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November 16, 1999 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-11-16

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12 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 -
Smith, Catholic League tussle over religious 'Dogma

The Hartford Courant
No theme should be off-limits for
humor, says Chris Rock. The more
serious the subject, the funnier it is,
says the stand-up comic, who has
found humor even in the Columbine
High shootings in Littleton, Colo.
("The (Trenchcoat Mafia) kids said
they were outsiders, and they had no
friends, yet there were six of them.
That's funny. I don't have six
Now Rock and director Kevin
Smith are testing that theory with
Smith's controversial new film,
"Dogma." For Smith and Rock, mak-
ing irreverent suggestions about the
Holy Family - including supposing
that Jesus may have been black -
isn't that big a deal.
"Just from where he was from, it's
pretty safe to say Jesus was brown.
It's all funny," said Rock, who plays
the 13th apostle, Rufus, in the film.
Well, it's not funny to Catholic
League president William Donohue.
He has led such a high-profile cam-
paign against Smith's latest film that
Disney forced its Oscar-winning
division, Miramax, to sell the movie
to another distributor, Lions Gate
Films, rather than face the Catholic
League's protests.
Why are some Catholics so upset?

Smith suggests that Mary and
Joseph might have had sex in the
years after Jesus' birth, and that one
of their direct descendants (played
by Linda Fiorentino) works at an
abortion clinic. He casts comedian
George Carlin as a New Jersey cardi-
nal who decides the church needs a
friendly facelift, a feel-good PR
campaign called Catholicism Wow!
that involves replacing the crucifix
("a very depressing image") as the
symbol of Christianity with a wink-
ing, thumbs-up "your buddy Jesus."
God (Alanis Morissette) is a skee-
ball addict. Ben Affleck and Matt
Damon play two fallen angels who,
in the opening scene, convince a nun
to leave the church. ("You take this
money you've been collecting for
your parish and go get yourself a
dress," Damon counsels.)
They shoot up a board meeting at a
Disney-esque corporation they
accuse of promoting immorality
after denouncing the executives with
language similar to Donohue's. "You
and your board are idolaters. You've
broken the First Commandment,"
Damon rails. "Your continued exis-
tence is a mockery of morality." As a
Morissette song once asked, "Isn't it
The Catholic League's campaign
continued even after Disney dumped

Courtesy of Lon's Gate Films
Kevin Smith (right) directs Alanis Morissette and Alan Rickman on the set of his new film "Dogma," shot in Pittsburgh, Penn.

"Dogma." There were hundreds of
protesters outside Lincoln Center
last month, when "Dogma" had its
premiere at the New York Film
Festival. Urged on by a Catholic
League pamphlet, protesters have
sent a stream of complaints, now
directed at Smith instead of Disney
chairman Michael Eisner and
Miramax bosses Bob and Harvey


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Weinstein. Smith posts some of the
best ones as "Hate Letter of the
Week" on the "Dogma" Web site
"All that's vile comes from you,"
reads one letter. "You teach hatred
and prejudice. You insult Christians,
especially Catholics. How Satanic!
Hitler didn't die. You're still doing
his hatreds and works. Are you aware
you're un-American? May God judge
your terrible acts."
What the protesters probably don't
know is that Smith, 29, is a church-
going Catholic, devout enough that,
as he walked unnoticed past the
Lincoln Center demonstrators, he
paused before their makeshift shrine
to the Virgin Mary and made the sign
of the cross.
But Smith considers "Dogma" to
be a pro-faith, pro-God celebration,
and he's confounded by the contro-
"That's the thing that kills me,
when people say the movie's anti-
Catholic. No, it's not. It's pro-
Catholic," said Smith, the indepen-
dent-film sensation whose previous
films include "Clerks" and "Chasing
Amy." "People say I mock the faith. I
don't think I do... . If Catholicism is
the car, I bought the car years ago. I
think I'm allowed to kick the tires
and check under the hood. I don't
think I should follow unquestioning-

"Here we had a flick where the
only true Biblical character was God,
and nobody could really look at this
movie and say our portrayal of God
isn't devout. It's not like we have
God jive-talking or carrying a gun.
She does a handstand. I don't know if
that's defamatory."
If anything, Smith feared that fans
accustomed to "Star Wars" refer-
ences and lots of funny lowbrow sex
talk might be put off by a movie
about religion.
"I thought the worst we'd go
through was the audience would see
the movie and say, 'Did you see the
'Clerks' guy's new flick? It's two
hours of him talking about Jesus. It's
too preachy.' But it turns out some
people were offended. ..."
The firestorm and the criticism
from his church has taken its toll, and
Smith almost sounds like he misses
being a relatively unknown director.
Smith had hoped the movie might
inspire a dialogue about faith and
values. Instead it has become the lat-
est example in a debate about art and
blasphemy that always seems to
sound the same. Damon and Affleck
star as fallen angels on a cross-coun-
try killing spree, on their way from
Wisconsin to New Jersey to exploit a
loophole in Catholic doctrine opened
by Carlin's Catholicism Wow! carn-

paign, which, if successful, would
return them to heaven but also end
the world.
The tone is more irreverent than
blasphemous. Carlin's casting was
more than apt, because "Dogma"'is
reminiscent of the comedian's famedO
'70s stand-up routines that mocked
Catholicism from the perspective of
a Catholic. "It's actually a celebra-
tion of God. It's real pro-God. It puts
God up on a pedestal. The movie
starts off from Frame I insisting that
there is a God, and most movies
don't do that or even think about it,"
Smith said.
And if Smith isn't everyone else's
idea of a Catholic, well, so be it.
Around the time Smith wrote*
"Clerks" in 1994, he began to won-
der whether he should remain in the
church. He wrote the first draft of
"Dogma" that year as a response to
his doubts
"I'm what people refer to as a
loosey-goosey Catholic," Smith said.
"I'm kind of a smorgasbord affair. ('
walk through. I'll take one of that,
take some of that. You can keep that,
There were people who asked me
why bother being a Catholic then, if
I wasn't going to adhere to the
Catholic doctrine. That kind of made..
So Smith went looking for other
religions. He checked out other ser-
vices, explored other denominations
but came back to Catholicism.
"At the end of the day, I settled in
the fact that I could be a Catholic,
What really made me a Catholic was-
n't whether I believed that abortion
is wrong or that the gay community
is out of line but because of my
belief in God and Jesus Christ. I let
people intimidate me into checking
out something else'? But why?
"I've been doing Catholicism for
more years - way more years -Y
than anything else my whole life
Why bother going anywhere else?
Just because I'm not your kind o*
Catholic? Can't I be my kind of
Catholic? There's room for plenty."
Devout or not, Smith figures he
might have purgatory time ahead. I
haven't been to confession in six.
months, so I'm due pretty soon," he
said. "I figure I'll go after the
brouhaha calms down. I wonder how'
many Rosaries I'll be doing.'

Bond. James Bond.
He's back because
'The World is Not Enough.'
Later this week in Daily Arts...


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