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Cross Purposes? 

Crank Call

Published April 11, 2001 at 6:48 p.m.

I was in Boston last weekend crying over spilled milk pardon me, working with my editor on the final cuts and revisions of my book about Isadora Duncan and, somehow, I completely missed knowing that it was Easter. I was still waiting to see ashes on people's foreheads, which takes me by surprise every year. But I suppose I missed that, too. I had no idea it was Easter until I got off the plane in Burlington on Sunday and the flight attendant, a comely young man named Julio, said, "Happy Easter!"

Easter? I looked around me. Nary a bunny. Not even a crocus. Of course, it could be Christmas or Halloween, for all I'd know. That's the beauty of an ultimatum from the publisher. You don't have time to think about anything else. You don't have time to think about anything at all which they keep telling you is good.

I'm sure they're right. Editing a book is like having a thousand Band-Aids torn off all at once. I haven't been in such pain since, in a hypnotic trance on my fortieth birthday, I went to a Tunisian épileur in Paris that's a body-waxer to you and had every hair on my body removed, except for a little dark fringe that was supposed to peek up over the rim of my Speedo pour la plage, don't you know.

Gentlemen: Have you ever had the hair yanked off your legs with hot wax? Ouch, right? But I wanted to look like somebody else. That's what I kept telling myself, and them as I said, I was in a state of shock at turning 40. "I want to see somebody different in the mirror," I said, and I got my wish. There I was on all fours, kneeling on a metal table, while four little Tunisians, with tweezers…

Well, that's another story. Or is it? Come to think of it, my trip to the Tunisian épileur in Paris is one of the last things I remember before Isadora swallowed me up. There might be a connection, I don't know. Nine years in the making, and suddenly they're in a hurry! Go figure.

Anyhow, where the hell is spring? At the civil union I attended not long ago, the order of service included an acknowledgment of December 20, 1999, as the day all GLBTs in North Sodom were liberated into marriage, and I thought: "My God, has it been a year already?" Then my heart sank maybe it had been two years, I thought. Then I couldn't remember what year it was. Nice that they were doing the wedding on the anniversary, anyhow. Then I remembered it was April. Doctor, what's happening to me?

Last night, I flipped on the TV. Sure enough, The Robe was on. That's definitely Easter. Julio was right. The Robe was the first movie ever made in Cinemascope, if you can possibly have escaped that piece of trivia. But, in the Bible-epic genre, The Robe is for pansies babies, if you prefer. Something about Richard Burton's eternally curled lip doesn't do justice to the theme. And Victor Mature!

Watching Burton and Jean Simmons march nobly off to martyrdom in The Robe, hand in hand, practically winking at each other, as if to say, "If only these Romans knew what we know!" well, it takes all the fun out of Christians and lions. It doesn't hold a candle to Silvana Magnano getting stoned to death in Barabbas, or Finlay Currie crucified upside down as St. Peter in Quo Vadis? or all those people getting trampled by elephants and roasted on spits in Sodom and Gomorrah. A Bible movie needs to be sincere, from the heart.

I know what I'm talking about, because I played Jesus at the age of 9, in a neighborhood production of King of Kings. And, before you ask, yes I cast myself in the part. I rose from the dead with a bang, by bursting out of a wooden Navy trunk, whereupon the girl who played all the Marys Virgin, Magdalene, etc. got to run around in front of the boiler and the washer-dryer in my parents' basement, screaming, "He is risen! He is risen!" Our house was being painted at the time, and my mother remembers one of the painters telling her, "A little boy with a beard came running by." Then a couple of others who said, "Did Jesus come by here?"

I was 35 before I realized that all my ideas and my whole conception of the world of history, justice, right and wrong came from MGM. Not to mention, um, well, Bible movies had a lot of men with oiled bodies in them slaves, centurions and what-not but I didn't think about that at the time. I really didn't. "Probably skeptics will find this hard to believe," as Isadora said, but I only thought about blood, stardom and righteous vengeance on mine enemies.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's too late to make any more changes my editor said so.

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Peter Kurth

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