Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Mel Goes to Hell
I wrote about Mel Gibson earlier this year ("Mel Gibson's Face"), but I never could have guessed what a sharp, ugly, turn his life and career would take. With the internet release of four taped phone calls to his ex-girlfriend Oksana--tapes on which Gibson screams abuse, uses racist language, admits to punching her while she held their nine month-old baby and threatens to kill her--the actor/director/producer has sunk to a low that may actually surpass any movie star in recent memory. And in this squalid age that is saying one hell of a lot.
Is his career over? In a sense. He'll never be the movie star he was in the late nineties and early 2000s. Remember that is not all that long ago when Gibson was one of the two or three biggest stars on the planet, with a reputation as a god-fearing family man, a shelf of Oscars and awards, unlimited industry heft and about a billion dollars in cash and assets. What makes his story fascinating is that he's lost so much due to his own warped sense of victimization. In between calling Oksana a "bitch" and a "cunt" Gibson tells her that he divorced his wife because they weren't "spiritually compatible" (a reference to the fact that his wife never joined the Catholic church and an echo of a earlier controversy from 2003 when he told reporters that he thought she was going to hell). If one thing is clear from the Oksana tapes--besides the fact that Gibson is a rich bully and a misogynist asshole--it's his shocking sense of self-pity. How could a millionaire who has spent most of his life as an international sex symbol be so pathetic? It's difficult to believe that the man on these tapes is as powerful as Mel Gibson. Money doesn't buy happiness, but it also can't purchase much self-respect either. It turns out that Mel Gibson the man is the kind of guy that Martin Riggs or William Wallace might kick the shit out of. With this self-inflicted gunshot to the career it's highly unlikely that Gibson could hoist the heroic banner again with any plausibility.
But most of us reach an easy accommodation with the disconnect between an artist's work and personal life. Most movie geeks still love Chinatown even though Roman Polanski is a child-rapist. Woody Allen is, at best, a scum bag, but I still love Manhattan. The partial list of great artists who were horrible human beings could include Ezra Pound, Richard Wagner, and John Phillips. John Lennon beat his first wife. Joan Crawford was a terrible mother. Bing Crosby was a terrible father. And on and on.
Will there be a place for Gibson in films in the future? I'm sure there will be, though it's hard to know what it might be. No one in Hollywood can disgrace themselves out of a job anymore, so long as they're willing to shift what it is they want. His shot at being a respected elder statesman is gone, but he might find work as as a raging nutcase. He's now auditioned for that part in front of the entire world.
Vanity Fair has a smart piece about the Gibson meltdown by John Lopez.
And Owen Gleiberman has a good piece over at EW.