Mel Gibson‘s strident personality and explosive creativity is a volatile combination of madman artiste du jour, movie-maker auteur and rocket powered jet pack superstar. His fame and contributions to the entertainment industry are undeniably the stuff of myths and legends. He’s responsible for some of the biggest action films and most iconic characters of modern cinema, securing a place in lexicon for future generations to come. With a billion dollar career that’s taken him around world on landscape epics (Braveheart) and box office smash franchises (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max), he’s shared the screen with award-winning actors and renown filmmakers to become one of the most celebrated leaders of the Hollywood elite. After decades in the lime light of praise and appreciation however, his off-screen antics and wildly controversial passion projects have steadily chipped away at the once mighty messiah of celebritydom. In an era of faded glory and replaceable marquee heroes as famous faces burn up in tabloids and headline television, Gibson has become fodder for TMZ and other hound dog journalism feeding our insatiable appetite for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Gibson has a long way to go before we welcome him back to the halls of Hollywood Valhalla. It will take more time in addition to time served before we reward him with our forgetfulness and clamor for more of what he puts on the screen in characters and stories than off. But we’re going to have to contribute to his success, not the failures leading up to this, by separating the art and artist. It’s not an easy proposition and no doubt some will have nothing to do with it. Some have managed modest returns, like Roman Polanski finally stepping out from the cloud of his controversy - or maybe it’s our forgetfulness playing the biggest part. It’s understandable that we’re just not ready to let him go back to work given that he seems resistant to ending the tirades and meltdowns in Los Angeles and just about everywhere else for that matter. For the time being we’ll have to go slow but steady, ease the spotlights and roadside video camera lights a little, stave off the heated attacks after hours and between commercial breaks, parlay the thick-tongues of our hypocrite afternoon pop personalities and aged hosts of midnight talkies who blather on, ad infinitum. Eventually it will get easier and invariably we’ll come around to the ills of mad Mel maximus primicus because there are always other Hollywood necks stretched out for some wondrous new and spectacular failure. If one thing is certain, audiences will cut clean to the bone of the next great blunderer, and then after that, and on, and on, and on like chicken feet at the rotisserie.
It is because of the heat and glamour of notoriety that most succumb to ego and the hot air of so much back slapping and finger-pointing. Gold statues and record books add to the confusion and burden – the same stuff that allows filmmakers to make their movies too long and too expensive, the big shots of now pedaling convoluted (see my thoughts on Inception) and producers pushing Blockbusters (Hollywood Makes Victim’s of us All) like door-to-door salvation and overpriced cookies. The pressure to succeed is concentrated in weekend grosses and top ten lists, movie aggregators and channel surfers. It is after all is said and done, show business not just show time, but we can get through it together, the art and artist with his/her audience because the best advice is separation, like church and state. Our movie makers and their movies are often at odds with one another anyway, the Technicolor sprays and peacock colored whatever that never even makes it to the movie screen. We spend so much time with our expectations and blind ambition it’s like we’re stuck waiting for the right time to strike, to move in for the kill at their most vulnerable. Never mind all their culpability, fallibility and fragility in between award ceremonies and Insider Weekly slice of life career finishes. Prostrated there on cop car hoods and sidewalk divorce court hearings, mascara ruining photo cover maneuverings, held in the spiderweb of shame and consternation without their pancake makeup and million dollar surgery solutions for wrinkle-b-gone distractions – we make them our soylent greenery posed for the pop culture machine to gnaw through thousand dollar suits and ghastly gowns from supercilious seamstresses and shoot them like confetti high into the air. It is there that is the most telling, revealing on how far we’ve gotten away from the entertaining, obsessed with stuff we can’t change or need to. The real crime is how easily our movie makers are replaced by disposable reality television stars or worse – another slack-jawed crime scene procedural or dead-end hospital hall network series confessional. We’ll figure it out though, we always do, fatted on empty calories and desperate for our movie idols to return one more try at our undying, undeserved love – and we love them all the more for it.
Gibson’s got more time to serve on his 3 to 5 but he’ll earn a little for good behavior with his damnable good looks and charisma, the glow from films like Get The Gringo that remind us that his flaws are really our flaws and we need the talented devil as much as he needs us. Even with our every inclination to scratch at the door of Gibson’s house of ill repute and after hours shenanigans, there’s no use in howling. He’s made thunderous films and slow boil pedestrian studies, incendiary films and spectacles every bit as cantankerous as Spike Lee’s diatribes and heavy-handed didacticism; Oliver Stone’s histrionics and fact-finding missions to make things up and pass them off as biblical; Adam Sandler’s obsession with theater of the absurdly mundane and gross ridiculousness rooted in personalities we really can’t stand. It’s Gibson’s abilities that remind us how he got to fame and infamy, the double-edged sword of creativity. It’s his films that matter most, the art and craft as much as the business. All we have to do is remind ourselves of the work that he’s written – The Passion of the Christ (2004), Complete Savages (2004) for television, Apocalypto (2006), The Brain Storm (2011) short and feature, Get the Gringo (2011) - those he’s directed – Mel Gibson Goes Back to School (1991) TV documentary, The Man Without a Face (1993), Braveheart (1995), The Passion of the Christ (2004), and several episodes of the TV series Complete Savages (2004) followed by Apocalypto (2011) – and the dozens he’s been in, first the consummate actor in romantic comedies and high-octane action flicks, in brutal character studies and fallen matinée idols disfigured, detoured but always giving us that intangible thing that endures all real world considerations and momentary distractions – the magic escapism of moments at 24 frames a second in the reality of cinema.
Mel Gibson‘s played the part and made the stage for others, he’s larger than life and everyday ordinary, flawed and foolish, a victim of circumstances and his own gluttony of excess – and he’s no different from any one us – but we don’t have lights and cameras following us around to magnify our stellar ups and everyday falling down mistake. For all the things he is and isn’t, likable and detestable, irreverent and funny, his incredible talents are in a constant tug-o-war with everything and everyone. Gibson’s been locked in retrograde for so long it’s finally overshadowed a quarter-plus century of entertainment and he’s spinning dangerously close to coming undone; or maybe he already did. Maybe Gibson’s splendor has come as far as it can and his return to fame and fortune will burn up in the atmosphere of popular opinion. Perhaps it will be a forced hard crash landing because he has one more role to play. It’s not so very much to ask really, for one more chance to make us laugh and cry, for one more audience to look beyond the trees of his coarse magnanimity for the forest of so much more possibility.