Jesus Christ, there's a lot of "Passion" playing in New Jersey! That's what we learned selecting our Easter Memorabilia, this scene from the performance of the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1900. Since 1634 the residents of Oberammergau, Germany have honored a vow made by their ancestors who had survived the dreaded Black Death to act out the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Saviour once every ten years - or so. They must be doing something right - they haven't been plagued since. Their day-long pageant (with a break for lunch) has gained world renown. Next year a special performance will mark its 350th anniversary and reservations are already being made for rooms at the inns. But for those who seek spiritual inspiration closer to home, you can catch Christ with a Jersey accent right across the river in Union City (sometimes called the Oberammergau of America). This pious burg has two competing Passion Plays produced annually since 1915. The Holy Family Church's production takes place in a specially built 1400-seat theatre (call 201-867-6535). They boast that almost all the dialogue comes straight from the Gospel. St. Joseph's Church claims that "Veronica's Veil," its play about the woman who wiped the sweat and blood from the face of Christ on His way to Calvary, is more popular because two million people have seen it (201-865-2325). Good God, we won't take sides, but if Oberammergau survived the Plague, perhaps Union City can heal Herpes. Then let the passions play on!
Is it easy to get a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier to pose together? That's the question raised by our May memorabilia, a photograph of a Moslem and a Jew in Jerusalem shortly after the end of the first Arab-Isreali war in 1948. It must have taken a tough U.N. photographer to get this tender picture, since May 14th will mark the 35th anniversary of near-continuous Mideast hostility. It was on that memorable day that the British mandate to Palestine ended, the Jews declared the formation of Israel, and the Arab League declared war. When the fighting was over, the Jews were the winners and they've been celebrating ever since. But freeloaders beware! Don't go rushing off to the Israeli consulate on the 14th expecting a free "Independence Day" buffet. Not only do the Jews have a biblical homeland, they also have an ancient calendar, and according to the moon, the anniversary took place last month. Goyim can celebrate at Katz's Delicatessen. And now that Reagan's "peace plan" has hit the dust, you can "send a salami to our boys in the army" - in Lebanon.
Can an art vandal find success as an art dealer? Yes, but only in New York and only in Soho! This month's Memorabilia unearths the incredible but true front-page story in the Daily News about a young Iranian graffiti artist ahead of his time who tagged Guernica with spray-paint as it hung at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974. Arrested at the scene of the crime - and charged with only a misdemeanor since a heavy coat of varnish protected the priceless painting from damage - was Tony Shafrazi, who's now the owner of a prominent Soho gallery specializing in graffiti art and including among its roster the graffiti-superstar Keith Haring.
"I sprayed the Guernica as a work of art," says Shafrazi, who claims he knew that Picasso's celebrated anti-war masterpiece was safe from harm. Shafrazi was interested in the power of words and surfaces and in making public art. He was influenced not by the street and subway graffiti that was emerging here in the early '70s but by more highbrow theories of the Art & Language group in England (where he went to school) and by the political rhetoric of the Vietnam Art Strike Group in N.Y. Shafrazi wanted to make the message of the Guernica "live again," but unfortunately something got lost in translation. Apparently carried away by the excitement of the act, Shafrazi amended his intended message from "Lies All Lies" to "Kill All Lies" but wound up with "Kill Lies All" when he ran out of space - and time.
Although Shafrazi's youthful excesses seem to have been forgiven by today's art world, he does not revel in his past. From the moment he decided he had to tag the Guernica as an "act of faith" in his own aesthetic, he told the Eye, he has had to "live with the terror" that is the result of "trespassing" for the sake of art. "I am marked for life," says Shafrazi with resignation. "Everyday I live in fear that someone, some place, will do something and cite me as an example. As Picasso once said, 'I would not wish my fame on anyone.' "
Ex-astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt had the right stuff at the wrong time in November. The "Last Man to Step on the Moon" was brought down to Earth by a coalition of environmentalists who defeated the right-wing Republican senator in his bid for reelection from New Mexico. According to the League of Conservation Voters, Jack (whose birthplace is now an open pit copper mine) had the worst Senate record on ecological issues - quite a slap in the face for the only American geologist in outer space, whose famous "Blue Marble" photo of our planet adorned the Whole Earth Catalogue. Seeing Terra Firma floating in the Ether has been touted by some as a religious experience - one astronaut returned from the heavens to look for Noah's Ark, another to run for president - but this Apollo 17 spaceman with a PhD. in geology from Harvard became a darling of the defense and mining industries. Perhaps that explains why the oil fields of Saudi Arabia are crystal clear in this shot seen 'round the world.
If the Democrats can forgive Jesse Jackson, is the world ready to forgive Leni Riefenstahl? Like a ghost out of the past, the notorious Third Reich filmmaker (famous for her willful documentaries of the 1934 Nazi Party Day Rally at Nuremberg and the 1936 Berlin Olympics - where black American athlete Jesse Owens triumphed) is making a comeback. This year nearly a million people will see Olympia on TV. Some of her footage - the slow-motion close-ups of Jesse Owens in action - was included in the recent "Jesse Owens Story" which drew better ratings in D.C. than the Jesse Jackson convention speech.
For Riefenstahl it's been a long road back from the rubble of post-war Germany when her most innocent works were denounced as Nazi propaganda. However, her coffee-table picture book, Beauty in Olympic Battle, has recently been republished in Germany (the photo shown here is called "Force").
Was Der Fürher's favorite artist also his mistress - as Budd Shulberg implied in his 1946 article "Nazi Pin-Up Girl?" "I wasn't Hitler's type," denies Riefenstahl. "He liked docile cows like Eva Braun." Riefenstahl was no cow but she was definitely a "nature girl." Before she became a director, she was a box-office smash as a robust mountain climber in German movies. She was the star of S.O.S. Eisberg! - filmed in Greenland - from which this still is taken.
She has certainly led a checkered career. No one can deny the beauty of her two photo books on the Nuba tribe of Africa. Nor did she overlook the prowess of Black and Asian athletes in Olympia - although Hitler couldn't handle "non-Aryans" winning anything. The problem is that Riefenstahl's style - a mix of neo-classicism and Hollywood glitter - can glamorize anything. While today's top-notch photographers romanticize smoking for Philip Morris, Riefenstahl glorified Hitler's dream of Nazi supermen. How was she to know that Adolf was indeed hazardous to the health of the world? The Nazis weren't equal opportunity employers but they gave her a job. Maybe Riefenstahl can now work for Calvin Klein - like photographer Bruce Weber, who employs her style so effectively (and lucratively) for his skimpy underwear ads. Bruce has done an Olympic men and women spread himself in a recent Interview. Some people say that the dictates of fashion are fascism and history repeats itself. But it was Leni Riefenstahl's misfortune to be working for the Thousand Year Reich at a time when job security was short-lived.
"They persecuted Jesus, too!" says the faithful flock of the Unification Church now that their shepherd, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, has begun serving 18 months in prison for ignoring the Bible: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." The original Messiah warned possible tax evaders in the Levant years ago. Perhaps the Devil made him do it... but our modern messiah is behind bars because he owes the fed money. At his recent trial, 5,000 believers gathered at Foley Square. Moon wouldn't turn the other cheek. "I wouldn't be here if my skin was white and my religion Presbyterian," he told them.
Most people hate Moon's hardsell religion because it's turned 30,000 American kids into unpaid salesmen and women for the Unification Church. Controversy has also surrounded Moon's conspicuous presence in both church and state - his zealous support of Richard Nixon and his Vietnam War policy as well as Moon's alleged involvement in South Korea's attempt to bribe U.S. congressmen. Then there's Moon the molder of foreign affairs. Moon has wanted South Korea to unite with the North - an idea he pushed in his $422 million Korean War epic Inchon. But the Reverend's legal problems stem not from his religion nor his politics but his business practices. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Unification Church makes $20-25 million from the street sale of flowers and candy. This revenue has been multiplied in a far-flung business network that includes a Massachusetts fishing fleet, a Washington D.C. bank, a Calgary art gallery and a chain of convenience stores in Seattle. Moon's crime was not reporting $150,000 in personal income (he claimed it was untaxable church money). And then he tried to cover it up by back-dating his documents.
Maybe the harbinger of truth for our time will perfect his English now that he's cooped up in Connecticut with Cong. John Murphy and Mayor Errichetti of Camden, N.J., not to mention other sterling Americans. Moon may do his fellow inmates a favor and help them find God at the Danbury's Prison. God knows, that's where born-again Watergate conspirators Chuck Colson and Jeb Magruder found Him during their unexpected "retreat." So let's close with an inspirational message from the Savior himself, Jesus Christ, upon which Moon may be meditating at this very moment: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."