Martin Scorsese’s Jesus Film Consultant Father Spadaro Reveals Early Draft of Script in New Book – Read an Excerpt (EXCLUSIVE)

Last May, after “Killers of the Flower Moon” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Martin Scorsese traveled to Rome with his wife, Helen Morris, to attend a conference titled “The Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination.” There, the director announced that he had responded to an appeal by Pope Francis to artists “in the only way I know how: by imagining and writing a screenplay for a film about Jesus.”

The conference was organized by Jesuit publication “La Civiltà Cattolica.” It took place after the journal’s editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, held a series of one-on-one conversations with Scorsese that have just come out in Italy in a book published by La nave di Teseo titled “Dialoghi sulla fede” (“Dialogues on Faith”).

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The final chapter of this book is titled, as translated from Italian, “Screenplay for a Possible Film on Jesus” by Scorsese. Spadaro, in the book’s introduction, specifies that the less than 20-page text is not the actual screenplay that Scorsese will be working from to make the film, but instead an early draft that Scorsese sent him and gave him permission to publish.

Scorsese has been working with longtime collaborator Kent Jones on the film’s screenplay, which is based on Japanese novelist Shūsaku Endō’s book “A Life of Jesus.” He reportedly plans to shoot the 80-minute film later this year. Endō also wrote “Silence,” a novel about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan, which was adapted by Scorsese into the 2016 movie of the same name.

Variety spoke with Spadaro in Rome about his collaboration with Scorsese and what moved the director to make what the priest calls “not just a reflection on the figure of Jesus, but also a reflection on his cinema.” He also shares an excerpt from the beginning of the draft below.

How did you first intersect with Martin Scorsese?

It’s a complex and somewhat absurd story that stems from the fact that a Jesuit brother of mine helped Scorsese’s team in Taiwan [as an expert] to support the film “Silence.” Then this brother of mine called me from there saying, “Look, Scorsese is an incredible person. You absolutely have to meet him and interview him.” I was the director at the time of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” this very old Jesuit journal. So I replied and told him, “Look, I don’t deal directly with cinema. Maybe a little; but mainly with other topics, literature in particular. I have to mull it over.” Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from Scorsese in which he accepted my request for an interview, which I had never asked for. So it was my brother who built this bridge. I replied and Scorsese gave me a date to meet at his home in New York. It’s been a somewhat strange, almost casual affair. But I must say that right from the start I felt a great welcome and experienced great harmony.

Why do you think Scorsese has decided to make this film?

It’s clear and evident to me that this choice was not temporary. I mean, he heard the Pope’s appeal and decided to respond in this way. But in my opinion, the Pope’s appeal – and this is just my impression – actually brought out a desire of his that in reality Scorsese has always had. He tells me in the interview [and says in the screenplay draft] that he has wanted to make a film about Jesus since he was a student at New York University. He didn’t make it at the time because Pasolini’s “Gospel According to Matthew” came out. Scorsese was trying to depict an intimacy with Jesus. And therefore he wanted to portray him in contemporary clothes. So, a Jesus in New York dressed in present-day clothing, etc. Then he realized that Pasolini had actually achieved what he intended to do, but had done so by bringing Jesus back to his own time instead by imagining him in the clothes that he wore then. From that moment onwards, Scorsese has always dealt with this figure, the figure of Jesus. Obviously, this is evident in “The Last Temptation of Christ” and even in “Silence.”

In a recent Los Angeles Times interview, Scorsese said he is trying to find a new way to make religion more accessible and “take away the negative onus of what has been associated with organized religion.” Is that also your impression?

The Scorsese I met seemed very rooted in his past with what he experienced, especially as a kid. In my interview, he makes many references to when he was a boy in Little Italy and attended mass at St. Patrick’s, the old cathedral of New York. So, a Christianity that he experienced as an altar boy. Among other things, it’s interesting that he clearly told me that he lived on the street. That is, he was very attached to the street, but in a different way than other kids because he had asthma as a child. This effectively prevented him from living a life exactly like the others. It also allowed him to live with less toxic masculinity than that of his peers and to sometimes watch from the balcony.

Scorsese as a young man entered the seminary [studying to become a priest], then he left. Evidently, it wasn’t his vocation. However, to be clear, for him religiousness is linked to this experience. Therefore, it is Catholic, truly Christian, with all of its references, etc. When he says that [about removing the “negative onus”] he says it because he has clearly seen and experienced the involvement of the Church in scandals, in abuse, in everything that has nothing to do with spirituality and which has almost put a veil and created a distance [with Catholicism]. Scorsese wants to recover this original experience that he had of the fully embodied, positive, open, complex spirituality in which he was trained.

What is the significance of Scorsese’s film about Jesus for you?

It’s still a work in progress, but what strikes me most is that ultimately, it’s not just a reflection on the figure of Jesus but also a reflection on his cinema. Because as we can already glean from this first draft, he reads his previous cinematographic production from this point of view. So I realize that this film will be an integral part of his journey as an artist and that it will provide an illumination to interpret what he has done up until now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Read and excerpt from an early draft of the screenplay below.

The cover for Spadaro and Scorsese’s “Dialogues on Faith.”
The cover for Spadaro and Scorsese’s “Dialogues on Faith.”

Let’s start immersed in the dark.

A painted image of Jesus’ face suddenly lights up the frame… then, just as quickly, it disappears into the darkness again.

CUT to a series of images: a simple wooden cross hanging above a neatly made bed in the apartment of a popular tenement… church windows with scenes from the life of Jesus… a marble sculpture of Mary holding the body of Jesus in her arms… a small gold cross next to a popular image of Jesus praying towards heaven… a child sitting at a table looking into tall the cross next to complex colorful drawings for a fictional film titled “The Eternal City.”

More images of Jesus: other mass-produced family portraits, short moving images from “Intolerance,” the silent version of [Cecil B. DeMille film] “The King of Kings,” [Henry Koster’s Biblical epic] “The Robe” and the sound version of “King of Kings.”

VOICE: Like millions of other children around the world, I grew up surrounded by images of Jesus, all based on a common idea of ​​his appearance and behavior: handsome, with wonderful long hair and beard, ascetic, pious…

A scene from Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” the sermon on the mountain.

VOICE: When the idea of ​​making cinema started to become concrete, I had in mind to make a film about Christ in the modern world, in modern clothes, shot in 16mm and in black and white in the streets of New York, with apostles in suits and ties in old, peeling, weathered hallways, with the crucifixion set on the West Side piers and cops instead of centurions… my world. But then I saw Pasolini’s Christ. The setting wasn’t modern, but the feeling it conveyed was. There was the immediacy of Christ. Pasolini showed us a Jesus who was often heated and angry. Who fought… His film had made what I had in mind become quite superfluous, but it inspired me to keep going.

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