Well, good St. Joan was betrayed by the Burgundians, condemned by ecclesiastics who should have protected her, abandoned by the King she fought for and burned by the English. As a reward her story has been printed to celluloid I don’t know how many times now, and most of this waste of celluloid should be burned in the square of Rouen in reparation for the crimes of Hollywood against this great Virgin Warrior.
In spite of his flaws, I have a great deal of respect for Mel Gibson and wrote a little booklet, praising his Passion movie. Even so, I have been stopped in my tracks. Tabloid sites are claiming that he now plans to produce another Passion movie, this time a remake of the The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 French silent movie that has been hailed as a landmark of cinema.
The gossipy part of the story (and I hope it is just gossip) is that he has asked Britney Spears to play the title role. The funny thing is, given Gibson’s quirkiness, he is just the man to do it and perhaps even to pull it off. Nevertheless, the yuck factor is a bit too much for me. I wish Miss Spears well, and hope she gets her life together; however, she would have to turn a miraculous performance to make me forget what she has stood for, which is diametrically opposed to the holiness and purity of the Maid of Orleans. I know. . . I know. . . This is what actors do. Their job is to pretend to be someone they are not. Even so . . .
I just hope this is not another crime that Hollywood will have to atone for. I will be the first to throw a fagot on the pyre.
The original The Passion of Joan of Arc has all the exaggeration of expression that is typical of a silent movie, and then some. The director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, used a great deal of extreme close ups on the faces of his actors, and he insisted that they be filmed without makeup. So the piece appeals mostly to those who like art films. I never had the chance to see the whole thing, but my impression is that the character of St. Joan was exaggerated by way of melancholy and sadness. In this, I wonder if Spears is being typecast.
I have no problem with historical fiction or with writers and directors taking some license and turning a historically based story into a work of art. In this case, however, I am quite fond of the historical St. Joan, and what is more, this is one of those rare instances when the actual history is better than fiction. I don’t think a writer could make up a better story than the one that is revealed by the sources contemporary with the saint. Her life is extremely well documented, because of the various ecclesiastical trials that took place during her life and shortly after her death.
Furthermore, the real St. Joan was as complex a character as any filmmaker could ask for. There is plenty to develop. Apart from her revelations, she was an ordinary child. She was simple and uneducated; however, under the direction of her voices and through the power of God’s grace, she became a military genius, not just a figurehead, but the real leader of the French army. She was feminine and chaste, a passionate lover of France, and a compassionate helpmate to those in need, including to the English who lay dying in the field of battle. But she was also fearless and brilliant in the face to of her captors, quick witted and sarcastic. What more could you ask for?
I just wish Hollywood would leave the truth alone. If they won’t treat The Maid with reverence, they should keep their dirty hands off.
Now, I would not ordinarily speak in this context about a religious film in the hands of Mel Gibson. I will try to reserve judgment. However, his choice of script and actress (if indeed the story is confirmed) gives me pause.
On the other hand, there is a St. Joan of Arc project that I have been watching with bated breath, but which seems to be going nowhere, namely, Joan of Arc: The Virgin Warrior. Ron Maxwell has written the screenplay and wishes to direct the film. Maxwell is known for his Civil War epics Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. I have never seen the films, and have heard mixed reviews. Some tell me they are great movies, others say the films were boring. I suspect his work is not directed to the widest audience and that he has too much respect for the historical material to make a blockbuster.
Now, I can’t say that his approach is the most balanced, but I do think that he has the requisite reverence to handle the story of The Maid. I suspect he is having a hard time finding financial backing from a studio, and would not be surprised if his commitment to the real history is an obstacle.
Maxwell dismantled the disgraceful Joan of Arc movie, The Messanger, in his excellent review, “The Messanger, Dumbed Down Dame: Is poetic license a license to kill?” In it Maxwell articulates his view about the way historical fiction should be approached. I am no expert, but I tend to favor his philosophy.