Friday, July 20, 2012

The Madness of Mel

I've always had somewhat of a soft spot for Mel Gibson. With Mel, fans/former fans are confronted by one of the classic dilemmas of fandom. Can you separate a man's personal behavior (or perhaps political activity) from their work as an entertainer? Take Bruce Springsteen, a longtime favorite of mine. He has become quite politically outspoken in the last decade, and generally speaking he is on the opposite side from where I am. Yet, I can still admire his music, however much I may resent being preached to by a high school dropout who doesn't fully understand the ramifications of policies he promotes. "Born To Run" still rocks.

For obsessives like me, "entertainer" is not a strong enough word anyway. Music and to a slightly lesser degree films are a major part of my life, so I get quite invested in the work that these people create.

If you had asked me a decade ago, I would have said that I was a big fan of Mel's work, especially his early work. Gallipoli, Mad Max, The Road Warrior, The Year of Living Dangerously and The Bounty are all movies that I admire quite a bit. I even enjoyed the first Lethal Weapon, for what it was. I can accept, and even admire, Mel's strong religious beliefs. Standing out as he does in Hollywood, he's the rebel for sticking to such a strict, conservative line of faith (hardcore catholic stuff, like pre-Vatican II).

But Mel is insane. That has become clear with the distressing string of police reports and recordings of his ranting. You name it: anti-semetic, racist, violence towards women...Mel's been captured on tape for all of it (they are all on YouTube). Hell, his 80 year old stepmother filed a freaking restraining order against him recently! It has become big business to try and entrap Mel on tape these days. But, he did bring it all on himself. Hollywood douchebag Joe Esterhaus and Mel's ice queen Russian girlfriend both have gotten some publicity by releasing surrepticious recordings of Mel's ravings. (My personal favorite: on the recording sleazebag Joe Esterhaus released, after berating Esterhaus for delivering a crappy script for a project they were developing, he bellows "Who wants to eat!? Who wants some f*cking dinner!!" at an almost unfathomable volume and rage as he strolls the halls of his Costa Rica home calling to servants for a meal. Or perhaps screaming that it should be obvious to his girlfriend that oral pleasure be given before she retires to the hot tub in his house. It is ridiculous that he even needs to explain this, according to Mel. "Even if the house is burning to the ground," she should perform this duty first.) But, of course, he is also a very religious man.

Reading about these incidents and hearing them is sometimes shocking, sometimes funny just in their intensity and absurdity, but mostly very sad coming from someone who was seen before as quite talented and who gave charismatic performances.

So, how do you view his work in light of who he is? Tough question. I still love those early films. In a way, though, his recent explosions actually inform some of these early performances. Take a look at his character in Lethal Weapon. While the sequels were much lighter, the first film was quite dark in places. Mel's character, if you recall, was suicidal and performed his police duties with a death wish. At the time, I and most fans probably figured that those scenes where he goes nuts and rages were craft, were scenes of lustful Shatneresque over-acting. Or the mutinty scene in The Bounty, where he and Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) rage at eachother on deck, with Gibson finally just screaming incoherently up at the heavens (a somewhat accurate portrayal of the mutiny, though). The scream in The Bounty sounds quite similar to his screams on several of the recordings released by his girlfriend. I guess my point is, some of these early performances, in hindsight, were not merely acting (and some over-acting). He was reaching within himself, harnessing some of that rage within in those performances. Interesting in hindsight.

Hard to like the man anymore, but you can still admire and enjoy the work.

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