Published February 13, 2004
If you live on the west side of Manhattan, on most of western Long Island, or in Beverly Hills and you want to see Mel Gibson's controversial new movie "The Passion of the Christ," you will be out of luck.
When the film — which some critics are calling anti-Semitic and inflammatory — opens on Feb. 25, it will be in very select theatres only.
Even though the makers of "The Passion of the Christ" are touting its 2,000 screen premiere, the movie's Web site and another Web site, moviefone.com, tell a very different story.
For example, in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, the film will play in a handful of out-of-the-way-theatres — one in Times Square, two in fringe areas of the East Side, one second-run theatre at Broadway and 100th St. and one in Harlem. There will be one screen below 34th St, and none from 42nd St. to 96th St. on the West Side. This excludes all prestige venues like the Ziegfeld, the Paris, the Beekman and Sony Lincoln Square.
Theater-goers will also be hard-pressed to find "The Passion of the Christ" in Nassau County, Long Island on either the south or north shore, or in affluent Westchester County, New York.
The pattern, for the most part, highlights black neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. For example, all the Magic Johnson theatres in the country will show the movie, as will multiplexes in urban centers.
Gibson obviously thinks there's a potential problem in Chicago, where "Passion" will be on only two screens. Otherwise, Chicagoans will have to go to the suburbs.
The same goes for the wealthier and trendier parts of Los Angeles such as Beverly Hills and Century City. Those who are curious will have to seek their "Passion" in odd places, in out-of-the-way cineplexes. You won't be able to see it at the Beverly Center, for example. But four theatres in economically less desirable San Jose, Calif. will show the film.
All of this seems designed to keep "The Passion of the Christ" out of neighborhoods that are considered Jewish, upscale or liberal.
On the other hand, Tennessee is targeted for "The Passion of the Christ" with eight locations in Memphis and four each in Nashville and Knoxville. The number of theaters in many more states like Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and Oklahoma is high, especially in rural areas. In Florida, for example, Jacksonville and Tampa — more northern and central cities — will have "Passion" on four or more screens, while typically Jewish areas like Boca Raton will have it one screen if at all.
In Miami, where there's a huge Catholic-Cuban population, "The Passion of the Christ" will play in 10 theaters. In Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas of Texas, there are the same number of theaters or more. Texas, in fact, will offer the most opportunities in the country to see the film.
Newmarket Films, which is distributing the movie, seems to have picked a pattern that concentrates heavily on the south and the Midwest, focusing on the Bible Belt and locations where "The Passion of the Christ" will meet with the least resistance. West Virginia will have about three times as many theaters as Rhode Island, for example. Vermonters have three theatres while their more conservative next-door neighbors in New Hampshire, a state equal in size, will have twelve.
Calls to Newmarket and to its public relations firm were not returned to this column yesterday. But in the positioning of "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson has consciously created a divisive atmosphere for the presentation of his film. For example, he has screened the movie widely for groups on the religious right while avoiding all mainstream groups, as well as film critics for fear of poor advance word.
"The Passion of the Christ" has come under intense criticism for being anti-Semitic from many groups Jewish and otherwise as well as journalists who've seen advance prints. In the current issue of Newsweek, reporter Jon Meacham also accuses director Gibson of completely changing historical references to suit his own agenda in an article called "Who Killed Jesus?"
Meacham writes: "To take the film's account of the 'Passion' literally will give most audiences a misleading picture of what probably happened in those epochal hours so long ago. The Jewish priests and their followers are the villains, demanding the death of Jesus again and again; Pilate is a malleable governor forced into handing down the death sentence."
The battle over "The Passion of the Christ" is coming quickly now, and I for one am sorry that Gibson and Newmarket chose to keep it out of places where they thought the reception would be less than positive. Everyone should have the chance to see this film and decide for themselves if Gibson has done the right or wrong thing with his $25 million.
What will be interesting is seeing how the annual Oscar party given by Gibson's agent, Ed Limato, at his palatial Beverly Hills home will be received two days after the movie's premiere. And then there are the Oscars, where Billy Crystal is no doubt thinking of clever ways to spoof the movie.
Yesterday's lunch for Best Foreign Film director Denys Arcand ("Barbarian Invasions") brought out fellow Canadian Dan Aykroyd and his beautiful wife Donna Dixon. They were the defacto hosts at Michael's for Arcand, whose "Barbarian Invasions" was one of my favorite films of the year and a sure winner at the Oscars.
Other guests included director Jim Toback, Dr. Bob Arnot (see below), producer Jean Doumanian, the New York Post's formerly embedded Jonathan Foreman, and a smattering of fans from all walks of life including Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who wandered in from lunch to pay her respects.
Did you know that Stéphane Rousseau, the break out star of "Barbarians," is rehearsing for the first-ever theatrical production of "Chicago" in Paris? He's playing the Jim Naughton/Richard Gere part and should be a big hit.
Arcand, you know, is funny and self-effacing. "Barbarians" is a continuation of a famous 1986 movie he made called "The Decline of the American Empire." It was a big hit and also a nominee for Best Foreign Film but lost to a film no one remembers called "De Aanslag (The Assault)" by a director who few recall named Fons Rademakers. Consequently, Arcand is philosophical about winning this year.
"We were the odds-on favorite last time," he shrugged. "The main thing is just being nominated. There's no way of knowing what's going to happen."
Someone tell Adam Sandler to add another name to his funny Chanukah song about stars who are even a drop Kosher. The always charming "Today Show" host Katie Couric fessed up on Wednesday night that her mother is Jewish. Even though Katie was raised an Episcopalian, I'm sure Sandler will rhyme "Couric" with "tsouris." (That's trouble, in Yiddish.) It has to be!
Katie was one of the stars at a very A-list cocktail party Wednesday night for former Bill Clinton speechwriter Mark Katz. His book "Clinton and Me" is a very amusing memoir of the last administration, and Katz pulled quite a crowd to Holly Peterson's Park Avenue apartment including Ted Sorensen, famous for being JFK's speechwriter; George Stephanopoulos, famous for selling out his boss, Bill Clinton; Tina Brown, famous for editing Vanity Fair and The New Yorker; Harvey Weinstein, famous for owning Miramax with his brother Bob; and so many others: writer Jill Brooke, recently deposed NBC war correspondent Bob Arnot, Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove, and the hosts: Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes and HBO's Richard Plepler.
But Couric was the media darling of the night. I'd never really talked to her before, but she turns out to be funny and relaxed, even for someone who doesn't get much sleep. She did confide that she was very concerned about fans' obsession with her ever-changing hair, but the truth is: Katie's hair is a big deal after the weather and Al Roker's weight. Who cares about WMD or Putin? Oh well, what can you do when you're a serious journalist and everyone wants to know who your stylist is? Just grin and bear it, I guess. Rock on, Katie, and keep the hoop earrings!
OK, so the New York Times lifted heavily from this column and copped big headlines yesterday because of it. Sharon Waxman is on notice from Foxnews.com to cut it out or we're going to start billing her. (See Thursday's Column Here). The worst part is, she gets so much wrong! No, Michael Jackson is not going broke on February 17. See our column in the Fox News Archives from January 12 and 13 of this year, Sharon. Jackson's benefactors have dealt with his problems. By the way, it was nearly three years ago that this column uncovered all the loans Jackson had secured with the Bank of America against his assets. I have all the paperwork right here under my desk. Waxman refers to these loans in her story. I do wonder if she has the same back up materials?... Meantime, no, attorney Mark Geragos is not leaving the case. Yet. He's still on it with Benjamin Brafman and has no plan to leave. Yet... More to come next week, or even in the next hour, depending...