From rubber spears to Jesus being banned from the canteen…

Daily Mail, 22 April 2010 (Good Friday)

Over 40 things you never needed to know about those Jesus-related blockbusters that TV rolls out every Easter

* Islam and Judaism both consider pictorial representations as idolatrous. Strictly speaking, therefore, all Hollywood portrayals of God/Jesus – from ‘The King of Kings’ to ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ – are blaspehmous.

* Our Lord first ‘appeared’ on celluloid in ‘The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ’ (1902). It was made by the Pathe company and concludes with a (very wobbly) ascension to Heaven.

* 1912’s ‘From the Manger to the Cross’ was the first religious epic to be shot on location in the Holy Land. It was a huge success and made profits of $95m in today’s money.

* In Cecil B de Mille’s 1927 version of ‘The King of Kings’, the actor playing Jesus is over 20 years older than the actress playing his mother. (It’s a miracle!)

* With the exception of Morgan Freeman in ‘Bruce Almighty’, God has generally been cast  as a white man. ‘The Green Pastures’ (1936) bucked this trend when it featured an all-black cast, with Rex Ingram playing “De Lawd”. The film began with a ‘disclaimer’ to make it palatable to white audiences: “Thousands of Negroes visualise God and Heaven in terms of people and things they know in their everyday life…”

* Pub trivia question: what did the ‘B’ in ‘Cecil B de Mille’ stand for? Answer ‘Blount’. So now you know.

* Cecil B de Mille liked the story of ‘The 10 Commandments’ so much that he filmed it …twice. The first version in 1923 and the second in 1956. (The second should really have been called ‘The 20 Commandments’.)

* Charlton Heston was chosen for the role of Moses in de Mille’s 1956 version because he bore a resemblance to Michelangelo’s statue in Rome. Some say his acting bore a resemblance to the statue too – only less animated.

*  Heston was not de Mille’s first choice for the role of Moses. He asked William ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ Boyd to play the part. Boyd turned him down, fearing his cowboy image would damage the film. Imagine the script: “Mosey along there, Moses…”

* Yul Brynner (Ramses), hit the gym hard during the filming of ‘10 Commandments’. He was worried that his figure would be outshone by Heston’s famous physique. (The latter’s nickname should have been ‘Charlton Athletic’.)

* It took a gruelling three weeks to film ‘The 10 Commandments’ orgy scene. Charlton Heston, who played Moses, later wrote that he overheard one female extra cry: “Who do I have to sleep with to get OUT of this movie?”

* For years, God’s voice in 1956 Commandments was believed to be that of Donald Haynes. Charlton Heston later claimed he was the voice of God. (He was head of the NRA at any rate.)

* In 1953’s ‘The Robe’, the Messiah is played by film’s (anonymous) second unit director. This meant the unfortunate man had to perform his normal duties in full costume. Worse still, he wasn’t allowed eat in the canteen. Studio chiefs felt it was inappropriate for Jesus to be seen munching a sandwich in public.

* Comedy legend, George Burns, gave us one of the most likeable portrayals of a cigar-chomping Deity in ‘Oh God’. He’s not the only Hollywood legend to have puffed on a heavenly cheroot. Robert Mitchum also played God as a cigar-smoker in 1992 Benelux comedy, ‘Les Sept Péchés Capitaux’.

* ‘The 10 Commandments’ was the highest-grossing religious flick of all time ($500m) until ‘The Passion of The Christ’ passed it by in 2004. Mel Gibson’s ultra-violent film earned $611,899,420 worldwide, making it the top-grossing indie movie ever.

* TV cartoon series, ‘God, the Devil and Bob’ – starring James Garner and Alan Cummings –  portrayed the Almighty as a beer-swilling, ex-hippie, not unlike Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The uproar from fundamentalist Christian groups in the States caused the plug to be pulled after just three episodes.

* Given this country’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the role of Jesus’ mum had to go to an Irishwoman at some stage. Belfast-born Siobhan McKenna landed the part in 1961’s ‘King of Kings’. The film has a few noticeable gaffes. In one scene, as the Romans enter Jerusalem, the tops of their spears flap about because they were made of … rubber.

* Despite being Jewish, Jesus is often played by actors with blue eyes. The most striking examples are Robert Powell (Jesus of Nazareth),  Jeffrey Hunter (King of Kings) and the exceptionally Scandinavian Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told).

* American TV network ABC has aired The 10 Commandments every Easter since 1973. The one year they chose not to – 1999 – they logged more angry calls than for the entire previous season.

* Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ caused a furore when it was released in 1979. Thirty-nine local authorities in the UK either imposed an outright ban or an X certificate. It was banned in Ireland until 1987. Aberystwyth council held out the longest. It finally allowed the film to be screened in 2009 – only after cast member, Sue Jones-Davies, was elected mayor of the town.

* ‘The Life of Brian’ is the only ‘religious’ film ever to feature a stoning scene with men dressed as women dressed as men. In February 2007, the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle held a public screening of the controversial movie. Along with the song sheets, church staff also gave out false beards for female members of the audience.

* In ‘The Life of Brian’, six cast members play 40 various characters.

* Singer Alanis Morrissette played God in action-comedy ‘Dogma’ (1999) after Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson passed. Morrissette/God features prominently but doesn’t get to speak. Considering she’s made her living from her voice, that was – in her own words – a touch ‘ironic’.

* James Caviezel’s role as Jesus in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004) was an easy gig. He was accidentally whipped twice (he now has a 14-inch scar) and dislocated his shoulder when the 150lb cross dropped on him. He also suffered hypothermia during the crucifixion scene.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he was struck by lightning during the Sermon on the Mount. Most people would have taken the celestial ‘hint’ at that stage.)

* The crucifixion scene in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is so brutal that it has been blamed for the death of at least one person. Peggy Scott, a 56-year-old advertising sales manager, had a heart attack while watching it in Kansas on its first day of release.

* Zombie Jesus! (2007) is one of the sickest comedy twists on the Jesus story. It has Christ returning from the dead to feast on human brains. Tagline: ‘Prepare to be converted.’ This should have converted … over the bar and out of the field.

* The promo poster for ‘Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter’ shows Our Lord posing with groovy go-go dancers. Hard to define this one: it’s been described as a splatter movie and a martial-arts-cum-Mexican-wrestling musical. It’s also been described as “utter cack”.

* ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’ (1964) is still critically acclaimed as a groundbreaking, left-wing description of Jesus’ life. It was directed by the homosexual, atheist, Marxist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Given his unorthodox credentials, the movie’s dedication is surprising. It’s to the man who inspired the film: Pope John XXIII.

Pasolini was murdered in mysterious circumstances in 1975.

* ‘I don’t care if it rains or freezes, as long as I have my plasticene Jesus’, should have been the tagline for ‘The Miracle Maker’ (2000). Ralph Fiennes voices Our Lord in this Wallace and Gromit-style film. His plummy voice prompted once critic to ask why Jesus would speak with a posh British accent. Fair point, considering Jesus was born in a stable.

* The always-offensive South Park surpassed itself with ‘The Passion of The Jew’ – a send-up of the reaction to Mel Gibson’s film. In short: anti-hero Cartman cons Jewish kid Kyle into seeing Mel’s movie. This leads to Kyle wanting all Jews to apologise for killing Jesus.

Despite its provocative content, the episode was praised by the Jewish newspaper ‘The Forward’, which called it “perhaps the most biting critique of ‘The Passion’ to date”.

* Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s UltraChrist! Made on a budget even lower than the director’s IQ, ‘UltraChrist!’ reinvents Jesus as a superhero. Our Lord legs it around New York in his sandals, fighting crime with a utility belt. Guaranteed to make your brain melt faster than an Easter egg on a radiator.

* ‘Toxic Avenger IV’ (2001) features one of Hollywood’s more shocking portrayals of God. The Almighty is played by frequent Howard Stern guest, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf.

Hank/God is bitter, lecherous, rude and rails against the Pope for “not really knowing Him at all”. He has only allowed 16 people into heaven. Hank is now deceased. We’ll never know if he was number 17…

* It’s God Jim, but not as we know Him. In 1989’s ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ Kirk and crew “boldly go” to the planet Shakari in search of (cue drumroll) God.

The Creator is in a foul mood and demands that the Enterprise takes him off Shakari. This leads to, possibly, the best ever God/man exchange in a film: “Excuse me, but what does God need with a starship?”

* When Will Ferrell’s ‘God’ gets excited in ‘Superstar’ (1999), he exclaims: “Oh. My. Me!” He also likes to point out that Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ is “about Me”.

* Our Lord has made an ‘appearance’ in every Monty Python film. ‘He’ started out in the BBC series as an animated photo of Victorian cricketer, WG Grace. (An appropriate name for a Deity, we think you’ll agree.)

* 1973 musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ featured Ted Neely as an all-singing hippy Christ. Christian fundamentalists were even less amused by King Herod parading about the place in white swimming togs.

The latter got to deliver the show’s killer line: “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.”

* ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was first performed in Europe on Christmas Day, 1971. It was staged in Vilnius, Lithuania which was then part of the Soviet Union. The musical was subsequently banned and the KGB persecuted the performers.

* In 1969 musical, ‘Godspell’, Jesus’ followers are a right bunch of fools. Literally. In the original production the company are a troupe of clowns who follow Jesus in an abandoned playground. Later productions have been set in an apocalyptic world and even a McDonald’s restaurant. (Ronald McDonald/clown etc.)

* Godspell’s biggest hit song was 1972’s ‘Day by Day’. The number rescued Ben Stiller’s character during an awkward moment in ‘Meet the Parents’. He recites the lyrics when asked to say grace before his first dinner with the family.

* Director George Stevens hired 550 Navajo Indians to play Roman legionnaires in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’.

* Martin Scorsese filmed ‘The Last Temptation of  Christ’ between ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’. True to form, he used tough guy actors in the lead roles: Willem Dafoe as JC and Harvey Keitel as Judas. There’s no truth in the rumour he’s planning to film ‘Raging Papal Bull’ or ‘Godfellas’ any day soon.

* Telly Savalas shaved his head for his role as Pontius Pilate in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ – and never looked back. His billiard-ball head ultimately landed him the role of TV’s most famous cop – Kojak.

* Simon The Zealot in ‘The Greatest Story etc’ was played by Robert Blake of  TV cop show, ‘Baretta’. Blake’s career went off the rails, but he found fame again in 2005 – when he was accused of murdering his wife.

* Film nerds love to point out the mistakes in ‘Ben Hur’ (1959). Two favourites are the camera’s shadow on Jesus’ back and the sight of a galvanised steel stand during the chariot race. The most quoted gaffe is the one about the chariot herald wearing a Rolex. Sorry, but it’s not true. Look closer, it’s actually an unfortunately-placed shadow.

* No round-up of Easter film trivia would be complete with mentioning The Duke. John Wayne’s role in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ lasted under 60 seconds, but gave Hollywood its most quoted religious movie line of all time. Centurion Wayne looks up at the cross and says: “Truly this man is the Son of God.”

Legend has it that the director said, “That’s fine Mr Wayne, but could you give it more ‘awe’?’

Wayne replied: “Awwww, surely this man was the Son of God…”


Ming’s cannabis campaign is not about Civil Rights. It’s about him getting stoned

The, March 21

Let’s get the obligatory admission out of the way: I have smoked cannabis. The first time was when I was 16 and shared a spliff with a friend in a park near where I live. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. A gust of wind caught the joint (which was made of copybook paper) as I took a drag, and it flared spectacularly. The result was a night spent wandering about a school disco, hacking and spluttering and failing to chat anyone up. When I got home, I discovered why. My eyebrows were missing.

It’s a painful memory.

I’ve smoked it a handful of times since then, always when I’ve had too much to drink. I’ve always felt sick as a poisoned rat afterwards. Weed is not for me.

Some of my middle-aged friends still smoke cannabis. I’ve no problem with that so long as they’re not driving a bus or a plane, or off their heads and holding a shotgun. If you want to poison yourself, go ahead, just be aware of the risks. I’m not going to grass up anyone for smoking grass.

The drugs debate is not something I give much thought too. If pressed, I’d say that I’ve never found the ‘pro’ arguments convincing. Not least the argument I call the ‘Stoner’s Theory of Relativity’ (aka ‘Story’). This is the claim that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and should be legalised. It’s a top-of-the-head non-argument, which is seldom backed up with anything other than “surveys have shown”.

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan TD is a great exponent of this Stoner’s Theory of Relativity. He trotted it out again to Marc Coleman on Newstalk last week. “The World Health Organisation  says cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco,” he said, with the conviction of a man who has had the last word on the issue.

The problem was that Ming didn’t specify which WHO report he was referring to. More importantly, he didn’t mention what else the WHO says about cannabis: “The acute effects of cannabis use has been recognised for many years, and recent studies have confirmed and extended earlier findings.”

Here are a few examples: * Cannabis impairs cognitive development. * It affects the memory and prolonged use may lead to greater impairment (which may not recover with cessation of use). * Chronic users are likely to develop a dependence. * It can exacerbate schizophrenia in affected individuals. * Long-term smoking damages the trachea and major bronchi. * Cannabis used during pregnancy is associated with impairment in foetal development. It may also lead to post-natal risk of rare forms of cancer. (

After ‘quoting’ the WHO, Ming went on to make a vague reference to some studies from the 1960s. The ’60s were half a century ago. People thought tobacco was good for you back then. (See )

When would you prefer your health research from, the ’60s or today? Or how about the Victorian era? Flanagan also referred to a report that said “masturbation makes you go blind”. What report? What rubbish. If Flanagan wants to engage with people who have an open mind about the legalisation issue, then he needs to stop trivialising it.

He needs to stop weeding out the information he doesn’t like. Stop conflating “less harmful” with “harmless”. This glib approach to cannabis’ side effects short-changes those of us who want to hear a rational, scientific debate on the issue.

Campaigners also need to either cop themselves on to (or stop lying about) the fact that cannabis’ potency has changed dramatically over the years. It’s not a ‘harmless little weed’. According to the UN’s World Drug Report 2009, “of the many people who use cannabis, very few understand the increase in its potency… Cannabis has changed dramatically since the 1970s. New methods of production have increased the potency and negative effects … It is important to understand cannabis potency because of its link to health problems including mental health.”

Ming seems to be an amiable, hard-working family man. He’s a hugely entertaining addition to the Dail. He’s dogged, determined, witty and articulate. However, his glib  approach to Tuesday’s interview did neither him nor his argument any favours.

Here are some questions he could answer: I drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and I accept the evidence that both are bad for me. Why do stoners have such a problem accepting that dope is bad for your health too?

At what age can you start smoking cannabis? Stoners don’t generally make great students, so do we limit its use to those who have finished secondary school? Age restriction doesn’t work with alcohol, so it won’t work with cannabis. Do we bother with age restriction at all?

The ‘pros’ say legalising will take drug dealing out of the hands of criminals. Will it? Or will they just undercut the legal suppliers, in the same way cigarette smugglers do?

Or sell cheaper synthetic alternatives? Should we legalise all drugs?

Ming points out that there is a difference between abuse and use. He’s absolutely right.

Not all cannabis smokers will become psychotic or graduate to heroin. The fact remains, however, that some will. What constitutes ‘abuse’ in Ming’s view?

One of the more annoying aspects of Ming’s campaign is his repeated use of Senator David Norris’ ‘example’. Ming cites him whenever he’s challenged about his-law-breaking. Senator Norris was openly gay when homosexuality was illegal here. He fought a cruel and unjust law.

Ming is suggesting cannabis legalisation is a Civil Rights issue. It’s not. It’s a health issue. One of his supporters said on this website two weeks ago that Ming was engaging in “civil disobedience”. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been an affront to Norris, Rosa Parks, the early Sinn Fein movement, Ghandi, the Civil Rights protestors in the North etc.

Ming may get his martyrdom yet. Kilkenny councillor, John Coonan, is writing to the gardai about his drug use. Coonan is a former psychiatric nurse who has seen his share of young people suffering from cannabis-related depression. Coonan’s complaint will increase pressure on the gardai to investigate Flanagan.

Perhaps a court case will  lead to a definitive drugs debate which won’t resort to stupid comments about masturbation or 1960s surveys. If afterwards, Ireland decides that – despite the obvious health risks – it wants to decriminalise cannabis, then so be it.

Ming is, potentially, one of our brightest new political stars. He is also the first politician of this new Dail to be publicly disingenuous to the electorate. He needs to come clean about the effects of cannabis use. His crusade is not a Civil Rights issue like Norris’s. It’s about Luke wanting to get stoned, that’s all. It’s about personal gain.

And we’ve had enough of politicians lying and spinning for personal gain. Haven’t we Deputy Flanagan?