Ash Wednesday: Scorsese and Hershey

If you’re a Christian, you should know that today is Ash Wednesday and marks the first day of Lent–a sacrificial period meant to recognize Jesus’ death.  So, let’s talk about Jesus.  Actually, let’s talk about a movie about Jesus.  What’s more, let’s talk about a movie about Jesus that was made through a collaboration of two astute Roger Corman Alum!

We assume that it’s common knowledge that Martin Scorsese directed his first Hollywood picture for Roger and American International Pictures (AIP) many, many years ago.  The film: Boxcar Bertha. The year:  1972.  The leading lady of the film was a then-unknown actress named Barbara Hershey.

After their collaboration on Bertha, Scorsese and Hershey would find both critical acclaim and public fame separately.  Scorsese would go on direct films such as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, and Hershey would find herself opposite other great actors such as Peter O’Toole and Robert Redford as she landed roles in films such as The Stunt Man, The Right Stuff, and The Natural.  However, it was in 1987 that Scorsese and Hershey would work together again.

Based on the novel of the same name, The Last Temptation of Christ caused great controversy, even before its theatrical release.  Hershey had introduced Scorsese to the novel on the set of Bertha, and suggested that Scorsese adapt it into a film with her as Mary Magdalene.  Scorsese, having spent some time at a seminary in his teens, felt a deep connection with the content and handed it over to Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader to develop into a screenplay.  Originally intended to go into production and shot in Israel after The King of Comedy in 1983, Paramount backed out of the project due to protests from various religious groups (after all, the novel had already been banned by the Catholic Church!).  Two years and two films later, production started again, and the film was shot in Morocco.  As suggested fourteen years earlier, Hershey played the role of Mary Magdalene.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Martin Scorsese directing Barbara Hershey, Willem Dafoe, and Harvey Keitel in 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988)

The controversy surrounding the film—including a now infamous incident in Paris when a group of religious fanatics attacked a theater playing the movie with molotov cocktails—forced a small release, and Temptation only played in 123 theaters nationwide.  However, the film would receive great artistic notoriety, earning Scorsese an Academy Award© Nomination for Best Director and Hershey a Golden Globe© Nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1997, Scorsese received the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.  Hershey was there to speak of their collaboration and Scorsese’s dedication, a fine and eloquent tribute that you can view here.  Today, both are fresh off of award season; Scorsese having released Shutter Island and Boardwalk Empire , and Hershey having acted as an obsessive mother in Black Swan.

For their wonderful collaboration, for their intellectual and spiritual capacity, and for their persistence and diligence in artistic creation, Roger and New Horizons congratulate both Martin Scorsese and Barbara Hershey on all of their success.