Mel Gibson battles the Religious "Right." No, seriously.

My feelings on the subject of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ” have been pretty well stated in the past, so let’s not dwell on them. Straight to the point: Mad Mel and his Jesus movie are back in the news, and back stirring up the so-called “religious right.” But this time it’s different.

Here’s the deal: There’s this nutball in Utah named Ray Lines. Ray Lines operates an outfit called “Cleanflicks.” Here’s their website:

Basically, “Cleanflicks” creates unauthorized “christian family-friendly” edits of popular movies and sells/rents them to people. As you may expect, Mr. Lines sees himself as an activist on behalf of God fearing American families. As you may also expect, the people who own the copyrights on the films he’s editing are unhappy with him. In fact, the DGA has been suing him for three years.

Here’s why it’s hard to shut this guy down: While he’s technically violating copyright law, he’s not actually making any money doing this because he purchases a copy for every copy he edits. U.S. laws protecting the right of artists to control how their work is presented to the public are vastly less rigid than elsewhere in the world, which means that Cleanflicks can use this gray-area loophole to render prosecution murky… so far.

It hasn’t helped matters that the DGA is constrained by a (comparitively) limited amount of member-contributed funds and by the edict to keep things like this quiet and low-key. Litigating a philosophical and political opponent into submission over legal nuance can make you look like a bully, even when you’re in the right like the DGA certainly is. THIS, in other words, is a job for another sort of plaintiff. Y’know, like an obsessive self-financed millionaire/maverick/nut-bunny/zealot. One of those would do GREAT…

…enter you-know-who.

Mel’s “Passion,” you might recall, is a pretty damn violent movie. The christian-right critics, you might recall, put their usual disdain for Hollywood bloodletting on hold for the film because they valued it’s potential as a recruiting vehicle. Gibson, you might recall, made some pretty friendly gestures in their direction, and they in his.

And then Ray Lines and Cleanflicks performed one of the dissections on “Passion.” And Mel Gibson found out. And he wasn’t happy. How unhappy?

He’s SUING THEM. To make them stop cutting his movie and infringing on his copyright. And if he’s successful, it’s judgement-day for Cleanflicks. Remember: If Mel stops Cleanflicks from cutting HIS movie, anyone else can run with the same suit from the same angle, it’s called precedent.

I have three things to say about this.

1.) My review of “Passion” still stands. I still find it to be anti-semetic, homoerotic torture porn, and not a well made equivalent thereof to boot. I also still find Gibson to be getting progressively creepier. BUT he’s still otherwise a good filmmaker and actor who’s made a number of movies I’ve liked, and in this issue he’s RIGHT.

2.) The one thing you can say about Gibson and Ray Lines is that both are, at least, men of their word. Unlike the other religious critics, Lines isn’t flipping on “Passion” just because it’s a Jesus movie, he’s treating it with the same rusty chainsaw he treats every other film with. And Gibson isn’t going soft on Cleanflicks just because they share lots of buddies in the christian extremist camp.

3.) This begs the question: Who will Brent Bozell, James Dobson, etc. support? They can’t be on both sides of this, their going to have to pick one or the other. Do they back up the filmmaker who made the Jesus movie they adored, or the film editor who takes the knife to the GOOD movies they hated? So far they aren’t talking.

THIS will be one to watch.

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