience (hey, it’s just a play) sometime in the late 1990s. The producer is working at his desk when the intercom buzzes.

PRODUCER. Yes?

VOICE (on the intercom). Your three-o’clock appointment is here to see you, Sir.

PRODUCER. Send him in, by all means.

A handsome actor/director in his forties, dazzlingly good looking, with a devil-may-care (or is that a dangerously fanatical?) look in his eyes enters.

DIRECTOR. Hey, how are you, buddy.

PRODUCER. Holding up, thanks. Nice to see you. I understand that you’ve got a couple of projects you’d like to pitch as follow-ups to, uh...that Scottish thing...about the guy with the mullet who cuts a swath through the English and then there's that torture scene where he has his guts pulled out...

DIRECTOR. That’s right. So, I’ve got two new ideas, but I’ll try to pitch em fast, because I’ve got to meet some friends at the bar for a drink or ten, ha! And then I’ve got a lot of driving to do right afterwards.

PRODUCER. I see, well then shoot.

DIRECTOR. Okay, so the first one is about Jesus, okay? But this is the REAL story. This is the way it REALLY happened.

PRODUCER. I see, a story for today’s world: the oppressed beginnings followed by the teachings of love and forgiveness? The plea to transcend all the petty vengeance and violence that afflict society? The sermon on the mount with its exhortation to non-attachment and all that?

DIRECTOR. Yeah, well maybe a bit of that. Not so much, really. Mostly just how the Jews, you know, how they did all that horrible stuff to him.

PRODUCER. Oh, I see, the uh, Jews....

DIRECTOR. Yeah, maybe we even start with them hauling him off for the trial.

PRODUCER. But I thought that the Catholic church had really repudiated that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus in Vatican II...

DIRECTOR. Vatican II! Ha! They're not REAL Catholics! Bunch of wimps. Who cares what they say?

PRODUCER. And I thought too, that it had been demonstrated by historians that it was extremely unlikely that the Jews would even have been permitted to hold a trial during Passover.

DIRECTOR. Oh, so now you want to rewrite the Bible? What, are you an atheist or something?

PRODUCER. Well, no, I just—

DIRECTOR. So, anyway! These Jewish guards haul Jesus off for the trial and they whip him with these chains, right, and then they throw him off a bridge and nearly drown him in the water.

PRODUCER. Is that in the Bible?

DIRECTOR. Hey, artistic licence.

PRODUCER. Okay... Go on.

DIRECTOR. And then, the trial is like a whole bunch of snarling, sneering, yellow-teethed, hook-nosed, powerful, rich Jews in fancy-looking but goofy outfits, Caiaphas and them— and other Jews maybe spitting on him, eh—

PRODUCER. You really want the spitting, do you?

DIRECTOR. Damn straight. And then Caiaphas and them, they want to see him done to by the Roman soldiers, so they go to watch.

PRODUCER. They watch? Do any of the gospels say—?

DIRECTOR. Look, I told you already, artistic licence. And I'll stick Satan in among the Jews, cause, well, you know...

PRODUCER. But what about Jesus's mother Mary, and Magdalene? They'll be Jewish too...

DIRECTOR. Yeah, but we'll dress them up to look sorta like nuns. Not real Jews.

PRODUCER. Ah.

DIRECTOR. So, anyway, then we see them take Jesus and beat him and beat him and beat him and beat him. And maybe some more spitting. And they get a flail—but not just an ordinary one, eh, this one’ll have fish-hooks or something on it—

PRODUCER. Is that in the Bi— ?

DIRECTOR. (Getting carried away.) And then they’ll whip and whip and whip and whip! And his flesh’ll rip and rip and rip and rip! And blood will just come spurting and gushing and spurting and gushing. Splat, splurt, gush! And then maybe some kicking and some more beating, maybe a little more kicking, bit of spitting—

PRODUCER. I see, well—

DIRECTOR. And THEN! Then nailing and nailing and nailing and nailing! Close up you know, so you can really just about feel the nails yourself, slamming right through the palms—

PRODUCER. Okay, I think I kind of—

DIRECTOR. And the feet too!

PRODUCER. Naturally.

DIRECTOR. And then, SLAM! The cross slides into the hole, and up it goes, and there he is! Maybe an eye gouged out, and there’s like flesh hanging off of him everywhere, and blood, blood, blood all OVER the place! Really, really bloody! Real bloody, for sure.

PRODUCER. Uh-hunh. So it seems you want to focus quite a bit on the torture this time out.

DIRECTOR. Well, yeah. I mean that’s basically the whole idea of Christianity, right? The whole thing comes down to that: he suffered for us.

PRODUCER. Just the one idea, you think?

DIRECTOR. What do you mean?

PRODUCER. Well, I mean, there were, after all, lots and lots of people tortured by means of crucifixion, so in that respect, it’s not so unique... You know, Spartacus and all that...

DIRECTOR. What?

PRODUCER. Well, I’m just asking...I mean, is that really what you want to make a whole movie about? That one thing? I mean, how about some of the other aspects of Jesus?

DIRECTOR. I’m not following you. Look, maybe I should explain this again—

PRODUCER. No, no. That’s fine. I think I get it. Lots of torture and suffering...

DIRECTOR. And blood. Don’t forget LOTS of blood.

PRODUCER. Okay, then. Uh...sounds, um... inspirational.

DIRECTOR. Oh, yeah.

PRODUCER. And what else do you have for me?

DIRECTOR. Well, okay, my other project is a thing about the Maya.

PRODUCER. (Surprised, albeit visibly relieved) The Maya? I see! Mayan civilization! The great classical achievement in the new world, the scientific and artistic advances, inventing the calendar, studying the stars, building astounding works of architecture—

DIRECTOR. Yeah, yeah, them. But I want to focus on a bit later.

PRODUCER. Oh, you mean the period Jared Diamond talks about in Collapse, when their agricultural practices had caused deforestation and destroyed the land and undermined the economy, then all the great cities collapsed, and they started making human sacrifices...Hmmm. Tragic stuff.

DIRECTOR. Well, sort of, except that I’m going to take them at their prime, right, they’ve still got plenty of corn or whatever, but in this picture, they’re making human sacrifices, already! These are really, really nasty people, killing all sorts of Indians for no reason. So it’s this that brings down the hand of God on them. Anyway, who wants to know about forests and agriculture, right?

PRODUCER. Perhaps.

DIRECTOR. Yeah, and so because they are basically devil-worshippers, its pay-back time. They kill and kill and kill and kill—

PRODUCER. Lots of killing, then.

DIRECTOR. Yeah, but in LOTS of different ways. Beheading, disembowelling, stabbing, skull-crushing, impaling, hearts ripped out while they’re still beating— pretty much the whole gamut of entertainment. And then there’s this scene with all these bodies lying in this pit, just dumped in there like firewood, you know?

PRODUCER. God. How awful.

DIRECTOR. Oh yeah.

PRODUCER. It sort of sounds like the Holocaust.

DIRECTOR. The what?

PRODUCER. The Holocaust. You know, in World War II?

DIRECTOR. Whoa! What are you, a Jew?

PRODUCER. I beg your pardon?

DIRECTOR. I just mean, you know, suddenly, you sound Jewish, when you say that stuff. “Holocaust,” and all that.

PRODUCER. What, are you saying it didn’t happen? That six million Jews weren’t murdered?

DIRECTOR. Oh, listen, lots and lots of people were killed in that war. Lots and lots and LOTS. So, a few Jews along the way, maybe, yes. Stuff happens, eh?

PRODUCER. Right. So, uh, how does the movie end?

DIRECTOR. Well, see, suddenly there’s this eclipse—

PRODUCER. So these Mayans actually, literally bring the wrath of God down upon them for their heathen ways.

DIRECTOR. You betcha. But here’s the clincher. Guess who shows up at the very end, to finish the job?

PRODUCER. I guess I’ll go way out on the limb and say the Spaniards?

DIRECTOR. That’s right! Spanish missionaries! CATHOLICS! Pay-back time, boys! Here come the conquistadors!

PRODUCER. And the decimation of the New World civilization.

DIRECTOR. Yup. A little foretaste of the apocalypse.

PRODUCER. You know what? I don’t think we can get behind these projects.

DIRECTOR. Alright, to hell with you, then. I’m going to Disney. Leni Riefenstahl at least got a fair hearing from old Walt.

END OF PLAY

Afternote: Perhaps it's worth mentioning, lest people should think this an unfair portrait, that everything expressed by The Director in this fictional play, including both the coarseness of the imagination and the historical opinions, is based upon or construed from some sort of documentation: either captured on film or in various interviews. And yes, Walt Disney did screen Leni Riefenstahl's films and grant her an interview in 1938 (after kristallnacht and a few years after she had made her Nazi propaganda films); he was, as far as I know, the only major studio head to do so. She claimed that he told her he admired her work, but that he couldn't hire her without damaging his reputation.

4 comments:

Molly Lyons said...

Okay, obviously, I'm connecting the dots today ... I got my master's degree at California Institute of the Arts, which is affectionately or condescendingly called "The Disney School", depending on how one feels, as the founding discipline was animation.
During my 3 years there, someone began posting anti-Holocaust propaganda all over the campus, attempting to prove that the Holocaust never existed, etc..
No one did anything. Not able to stomach it, I, a nice Catholic girl, kept asking the administration what they were going to do about the materials, which were growing more hate-filled with every posting, and the reply was always, essentially, "nothing - free speech."
Having lived in Germany and visited Dachau, which affected & disturbed me deeply, I called the Simon Wiesenthal Center and told them of the propaganda on this liberal arts campus. Simon Wiesenthal himself came to the institute and addressed the situation at a school-wide function. It was one of the most moving days I can recall at CalArts.
I got a big hug from Simon. Me ... a nice Catholic girl who objected to anti-holocaust propaganda.

Craig said...

Well done, Molly. It really does need disinterested liberals to speak out about this kind of stuff; otherwise, there is an understandable assumption, on the part of the targets of the bigotry, that they are on their own in a hostile world.

Incidentally, I hope that my little play is not read by anyone as indicating an anti-Catholic position. My point, on the contrary, is that the church has already made some sincere attempts to distance itself from past bigotry, yet there are those who have publicly repudiated those attempts, choosing instead to allign themselves with the bigots. It's totally unreasonable, of course; but there you have the phenomenon described by Jean-Paul Sartre in "Anti-Semite and Jew": the anti-Semite is aware of the irrationality of his position, yet glories in this irrationality, thrilled narcissistically by the sensation of allowing his own cherished prejudices to transcend the mundane world of reason. (Or words to that effect.)

Molly Lyons said...

No, Craig, your play does not read as anti-Catholic. The emphasis in my post stems from two things: my wonderment that there was a high population of Jewish students/teachers at the school who did nothing about the propaganda and, like being American, I frequently fall under both an attack for being Catholic and a presumption that I espouse what the highly visible, outspoken leaders of either the church (or my country) spew.
I was raised by a Catholic pastor, Fr. Joseph Fulton, who was forceful about our responsibilities as catholics (letter case deliberate): love and act upon that love.

As for the American aspect, being a responsible voter ... oh I won't enter into that discussion again. You know how I feel.

Molly Lyons said...

the President of Iran today announced that there was no Holocaust.