• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Last Episodes of the Living Christ Series

    Just a few comments on the last two episodes of The Living Christ Series. I'll be using my normal citation guide, though please note that most of episode 11 and the crucifixion is found in all four gospels.


    Episode 11
    Clearing the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)
    Paying Taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17)
    Last Supper (Mark 14:17-31)
    Gethsemane (Mark 14:33-42)
    Arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:43-52)
    Trial before Caiaphas (Mark 14:53-64)
    Trial before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)
    Trial Before Herod (Luke 23:6-11)
    Jesus Sent to be Flogged (John 19:1-5)
    Jesus and Barabbas (Mark 15:6-15)

    Episode 12
    Judas Hangs Himself (Matt 27:3-10)
    Crucifixion - All Seven Phrases (Mark 15:22-32)
    Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-47)
    Jewish Leaders Request a Guard (Matt 27:62-66)
    Peter Narrates his denial (Mark 14:66-72)
    Women at The Tomb (Mark 16:1-8)
    Peter at The Tomb (John 20:2-7)*
    Upper Room (John 20:19-25)
    Appearance to Thomas (John 20:26-29)

    A few notes
    It is interesting that despite the extensive screen time of this series, the story of Peter's denial is missed out in episode 11 and included only as Peter explains his actions later on. Peter in general in the series is fairly anonymous. Whilst he does declare that Jesus is the Messiah, most of the mistakes that are recounted so particularly in Mark are omitted in this series. However, when it comes to Peter going to the tomb - he goes alone (contrary to John's gospel - the only one that places Peter at the tomb in the first place), specifically instructing others not to come with him. An interesting divergence from the text.

    This film excludes the controversial line from Matt 27:25 "his blood be on us and our children", and includes Caiaphas' prophetic statement from John 11:50 "better that one man die for all the people than the nation should perish". These particular lines have been very significant in the debate about anti-Semitism. The verse from Matthew has long been associated with anti-Semitism, whereas the latter verse from John has been key in unpicking what some of the motives were that caused the Jewish Leaders to hand Jesus over to the hated Romans. Interestingly enough, this film was made before the Second Vatican council which passed various statements on anti-Semitism, and these particular lines in general.

    It's interesting how the writers saved Judas' death for the start of the final episode - as if to heighten the contrast between him and Jesus. For what it's worth as in all Jesus films, Judas dies by hanging himself (as recorded by Matthew), rather than by falling headlong (as per Luke's account in Acts 1:18)

    This film includes all seven of Jesus' last words from the cross, whereas most Jesus films omit one or two

    Overall Impressions
    Whilst I still haven't posted my thoughts on the first three episodes of this series, I would like to comment on the series as a whole now, rather than later.

    One of the most important factors in the assessment of a Jesus film is obviously how Jesus himself is portrayed. From today's point of view Robert Wilson's performance does seem very stiff and stodgy. It's worth putting a context around this film however. The last American Jesus film before this was produced around 25 years before - The King of Kings (1927). The next would be almost 10 years later - Nicholas Ray's King of Kings, followed swiftly by George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told. It's also worth pointing out that prior to these later 2 films Hollywood had avoided showing Jesus directly for 34 years.

    In this context, then, The Living Christ Series and it's film spin offs I Beheld His Glory, and Day of Triumph exhibit a far more nuanced performance than was common at the time. The scene where Jesus sheds a tear when he arrives at the temple (included in both the series and Day of Triumph) was ahead of it's time, and whilst Robert Wilson's voice often lacks enough emotion, it stands up well compared to that of Jeffery Hunter in King of Kings. Hunter had to go through the whole film and dub on a more sincere voice.

    The selection of narratives is also strong in this series, including episodes that many Jesus films expunged because they inferred too much with their overall portrait. In fact this film, more than any other that springs to mind seems to be content to show each scene as it may have occurred without trying to tie it into a coherent overall picture, or force it into a particular agenda. The overall shape of the narrative isn't really damaged by this, and as such it's a refreshingly neutral approach to the subject. No film is entirely neutral, and this one shows it's biases just like any other (see above for an example). Some of the worst offenders are those films which claim to be without interpretation such as the Visual Bible's Version of Matthew which forces it's agenda of a happy American apple pie Jesus onto every scene, forcing him to laugh smile and goof around when it really doesn't fit. The biggest downside is that this film often lacks a bit of creativity, and rarely offers a new way of looking at things which may challenge existing prejudices - although the first episode is a notable exception.

    That said watched together the episodes don't work so well. That's not a major criticism - it was never the function of the film, but today's audiences might want to bear that in mind and watch one or two episodes together rather than expect to get through it all in a couple of sittings.

    It's also interesting how much more closely the episodes stick to the original narratives than the later films. Both of the later films use more sophisticated narrative devices like flashbacks, and in-character narrators to give the basic story a more film plot based screenplay.

    I'll post my thoughts on the opening three episodes shortly.

    Matt

    Labels:

    4 Comments:

    • At 2:05 pm, October 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Hi Matthew.
      Once before I sent comment for From
      the manger to the cross. I watched
      The Living Christ series some time
      before and I like them a lot.While
      I was waiting for the DVD to arrive,you were encouraging me with
      your blog reviews.When I watched this episodes (11 - 12) I noticed
      that there is great deference between I beheld his glory and
      the series (Last supper, the Getsemane events ...) only the
      scene with the Caesar's taxes is
      the same.

      Greetings,
      Anonymous.

       
    • At 8:21 pm, October 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Hi Matthew.
      Once before I sent comment for From
      the manger to the cross. I watched
      The Living Christ series some time
      before and I like them a lot.While
      I was waiting for the DVD to arrive,you were encouraging me with
      your blog reviews.When I watched this episodes (11 - 12) I noticed
      that there is great deference between I beheld his glory and
      the series (Last supper, the Getsemane events ...) only the
      scene with the Caesar's taxes is
      the same.

      Greetings,
      Anonymous.

       
    • At 9:03 am, November 09, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Hi Anon,

      Thanks for your comments and sorry I've been so slow to reply. I'm still trying to work out the exact relationship between I Beheld his Glory, Day of Triumph and The Living Christ series. There's definitely some borrowing, but I can't work out which is original and what's borrowed from where. I do wonder if some scenes were even re-filmed but almost entirely the same.

      Matt

       
    • At 11:03 am, December 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      HI MATT

      I have answer to your problem. I've
      found a history of Cathedral films (I
      do not know the name of the site).There
      is a history of the Living Christ series.
      It's said that episodes 11 and 12 are
      recorded in 1957 and the Taxes to Caesar
      scene is recorded in 1952 from I beheld
      his glory.Now it is known from where the
      scene is borrowed.

       

    Post a Comment

    Links to this post:

    Create a Link

    << Home