The Passion of Joan of Arc. . . Again


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.


12 thoughts on “The Passion of Joan of Arc. . . Again

  1. I recall seeing that movie at the Museum of Modern Art with a friend many years ago. The images are memorable. If memory serves me correctly, the actress who played Joan of Arc was a French comic actress. Dreyer was, I believe, Danish.
    I agree, “The Messenger” was fairly idiotic, with its imposition of modern psychology, and how in the world did they come up with John Malkovich as the Dauphin? Unfortunately, the Joan of Arc story is appealing to filmmakers, but they go for the spectacle, the battles and so forth, and have more trouble with the spiritual side of the story. “The Messenger” clearly didn’t take the spiritual side seriously.
    Victor Kulkosky

  2. eh, tabloid news. Britney’s acting experience is pretty much limited to music videos where lip-syncing and scant clothing don’t translate to good movie acting credentials.

  3. Hmmm…Interesting… Hollywood seems to always ruin everything. After Mel’s Passion of the Christ, he has my complete trust as a director. But with his incidents in real life…there has been growing concern as to whether he is trustworthy after all…

  4. I must admit that I would be surprised if Gibson selected Spears to be in a movie … I would be surprised if ANYONE did … she’s not an actress, is she? (Some might say she’s not a singer either, but that’s another whole story.) I have to believe that Mel Gibson’s heart is in the right place … I believe he WANTS to be a devoutly holy man, a good husband and father, etc. But, he’s in an environment with so many temptations that he’s just unable to cut through it unscathed, if you will. His past addictions continue to come back and haunt him, it seems. But, this only describes his impulsive side … a movie he directs is something he must spend hours, weeks, months and perhaps years in contemplation … it cannot be impulsive. Therefore, it would require the ‘heart’ of the man to come through, I should think. He seemed to be very concerned in the ‘Passion’ in making things respectful, accurate and of high quality. I cannot imagine that he would make another movie a ‘disappointment’.

    So, the real question to me is whether this ‘talk’ of his doing a Joan of Arc movie is true or just, well, talk! It certainly would be nice to see this Saint rightly glorified. I did not see ‘The Messenger’ .. I think the USCCB gave it an unacceptable rating. But also, I heard an interview with the woman who starred in it and I was VERY disappointed. She had some new-age, ‘God would never ask anyone to fight in a war because God isn’t like that’ type of attitude. Granted, it’s hard to envision God in that way but Scripture is quite clear about it, so who am I to question it? Anyway, once I heard her comments, that pretty much sealed my descision to not see it.

    Keep us posted.

  5. Okay … I read the tabloid … it’s definitely not saying much to me except that they dined together and were neighbors. Now, it could be that he feels badly for her … sharing her woes as a fellow abuser in that nasty environment … it could be that he’s trying to help her. But, the ‘yuck’ factor, as Father stated, would be pretty strong for most people and it would seem almost blasphemous to put her as the actress portraying this great saint, no? Somehow this ‘acting’ license just seems to have a few big holes in it. I’m sorry, but if I were Mel Gibson’s wife, I would find it pretty difficult to watch my husband in some of the roles he’s played in movies! I understand that you are portraying another person, etc etc … but something about being in some pretty ‘explicit’ and ‘sensual’ roles with another actor/actress just seems to be morally wrong to me. Maybe I’m growing into an old fuddy-duddy and, as always, I’ve managed to get a bit off track. sorry. 😉

  6. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, is undoubtedly one of the best movies of all time. Not unlike his previous movies Brave heart, and the Patriot. But I must intercede here as a former Big Blue Video employee. Mel Gibson has put out some pretty apauling refuse deemed to be “movies”.
    Let us not forget we are talking about a man that portrayed immoral killers, leader of a rouge anti-establishment gang hell bent on world domination, a person who thinks that revenge is indeed the best policy, and suicidal police officer that will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny. That is just the beginning of the attack on the Seven Deadly Sins. I’m sure if you delve into it deeper you could find more, comment space and people’s attention spans are limited.
    In conclusion is it so hard to believe that this man would not vomit upon the sacred Saint (Joan of Arc) with the likes of one “lost sheep” Britney Spears. How come we are all shocked and surprised, he only made 1 maybe 2 redeemable movies about the Catholic life.

  7. Set All Afire,
    Well, the only thing I can say is that I read how the man is a very traditional Catholic … in fact, I believe he is SSPX which I know is scismatic …. but, he seems to have a strong Faith even though, albeit, it’s a bit out-of-alignment … eh-hem. Nonetheless, Our Lord uses cracked vessels so I try to accept that. However, there’s a big difference in waking up each morning and trying like blazes to live a holy life, free of sin and still, sigh, blowing it again versus waking up and PLANNING on doing something that is quite sinful. So, since THE PASSION, has he been in any more ‘questionable’ films?? Did “What a Woman Wants” (or whatever it was .. I refused to watch it … the title was too disturbing) come before or after the Passion? In other words, is he TRYING to turn over a new leaf? Is he waking up each morning and not PLANNING on sinning or is he signing more contracts to act in questionable movies for the almighty buck?

    For him to sign on Spears would be SUICIDE to a film on St. Joan … he would have to be an idiot, imho. But, I’ve sadly eaten more words than I care to count by this age of my life so I dare not try and guess this one!

  8. It is unclear the exact details of the conversation, but upon leaving, Britney was in a cheerful mood and looked happy

    I wouldn’t read too much into that. Given Britney’s recent stream of personal events, Mel probably asked her to do a gig for some birthday party or something.

  9. Pingback: Twain’s Joan « Mary Victrix

  10. Don’t get to excited, I am pretty sure this story was just a joke someone made when Mel had dinner with Britney to try to help her out. I seriously doubt he would cast Britney as a Virgin Saint. Look as the casting he did for Passion of The Christ. He chose a man with a similar conviction to his own.

  11. I surely hope Mel Gibson is joking. His remake would be an abomination.

    As for the Carl Dreyer original, it might interest you to know that the “text” of the film is taken straight from the historical documents of Joan’s trial. This, combined with the artistic presentation, makes the film astounding.

    For more on Dreyer’s film:

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