With a dramatic lack of fanfare, MCA Home Video has announced that director Martin Scorsese's controversial "The Last Temptation of Christ" will be released on home video on June 29 at $89.95. There were immediate indications that a protest is brewing.
The theatrical release of the movie, whose unorthodox depiction of Christ was denounced as blasphemous by some Christians, prompted protests and, in a few cases, violence. Some video retailers fear similar reprisals from activist fundamentalists.
A spokesman for a national chain, asking that his name not be used, said six of his stores in the Los Angeles area have received petitions from church groups stating that, if the stores stock the movie, they will be boycotted. He said stores in two other chains have received similar petitions.
MCA's decision to release the film came as something of a surprise because there had been industry rumors late last year that the company was trying to sell the home-video rights to another distributor.
Officials at MCA declined to comment on their home video plans, news of which appeared this week at the tail end of an MCA press release about its July video releases, which include "Talk Radio" and "The Cocoanuts." One source, however, indicated that the company would not be promoting or advertising the cassette.
A spot check of stores in the Bible Belt found that retailers either didn't want to discuss the release or were not planning to stock it. All contacted in those areas preferred to remain anonymous.
A few other retailers, though, did comment without specifying anonymity. Lou Berg of Houston's Audio-Video Plus said his stores would carry the film.
"It's a First Amendment issue," he said. "Retailers shouldn't bow to this kind of censorship. We'll carry it and see what happens."
Berg added, however, that he wouldn't advertise the video.
Harvey Dossick, director of purchasing for the worldwide West Coast Video chain, agreed that advertising wasn't wise. "That's just asking for trouble," he said.
Dossick said he planned to order "Last Temptation" fairly heavily for the chain--"as if it were a B+ or an A- title." He added that stores--particularly in heavily fundamentalist regions--would make their own decisions about stocking the title.
The movie grossed a modest $8 million, not much considering all the furor over the portrayal of Christ as an uncertain savior who fantasizes while dying on the cross.
"People were scared off by the boycotts and the protests," Dossick said. "They were all waiting to see it on home video. There's a big market for this movie. If stores stock it, people will rent it--many just out of curiosity."