Movies: they're not real, people

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The 'Innocence of Muslims' is certainly not the first movie to create religious controversy over the years; John Turnbull looks at three of the most provocative.

(Left) the small child holding the sign attracted controversy at the Sydney riots; (right) the lead actor from the amateurish and offensive 'Innocence of Muslims' movie that led to the uproar.

IN THE LAST WEEK, three people have died, hundreds have rioted in the Sydney CBD and millions of dollars of property damage has been done around the world — all because of a movie.

Not even a movie, in fact. Just a trailer, for a movie that may or may not exist. The movie in question is called Innocence of Muslims.

The director of the film (rumoured to be a former pornographer, like all the great directors) is said to be influenced by a radical Coptic Christian preacher. Actors involved claim that they thought they were working on a historical epic (a little hard to believe considering the production values) and then were shocked to find that their lines had been overdubbed with anti-Islamic propaganda.

This doesn’t explain what the guy playing the Prophet, who knocks a woman to the ground with his holy stick, thought he was doing, but it’s obvious this low budget hate film was released for one reason — to stir up anger. From any perspective, this has been a success.

Of course, this isn’t the first movie to create religious controversy over the years. Here are three of the best:

3. Dogma, directed by Kevin Smith, 1999

This raunchy comedy is about an abortion clinic worker who finds out she is a direct descendent of Jesus and is tasked to stop a pair of banished angels (played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) getting back into heaven. Needless to say, certain members of the Catholic Church were very offended, and promised to gather 1,500 people to protest the film’s opening in New Jersey.

Rather than the anticipated 1,500, just over a dozen senior citizens turned out to protest. A spokesperson called them the “Church Militant” and seemed to be a little disappointed that so few people had turned up. Amusingly, one of the protesters was director Kevin Smith, who had spent hours making a sign saying ‘Dogma is Dogshit’, only to be told by a clueless organiser that his message was almost as offensive as they film they were protesting...

2. The Passion of The Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, 2004

For all of the films that have been branded torture porn (Hostel, Turistas, etc) it is The Passion of The Christ that truly earns the title. Jesus (played by Jim Caviezel) spends a little over two hours getting the crap kicked out of him before finally being nailed to a cross and dying. Much of the controversy around this film happened during filming, with a number of Hollywood luminaries condemning the project based on the subject matter alone.

This cheery little number made millions at the box office, but was accused of being anti-Semitic and unnecessarily brutal.  Considering the director, at least one of these accusations is likely to be true. Aussie Mel took the success of The Passion as a sign and then went on to make a movie in a language nobody spoke (Apocalypto, in Mayan with English subtitles) and then committed virtual career suicide by calling a police office ‘sugar tits’. His last film was Get the Gringo, released directly to DVD.

If you have never seen The Passion of the Christ, the full film has been uploaded onto YouTube by a bunch of helpful Christians who don’t really appreciate the irony of pirating a film about the Lord.

1. The Life of Brian, directed by Terry Jones, 1979

Made by the Monty Python team, this movie was always going to offend somebody. The fact that it managed to offend so many people is a testament to the talent of the men involved, particularly Graham Chapman who plays the titular Brian. Brian is a clueless but well-meaning dolt who was born in the stable next door to Jesus. As he grows up, his life parallels that of the big guy, ending up with Brian being crucified and singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Designed as a satire of religious movies and the political and religious intolerance rife in seventies Britain, The Life of Brian was almost entirely funded by former Beatle George Harrison after the original backers pulled out after reading the script. Upon release, the film was protested heavily, and members of Monty Python appeared on prime time TV to debate the film’s merits with church and political commentators. The Life of Brian was also banned in Ireland and Norway, along with a number of British councils who didn’t actually have cinemas.

If you have never seen the The Life of Brian I recommend you go and watch it now. It’s a lot funnier than Innocence of Muslims...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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