Martin Scorsese banned smoking from the set, both because he's a severe asthmatic, and to avoid any photographs being taken of actors and actresses playing Biblical characters, primarily Willem Dafoe, who smoked at the time, with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.
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Willem Dafoe could not see for three days, because he got too many eye drops to dilate the pupils of his eyes in bright sunlight to achieve a superhuman effect.
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Universal Pictures agreed to produce the film if Scorsese then did a commercial film. That was Cape Fear (1991).
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The script for this film sat in the office of Martin Scorsese's lawyer for at least five years prior to being made. Although Scorsese thought the film could be brilliant, he was concerned how the public might respond to the finished film. His lawyer agreed the script was brilliant and very "brave", but advised against making the movie, because he did not think moviegoers were ready for such a story.
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Director Martin Scorsese first read Nikos Kazantzakis's novel "The Last Temptation of Christ", after being given a copy by Barbara Hershey, while he was directing her in Boxcar Bertha (1972), his second feature film. When she read in a trade paper many years later that Scorsese was finally getting the opportunity to direct a film adaptation, she begged him to let her play the role of Mary Magdalene. To make sure she didn't feel that he was giving her the part as a favor for having recommended the book, he made her audition.
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According to Martin Scorsese, the last shot was not intentional. The camera used to film this scene was faulty and light leaked in onto the film, causing a whiteout at the exact point in the scene at which Jesus died, and this was not discovered until the film was processed. Serendipity or divine intervention, take your pick.
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The Jews have American accents (primarily from the New York City region) while the Romans have English accents.
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At a convention, Christopher Lloyd said that he was offered the role of one of the disciples, but turned it down. He says that he regrets that decision to this day.
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Director Martin Scorsese had wanted to make a film version on the life of Jesus Christ ever since his childhood.
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An avid fan of writer Nikos Kazantzakis, Jeff Bridges actively sought the role of Judas by personally writing to Martin Scorsese, a role which ultimately went to Harvey Keitel.
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This movie was judged so controversial by some French fundamentalist Catholics that they went as far as torching a couple of cinemas releasing the film, in Paris and Besançon, causing one death and several serious injuries among the audience.
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Several theater chains refused to screen the film. One of them, General Cinemas, later apologized to Martin Scorsese for this. Similarly, when released on home video and LaserDisc in the U.S., many video stores, including Blockbuster Video, did not carry the title because of the film's controversial reputation.
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The picture was Oscar nominated in one category, for Best Director - Martin Scorsese. In the history of the Academy Awards, it has been a very rare occurrence indeed for a film to be Oscar nominated just only for directing without being nominated for anything else.
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Due to several threats from religious groups, Martin Scorsese had to be accompanied by bodyguards during public appearances for a while after the movie's release.
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When Jesus is in the temple and Roman soldiers are coming after him in what appears to be all directions, it is the same five soldiers that are used in each shot. This was to save money, as the film had a small budget.
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Some historians claim Pontius Pilate was born in Scotland, where his father was posted as a Roman Centurion guard. On knowing this, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly suggested that David Bowie to play Pontius Pilate "as a Scotsman". Bowie did not accept this advice.
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Because of the controversy surrounding his role in this movie, Willem Dafoe was refused a role in another historical epic movie, after the sponsors threatened to pull all funding if he was cast. Thus, the role of Doctor John Henry Holliday in Tombstone (1993) went to Val Kilmer instead.
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As of January 2002, the film cannot be shown on public television in Bulgaria. The National Television had scheduled it for showing, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church managed to get a forbidding order, and the Council of Electronic Media banned it.
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To get the film made, director Martin Scorsese offered to shoot the picture in a minimal fifty-eight days for a mere $7 million, which was half of its original budget when the picture was being developed at Paramount Pictures, upon which the Universal Studios greenlit the production. Due to the time constraints for principal photography, Scorsese developed a "minimalist aesthetic", many scenes were improvised and worked out on the run with little rehearsal and preparation. Scorsese once commented: "We worked in a state of emergency."
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The filmmakers were given such a paltry budget for their controversial project, that many economies had to be improvised. For example, Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene) had to continually re-apply her own mendhi tattoos (which kept streaking in the desert heat) because there were not enough makeup artists for everyone.
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Willem Dafoe filmed the scene where the cobras crawl into Jesus' hut with an extremely high fever.
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When the film was finally greenlit in the mid 1980s, Martin Scorsese offered the role of Jesus to Aidan Quinn, who had initially been cast during a previous attempt to make the film. Scorsese then considered Eric Roberts and Christopher Walken before casting Willem Dafoe.
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The author, Nikos Kazantzakis, made this disclaimer in a prologue to "The Last Temptation of Christ": "This book is not a biography; it is the confession of every man who struggles. In publishing it I have fulfilled my duty, the duty of a person who has struggled much, was much embittered in his life, and had many hopes. I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, better than ever before, love Christ."
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The film was released thirty-five years after its source novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis was published. Also known as "The Last Temptation", the novel was published in English in 1960, Martin Scorsese first optioned the film rights to the book during the late 1970s.
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The film attracted controversy not only in the United States, but also internationally due to the frontal nudity (especially from Jesus) in the crucifixion scenes, and the strong implication that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene.
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The television premiere of the film on Channel 4 in the mid 1990s used to hold the record for receiving the most complaints (1,554) about a broadcast on British television. That record was eclipsed by BBC2's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera (2005) on January 8, 2005, which drew more than fifty thousand complaints, many of which were submitted by Christians before the broadcast, offended by what they considered the blasphemous portrayal of Jesus in the program.
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When Martin Scorsese was planning the movie circa 1983 1984, Aidan Quinn was cast as Jesus, Sting was cast as Pontius Pilate, Vanity was cast as Mary Magdalene, and Ray Davies was cast as Judas Iscariot.
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Martin Scorsese's parents did not want him to direct this movie, because they were afraid for him, and for the backlash that the film would possibly garner, which of course it did.
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Martin Scorsese offered the role of Mary Magdalene to Kim Basinger, who turned it down because she didn't want to be typecast as a "femme fatale".
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Martin Scorsese's friend and The New Yorker Magazine's critic Jay Cocks worked uncredited to revise the screenplay by Paul Schrader. Cocks' contribution could not be credited due to contractual obligations, as well as WGA regulations, which Schrader admits was unfair.
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Sally Field was originally cast as Mary Magdalene, but had to drop out due to pregnancy.
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Had this movie been made immediately after Raging Bull (1980), Robert De Niro would reportedly have been in the running for the role of Jesus.
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Actor Willem Dafoe mentioned in a later interview that director Sergio Leone commented about Dafoe's role as Jesus: "That is the face of a murderer, not of Our Lord!"
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The film's disclaimer declares that the picture is not based on the Gospels, and is a departure from the usual general depiction of the life of Jesus Christ from the Bible.
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The original production design concept was developed by Boris Leven, who collaborated with Martin Scorsese since New York, New York (1977). However, Mr. Leven passed away in 1986 after completing The Color of Money (1986), and John Beard replaced him, with many of Mr. Leven's original designs forced to be abandoned, due to the budgetary limitations.
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Universal Pictures moved up the release date to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the picture.
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Reportedly, a church group offered to buy up all the prints of this movie for $10 million. Also, Campus Crusade for Christ's Bill Bright wanted to buy the negative of the picture from Universal Pictures so that it could be destroyed for good.
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The film was originally to be produced by Paramount Pictures, budgeted at $14 million, and shot on location in Israel. The project was aborted at the last minute in December 1983 when management at Paramount Pictures (and its parent company Gulf + Western) became nervous about the many letters of protest they were receiving from religious organizations, as well as the movie's ever increasing production budget. The film was going to be Martin Scorsese's next film after The King of Comedy (1982), but when it got cancelled, he went and made After Hours (1985) instead. Eventually, Universal Pictures and the theater chain Cineplex Odeon co-financed it with the budget cut down to $7 million, and shot in Morocco.
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Rated number six of the twenty-five most controversial movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly, June 16, 2006.
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Madonna auditioned for the part of Mary Magdalene.
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The first of three religious-themed films directed by Martin Scorsese, followed by Kundun (1997) and Silence (2016).
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Sidney Lumet had considered directing a version of The Last Temptation of Christ.
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The movie was banned and/or censored in several countries including Argentina, Chile and Mexico. The film is still banned in Singapore and the Philippines (as of December 2017).
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In a 2003 a Entertainment Weekly interview, David Carradine claimed to have been Martin Scorsese's first choice for the role of Jesus back in 1972.
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As of 2016, the only Martin Scorsese film to ever get nominated for the Razzie Awards.
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The film was briefly banned in São Paulo, Brazil, due to a conservative city Mayor opposed to the film's ideas. It got a theatrical release in the following year after his term had ended.
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In Chile, the film was banned by the cinematographic censor committee during Pinochet's right-wing military dictatorship. In 1996, the Consejo de Calificación Cinematográfica (Film Rating Board) lifted the ban, but an Opus Dei right-wing group took the case to the law and the film was banned again in 1997 by the Chilean Supreme Court. In 2001 the case was appealed by 6 Chilean lawyers at the The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which sentenced Chile to lift the ban and to pay a penalty fee. The film was finally released in 2003 in a limited screening.
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David Bowie filmed his role as Pontius Pilate in two days after finishing the Glass Spider tour.
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Scorsese regular Robert de Niro was originally offered the role of Jesus.
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As of 2018, this is the only film that Martin Scorsese was nominated for a Best Director Oscar in a non-Best Picture nominated film.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #70.
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Was number one on Gene Siskel's list of the "Best Films of 1988".
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Fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Harvey Keitel. The first since Taxi Driver (1976) and the last until The Irishman (2019).
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the four hundred movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Michael Been, the actor who portrays apostle John, was at the time also the lead singer of successful rock band The Call.
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When the movie was originally slated to be produce Scorsese originally wanted Prince protege Vanity to play Mary Magdalene. She was also slated to star in what would become another iconic movie of the 80's but was only offered $5000 to play in it. After speaking with her manager and many friends she dropped out of the musical and decided to star in "Last Temptation". Coincidentally, Last Temptation was delayed in 83 and 84 and the other film became a huge hit with Vanity not starring in either.
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Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel appeared in Lulu on the Bridge (1998) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
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Harry Dean Stanton appeared with Willem Dafoe in Wild at Heart (1990) and with David Bowie in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Both films were directed by David Lynch.
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The film is referenced in the title of the track "Your Kingdom, Your World" from the 1998 album "All About Satellites & Spaceships" by Seven Percent Solution, the track contains audio samples of the dialogue between Jesus (Willem Dafoe) and Pilate (David Bowie).
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Upon seeing Barry Miller's starring performance alongside Sean Penn, Madonna, and Harvey Keitel in a David Rabe play called "Goose And Tom-Tom" at New York City's Lincoln Center, Martin Scorsese decided to personally write him a letter offering him the important role of Jeroboam in the film, who elicits from Jesus "a startling confession of recognizing both the weakness and hypocrisy that lies within his own soul" prompting Jeroboam to convince him that this self-revelation of his flawed humanity is the proof that he is the truly awaited Messiah who must go and preach to the masses (The Sermon On The Mount)
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Willem Dafoe and David Bowie have subsequently worked with other actors who have portrayed their roles of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Dafoe and Christian Bale appeared together in American Psycho (2000) and Out of the Furnace (2013), while Bowie and Gary Oldman appeared in Basquiat (1996) and the music video David Bowie: The Next Day (2013) which carries a similar religious theme.
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