Much Too Vulgar a Display of Power


For sheer liturgical ookiness, the millennially challenged Catholic bloodletter Stigmata practically breaks a hip trying to outgoose the competition. Billowing curtains, angsty priests, wacky contact lenses (red and yellow this time), girls talking in pro-wrestler voices—whatever happened to Linda Blair, anyway? Here, Pittsburgh hairdresser Patricia Arquette gets a rosary from her mom in the mail, except it’s the rosary of a dead priest whose passing makes a local statue cry blood and who died busily translating an old scroll the Vatican wants to rebury. That means trouble, and Arquette starts enduring her own stations of the cross (in no particular order), getting crucified in her bathtub and invisibly whipped on the subway. Meanwhile, Gabriel Byrne is the fed-up Vatican investigator told to forget about that bleeding statue (Cardinal Jonathan Pryce almost says, “I’m taking you off the case!”) and redirected toward this Pittsburgh phenomenon, which includes scribbling in ancient Aramaic and mysterious doves that appear out of nowhere and sound like helicopters.

Despite exposition delivered so redundantly and witlessly (a Vatican scholar telling another what a gospel is, etc.) you think you’re in a Kaplan class, Stigmata manages to be incoherent, no more so than when Arquette, seemingly possessed by Sid Vicious for a time, tries to ball Byrne and then kicks the shit out of him. Director Rupert Wainwright shot this baby in the middle of the David Fincher monsoon season and edited it like he was acing the 40-shots-per-minute sprint. Similarly hysterical, the all-too-Dolby soundtrack sounds like the dialogue, an old sound effects record, and Billy Corgan’s mood-swinging score are fighting it out with aluminum bats. (Heart patients, beware.) Stigmata raises more questions than it intends, that’s for sure: do hairdressers in Pittsburgh really make enough to afford what looks like a venture capitalist’s apartment? What does St. Francis of Assisi have to do with it all? What is it with Hollywood and Catholicism?

— I’d take the stakes driven right through my platform pumps over listening to Bruce Vilanch jokes, but that’s me. As irrelevant as Full Tilt Boogie, another Miramax documentary about showbiz effluvia, Get Bruce! chronicles the life and times of Hollywood’s most beloved gag writer. This is the man responsible for all of those award-ceremony routines, and no, Andrew J. Kuehn’s film isn’t the Claude Lanzmann–esque j’accuse it should’ve been. Being unfunny just skims it; Vilanch is a bloated, hirsute Mason Reese cabaret reject without whom our TVs would be less painful places to visit. Shouldn’t we all hold a grudge? Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, and other epochal figures disagree; in fact, if you believe them (and why shouldnyou?), they never utter a non-Bruce joke in public. They don’t even seem ashamed to admit it.

— Still, having invisible stakes hammered through your wrists and having Bruce Vilanch exhale old Redd Foxx jokes in your face is cake compared to watching Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O’Toole struggle to retain their dignity in the pigpen that is Caligula, rereleased for reasons the Vatican is surely keeping secret. For sheer camp RBI, this Tinto Brass–Bob Guccione freak is the World Series played, won, and paraded. That is, if you remain conscious before the semi-Satyricon goonery, the somnambulistic sex, and Malcolm McDowell embarking in earnest upon his odyssey as his country’s most reviled actor. For penance, you could do worse.