Retrolecture: The Satanic Verses

There was a good piece by the excellent Samuel “On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion” Fleischacker in Norm’s Writer’s Choice series last week, not least because most of it is actually about the book Rushdie wrote, which is sometimes hard to recover through the increasingly thick fog of what became “The Rushdie Affair”. He liked it as much as I did, when I read it in the second half of 1989, though with a much richer appreciation of what we might call Rushdie’s engagement with theodicy than I’d have been capable of sustaining back then, years before I started reading Augustine.

It’s nice to be reminded, too, of Martin Scorsese’s film of The Last Temptation of Christ. Fleischacker thinks it had “a far deeper religious sensibility” than that of its critics who charged it with heresy. That might be true, but I just remember it as tortured, laughable nonsense. (“Heaven’s a party, and everyone’s invited!”, says Scorsese’s Christ at one point, or something similar, and I don’t recall it ever getting more profound.) His Gangs of New York was also very, very bad, but there seems to be something about the badness of the religious film that gives it a certain kind of grandeur, of which the badness of the secular film falls short.

9 thoughts on “Retrolecture: The Satanic Verses”

  1. Ah, Last Temptation is a bit better than that, I reckon. It’s a little untogether though (you’d think Cimino rather than Scorsese had directed) and there’s a certain difficulty in playing Jesus Christ that I don’t think Dafoe quite overcomes. But I remember seeing it (almost certainly in the Penultimate Picture Palace on Cowley Road) and thinking “not bad”. Which meant “not bad”.

    Never rated Satanic Verses much, however. I don’t think I gave a monkey’s about anybody in it at any point, though at least I finished it which is probably more than can be said for most novels I’ve started in the past twenty years.

  2. Yes – did it change its name because the one in Headington closed?

    My other memories of the PPP include waiting outside for a showing of A Clockwork Orange that never happened because Stanley Kubrick’s lawyer arrived with a writ and served it on Bill Heine in a pub.

    As I recall we ended up watching Capricorn One.

  3. I think the PPP closed some time in the mid-90s, and had re-opened as the UPP by 2000, when I returned to Oxford. But I’m not really sure.

    I don’t know anything about the Headington cinema, except that a vague memory is stirring that it might have something to do with the chap with the shark through his roof. Could that be right?

    (I think the shark’s been repainted recently: certainly it looked in better nick when I went past it the other day than it has been in the past, but, as ever, I only caught a glimpse.)

  4. Yeah, that’s Heine, the chap with the shark. Ran (and presumably runs) the cinema. Used to have one near what was then Headington Labour Club, called Not The Moulin Rouge. I’m not sure I ever went there.

    The Labour Club had some minor role in the Maxwell Web Of Corruption. I can’t offhand recall what.

  5. The Labour Club had some minor role in the Maxwell Web Of Corruption. I can’t offhand recall what.

    I suspect that most institutions in that part of the world did.

  6. Possibly that chip shop on the London Road might have escaped the web. I used to go there sometimes after matches at the Manor. The woman serving used to do the work of two men – and you knew this, because you could see them behind the counter, talking to one another while she worked.

  7. Im afraid im a bit more of a Scorsese fan,and considerably more of a Catholic,(that last bit was a joke, irealize youre not a”catholic’ in ANY sense) than you are,Chris. Granted, Dafoes way of putting it is way more colloquial than I would like. However, Scorsese (and his screen writers Jay Cocks and Paul Schrader) were trying to make a point, that Jesus was ,after all a carpenter talking to common people.
    If one reads the parables in the gospels, one metaphor that crops up frequently is that of the Kingdom of Heaven as a feast,a party, in short, to which everyone IS invited.
    Besides, I liked it when Jesus danced at the wedding feast.

  8. It is quite wonderful that the Ultimate Picture Palace used to be called the Penultimate Picture Palace. So far as I can tell it seems to be run by a vaguely disenchanted looking man of South Asian extraction.

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