“That film he made about Father Christmas going crazy and being shot by the police was bad enough, but with this new one, where Jesus goes around beating up Muslims and torturing atheists, he’s really gone too far,” opines Ned Mingo, assistant editor of Overexposed film magazine, after attending a press screening of controversial director Stanley Jagoff’s latest film, For The Love of God. “It’s difficult to discern what his intent is with this film. Apart from offending as many people as possible, of course.” The film, which features God being kidnapped by a group of rival religions, led by a Stephen Dawkins-type atheist academic, has drawn widespread outrage, with religious and secular groups uniting in a call for it to be banned. “It’s just wrong on so many levels,” says Albert Frotwell, the Anglican Bishop of Crewkerne. “As if it isn’t bad enough portraying adherents of other religions as being a bunch of evil villains jealous of Christianity’s success, but Jagoff goes on to portray Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, as some kind of renegade Messiah, prepared to use extreme violence to preach his message and achieve his ends. That said, his portrayal of atheists as amoral manipulative opportunists, fixated on the destruction of all of society’s moral values is probably quite accurate.” In his quest to liberate his Holy Father, the film shows Jesus besting Buddha (portrayed by chubby martial arts star Sammo Hung), in a spectacular kung fu sequence, and engaging in a bloody swordfight with a horde of Shinto-worshipping Samurai.
The movie’s most controversial scene features Jesus – played by Jason Statham – torturing one of the villainous atheist’s henchmen for information. “It really is sickening,” says Mingo. “Christ repeatedly tortures him in the most brutal fashion, variously breaking his arms and legs, even slicing off fingers and toes, then lays his hands on his victim to heal his injuries, before starting all over again.” In a rare interview, Jagoff has vigourously defended his motion picture, arguing that is actually a highly moral film supportive of Christian values. “There is no way that For The Love of God is blasphemous – it clearly shows Christianity (the One True Faith), triumphing over all the other false idols and gods,” he told the Sunday Bystander. “The whole point of the kidnapping plotline is to illustrate the force for good in the world that God represents – we show the chaos everything descends into when he is absent.” Indeed, the movie’s scenes of rapes, debauchery, orgies and murder which illustrate the worldly consequences of the Almighty’s abduction, are filmed with relish, and at great length.
This isn’t the first time that one of Jagoff’s films has courted controversy. Three years ago his pioneering fusion of revenge thriller, eco-warning fable, anti-globalisation satire and Blaxploitation movie, Black Santa, was dropped by its distributor following protests by mobs of angry parents outside cinemas showing the film. “People were labouring under the misconception that it was some kind of family film because of the seasonal theme,” the director explains. “I should have thought that the ‘15’ certificate was indicative of its content.” Condemned for its violence, the film featured Santa Claus – played by Danny Dyer – waging a one man war against globalisation and the commercialisation of Christmas, dropping hand grenades down the chimneys of industrialists and gunning down international bankers with a pair of forty four Magnums. In the spectacular climax of his campaign of terror, Santa storms Downing Street in his sleigh, resulting in one of the movie’s most criticised sequences. “It’s frankly repulsive, making the finale of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch look like a vicarage tea party!” recalls Ned Mingo. “As if it isn’t bad enough seeing Santa’s reindeer slaughtered in a slow motion hail of police bullets, we are then subjected to the sight of a badly wounded Santa crawling from the wreckage of his sleigh on the roof of Number Ten, brandishing his pistols in a last defiant stand. As he starts firing wildly into the street, he is bloodily cut down, again in slow motion, by police and soldiers, his body tumbling from the roof to be impaled on the railings below!” Incredibly, this is only the halfway point of the film – following his death, Santa’s son, Black Santa (Idris Elba), vows to avenge him, descending down chimneys and cutting the throats of the first born of the financiers, politicians and industrialists he holds responsible.
“No real reindeer were harmed in the making of the film,” says Jagoff, dismissing the allegations of animal cruelty which have dogged him since Black Santa’s withdrawal from general release. “We used the much commoner roe deer with stick on antlers. Shooting them for real was cheaper than using CGI or animatronics. Besides, people are always condemning them as vermin, so we were providing a public service at the same time.” He also continues to defend the film against allegations that it is simply an orgy of mindless violence, claiming that it is actually a deeply political work. “It’s green agenda is clear,” he explains. “Santa’s originally motivated to go on his rampage by the melting of the polar icecaps caused by global warming”
Fears have been raised that For The Love of God, with its portrayal of Muslims as bloodthirsty killers, is simply a cynical attempt to cash in on the current climate of ‘Islamaphobia’ engendered by the ‘War on Terror’. “Jagoff is just an opportunist, using anti-Muslim sentiments to sell a cheap violent action film,” says Labour MP Jim Scratchett, who is campaigning for the British Board of Film Censors to deny the movie a certificate. “Not only is he setting religious tolerance and multiculturalism in this country back by decades, there’s a real danger that some on the extreme right will be encouraged into further acts of violence against non-Christian communities by Jagoff’s film.” Not surprisingly, Jagoff has rejected any suggestion that his motives for making For The Love of God are in any way cynical. “The film quite clearly isn’t anti-Islam, it condemns all non-Christian sects and creeds equally,” he says. “It’s sheer hypocrisy, all this ‘religious tolerance’ crap. If we accept the word of God as given in the Bible, then all other religions – Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, the lot – must all be false, and we should be condemning them as such. In fact, we should be launching a Holy war against these evil creeds.” He also defends his portrayal of Christ in the movie. “All this ‘turn the other cheek’ stuff is well and good, but I was brought up on tales of Christian crusaders giving Johnny Arab what for in the name of God,” Jagoff explains. “In the face of today’s constant onslaughts against Christian morality by secularists, atheists and idolators, you have to be prepared to kick ass in defence of your beliefs. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us that Jesus got mad and threw the money lenders out of the temple?”
However, there are still aspects of Jagoff’s film making which puzzle Scratchett. “Who keeps putting up the money for him to make these films?” he asks. “No major studio would touch them with a barge pole, and they’re hardly box office block busters, are they?” Ned Mingo believes he has the answer to this conundrum. “There’s a persistent rumour that one of his main backers is Lord Quimwedge, owner of the Daily Excess, one of the newspapers most vociferous in its condemnation of Jagoff’s films,” he reveals. “In a way, it makes perfect sense – after all, what would Quimwedge’s papers have to get outraged about without films like these?”