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  • 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.


    Name:
    Matt Page

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    Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    Living Bible - Episodes 3 & 4 (UK version)

    I'm currently working my way through the UK DVD release of The Living Bible. (My notes on part 1 are here along with a very useful comment from WitlessD on the series as a whole). One thing that puzzled me when I first came across the release in October is why the third episode is called "Thirty Pieces of Silver", as the title would seem to apply to Judas's betrayal towards the end of the story. As it turns our it does apply to that part of the story so I'm still mystified as to why that is. According to WitlessD's list it should be episode 18. Citations are in the usual manner.
    Episode 3 - Thirty Pieces of Silver
    Apocalyptic discourse - (Luke 21:5-19)
    Passion prediction - (Mark 8:31-38)
    Plot against Jesus - (Mark 14:1-2; John 11:45-53)
    Anointing at Bethany - (John 12:1-8)
    Judas agrees to Betray Jesus - (Mark 14:10-11)
    Notes
    The apocalyptic discourse is present, but, as with most portrayals of it, greatly abbreviated. However, here it particularly concentrates on the first part of Luke's discourse, notably the inclusion of the "governors and kings line from v12, which Matthew places much earlier (ch.10). This line is spoken several times by Anthony Hopkins in Peter and Paul, which draws attention to the possible manner in which Luke was using it here, namely to predict in part 1 of Luke-Acts the events that would happen in part 2 (and the possible reason why Theophilus was reading it).

    After the Passion prediction, the story line reflects the first 11 verses of Mark, but expands it, by using the accounts from John, and even contradicts Mark in places. For example, the "Plot against Jesus" section occurs first in this sequence, but whereas Mark shows the Jewish leaders seeking to avoid arresting him during the Passover, the film has them choosing this time as he will be within their grasp in Jerusalem.

    By contrast the final scene where Judas decides to betray Jesus is an amalgamation of Mark's description and John's motive. The internal dialogue of Judas here reveals his motive to be part disillusionment, but equally the chance to make up for wasting three years with Jesus by earning some money.

    The "Anointing at Bethany" scene is one of those rare passages where Mark's original account bears almost as close a relation to John as the two other Synoptics despite a great deal of variation before all four accounts. The only common elements in all four stories other than Jesus's presence are the presence of a woman, that perfume was used and that there were some objections. The version here ignores Luke, the most different from the other three and uses a roughly equal number of details from each of the other three (although it included more vivid details from John than the other two).

    The details of episode 4 – "Jesus and the Lepers" are as follows:
    Episode 4 - Jesus and the Lepers
    Leper Background - (Very loosely linked to Lev 14:1-57)
    Jesus heals a single leper - (Mark 1:40-45)
    Call down fire on Samaritans - (Luke 9:51-56, John 3:17)
    Jesus heals 10 Lepers - (Luke 17:11-19)
    Notes
    Like Luke's gospel this episode includes both Jesus healing a single leper, and him healing 10 and like Luke's account, the only one who returns is a Samaritan. This ties in with Luke's theme of the gospel being received in all nations.

    This episode also incorporates the rare (as far as Jesus films are concerned) incident where James and John offer to call down fire on a Samaritan town that refuses them. This incident, also from Luke, is often linked to James and John's nickname "the sons of thunder" and also comes straight after they have seen God perform miracles at their behest. They seem to have got carried away on this occasion. This story nicely offsets the pro-Samaritan slant of the later incident. However, in neither story do the Jews come out very well.

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    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    The Ten: First Reviews and a Release Date

    David Wain's Ten Commandments spoof The Ten has been playing at Sundance Film Festival over the last couple of weeks, and the first few reviews are now in.

    Fastest to the draw, as ever, are Variety where the reviewer is keen to stress the film's bad taste, (something, it seems, he generally enjoyed).
    Only Christians with a very liberal sense of humor are likely to enjoy The Ten. Even lay viewers will need to be tolerant of gags as envelope-pushing as anything in Borat.

    That said, The Ten doesn't go out of its way to blaspheme or otherwise poke fun at religion; it's simply that nothing is sacred, and the tastelessness is almost always funny first and nasty second -- which is more than can be said for most mainstream comedies.
    The review also adds that Paul Rudd's character hosts the other sections, before starring in the final one himself. It also gives a fair bit of detail for each of the vignettes, which as they are on average less than 10 minutes each, may not leave much else for us to discover for ourselves (which some people like and some people don't). It's a common approach though. Scott Weinberg at Cinematical goes one further giving a one to ten rundown of each episode. He's less keen on the film overall, though.
    Basically I'd call The Ten a "glass half full" experience. While some of the skits yield precisely zero in the laughs department (far as I'm concerned, anyway), a few of 'em hit me square in the funny bone and had me chuckling like a dork...Obviously not a mainstream-style comedy that'll appeal to a wide audience of braying knuckleheads (like, say, Meet the Fockers), The Ten feels a little like a "cult flick" waiting to happen.
    Lastly, there are two reviews on the film at Ain't it Cool. The first includes a (blurred) picture of David Wain and some of the cast (including Rudd) and is fairly positive, but seems lukewarm in comparison with the second which actually uses the word "hilarious" four times in its single paragraph.

    In other news, Yahoo has the news that THINKFilm has picked up the American distribution rights, and it looks likes this will reach cinemas this summer (2007).

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    Monday, January 29, 2007

    Podcast: Greatest Story Ever Told

    Having taken a month off from podcasting from Christmas, I'm back this month with some comments on George Stevens's The Greatest Story Ever Told.

    This is the third Jesus Films Podcast I've done now. The other two, November's Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew - 1964), and October's Jesus of Nazareth (1977) are both still available to download.

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    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Book Review "Jesus of Hollywood"

    Scholarship on Jesus in Film has really come of age in the last ten years. 1997 saw the publication of two books which sought to examine the relationship between Jesus Christ and the cinema - Lloyd Baugh's "Imaging the Divine" and W. Barnes Tatum's "Jesus at the Movies". Two years later Stern, Jefford and Debona published "Savior on the Silver Screen" and in 2003 Richard Walsh added "Reading the Gospels in the Dark".

    During that period, Adele Reinhartz's output has been fairly prolific, writing various chapters, articles and papers on the subject as well as teaching courses at the University of Ottawa. In a sense then, "Jesus of Hollywood", her own contribution to the field, is long overdue.

    The challenge for a writer seeking to contribute to this, now significant, body of work is how to bring something fresh to it. The first three volumes mentioned above devoted each chapter to one or two of the major films and looked at each different interpretation in light of the four gospels. Walsh's book followed a similar format, but sought instead to look at each film in comparison to the single gospel it most resembled.

    "Jesus of Hollywood" takes a completely different approach. Instead of looking at the subject film by film, the main body of the book looks at the gospels and the films character by character, giving a chapter to each. The strength of this method is that it allows Reinhartz to focus on the trends across the genre, as well as highlighting the differences between films on specific issues. For example, chapter 10 looks at the Pharisees, and the way that their portrayal on film could lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Reinhartz concludes that "it would seem that the filmmakers themselves are not particularly interested in the historical Pharisees but only in the dramatic purposes which they can be put to".1 However, she also notes how "Arcand’s identification of the Pharisees, and the Jewish opposition to Jesus, with the Catholic Church circumvents the potential anti-Semitism that is problematic in the Jesus movie genre".2

    Each of these chapters starts with a brief introduction before looking at how that character / those characters are portrayed in the gospels, and then how that compares to their portrayal in the various biopics Reinhartz is concerned with. On occasions different aspects of the character(s) are looked at in series, in other chapters one or two films are analysed particularly closely. Any relevant historical points are either noted in the introduction or the chapter’s conclusion.

    This main section is topped and tailed by two introductory chapters (which form part 1), and a brief Afterword. The opening section acts as a lens through which the reader views the rest of the book. It is here that Reinhartz raises doubts about the absolute historicity of the gospels, and how the biopics distort that further. In considering Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal she notes how "their very departures depend upon expectations audiences have developed on the basis of films such as DeMille’s The King of Kings and the epics of the 1950s and '60s".3

    Another advantage of the chapters by characters approach is that it enables Reinhartz to pick and choose the films she wishes to discuss depending on their relevance to the topic in hand. This results in the more popular, but less interesting, films not being explored so much, whilst a number of lesser known films get far greater prominence in this work than they have elsewhere. So Reinhartz discusses the silent films Der Galiläer, INRI, and Christus (none of which I have ever seen), as well as more recent films such as Golgotha, Il Messia, and The Milky Way. "Jesus of Hollywood" also has the advantage of being written after the glut of Jesus film released either in the run up to the Millennium or very shortly thereafter. So it is the first work of it’s kind to consider The Miracle Maker, Roger Young’s Jesus and the Gospel of John. (Reinhartz also discusses The Passion of the Christ which the second edition of Tatum’s book also considered). There are a couple of surprise omissions. Discussion of Mary, the Mother of Jesus perhaps would have enhanced the chapter on Jesus’s mother. Likewise the evaluation of Joseph might have benefited from including Hail Mary.

    The other major strength of "Jesus of Hollywood" is Reinhartz’s writing style. The lively, flowing prose, is complemented by its clarity all of which makes engaging reading. Reinhartz’s substantial use of quotes from many of the films is an excellent way of illustrating many of the points she seeks to make, as well as giving the reader a feel for films they are unfamiliar with. There is the occasional bit of unnecessary repetition (such as the observation about Jesus’s house in Young’s film)4, but this does not distract from the whole too greatly.

    It is unlikely that this will be the last book published exploring Jesus in Film, particularly as new films about the life of Christ are being made all the time. But this book’s character based approach, as well as Reinhartz’s insightful but non-judgemental observations regarding anti-Semitism mean that this is a significant edition to the canon.

    ============

    1 – p.211
    2 – p.211
    3 – p.39
    4 – See p.94 and p.117

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    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Last King of Scotland Review at rejesus

    I'm going to be writing some film reviews for the website re:jesus who, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago have started a new blog.

    I've been a fan of the main site for sometime. I guess I just like the clear and accessible way it is laid out, and the neutral stance they take in many of their pieces. I particulary like their "Faces of Jesus" series, as well as the way they have dealt with some of the more controversial films such as The Da Vinci Code (my review), and The Passion of the Christ (my review)

    Anyway, my first review, on Last King of Scotland, went up on Monday, and I'll hopefully be contributing every week or so.

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    "Through a Screen Darkly" now available

    Back in September I mentioned my friend Jeffrey Overstreet's (then) forthcoming book Through a Screen Darkly. Technically it's not meant to be available until the 5th February, but Amazon already have it in stock, and I have a number of friends who have their copies already.

    I decided a while back, however, that I'm not going to review this book. In honesty, I'm just far too excited by it's publication to be able to give any kind of rational, objective critique. I first "met" Jeffrey back in 2002, and in the intervening period he has taught me an incredible amount about film criticism and has been a constant inspiration. He's also a thoroughly decent bloke. Articulate, and passionate, but willing to put his hands up on the rare occasion he makes a mistake. And the guy just has a great way with words, which is a tremendous advantage when you're writing a book.

    Even though I'm not going to review the book, I will definitely be getting a copy very soon (and adding it to my wish list in the meantime - ooh, a quick plug for my brother's excellent free & independent wish list site GiftsList.co.uk), particularly as it's available in the UK as well.

    Jeffrey also has an Amazon blog for the book. There are also a number of reviews out for "Through a Screen Darkly" already.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Color of the Cross - Review

    Given the scores of Anglo-Saxons who have played Jesus, it is incredible to think that Color of the Cross is the first historical film where a black actor has portrayed history's most famous man. Even now, it has taken one man – Jean Claude La Marre – to do a huge amount of the work himself. La Marre wrote, produced and directed the film as well as playing its lead character. The publicity surrounding this film has all been about Jesus's skin color, and La Marre has been fairly vocal about his desire for the film to help the African-American community to see themselves in a new light.

    What is unexpected about this film is the way it is also so Jewish. Films about Jesus have largely ignored his Jewish identity. There have, of course, been some token efforts, prayer shawls here, and Aramaic dialogue there, but this film certainly emphasises the Jewishness of Jesus more than any I can recall.

    Take, for example, his name. In nearly every other New Testament movie he is called "Jesus" – the Germanised, Latinised version of the Greek translation of his Hebrew name Yeshua (a shortened version of Yehoshua). Here he is called "Yoshua". Other examples include frequent references to the Torah, rabbis and Seders. There are Jewish prayers spoken in Hebrew, and the Romans frequently spit the word "Jew" at those they have dominion over.

    When the film comes to the Last Supper, it is placed in context as the footage of Yoshua and his disciples eating is intercut with footage of two other groups also sharing a Passover meal – Yoshua's family, a group of Jewish leaders. In the former, Yoshua's younger brother even asks the question reserved for the youngest person at the table as a way of involving the children in this important celebration. The camera dwells on the bitter herbs and other visual aspects of a traditional Jewish Passover meal.

    The film also invests time dwelling on those around the margins of the biblical story. Yoshua's family also heavily features. Joseph is still alive and comforts his wife, teases his daughters and advises his sons, including James who is torn between his responsibilities at home and supporting his brother. Likewise Thaddeus, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas are far more prominent amongst the disciples here than they are in the gospels.

    Conversely, the least likeable Jewish characters are Peter and Gamaliel. Gamaliel nails his colours to the mast early on. "I find him to be a very learned man…but he's black, and to say that he is the messiah, it is blasphemy." Peter, on the other hand, is not racist, simply irritating. He is always trying to be the purest and the best of Yoshua's disciples. A (self-appointed?) leader, unaware of the way Yoshua is demonstrating how the first shall be last and the last shall be first. At the same time he is proud, indignant, and arrogant and he is frequently complaining.

    The central question of Color of the Cross is whether one of the main reasons that Jesus was executed was because he was black. This is not simply an incarnational film seeking to reinvent the story of Jesus for a specific people. (If so, all of the Jewish characters would be black. Instead, the other Jewish characters are predominantly played by white actors – wisely the major exception here is Judas). The advance publicity for the film claimed that Jesus really was black, based on the description in Revelation 1:14-15. Whilst this seems unlikely, the presence of Moses's "Cushite" wife amongst the people of Israel in their early days shows that it may have been at least possible for other races to have been assimilated into the Jewish people.

    Ultimately, the film refuses to answer this crucial question. Early on in the film Mary asks Joseph, "Do you think they doing this to him because he is black?" and the camera zooms in to emphasise the question. But Joseph denies this. "No they're doing this because he's the messiah." Another early scene shows Caiaphas being put under pressure by a Roman official to make sure the peace is kept, and he agrees to hand any troublemakers over if necessary.

    Other members of the Sanhedrin seem to be motivated more by the claims of blasphemy. For some, such as Gamaliel, the idea of a black Messiah is blasphemy. And when members of the Sanhedrin link their judgements to those of the crowd outside – race is clearly one of the issues that motivates them. Yet other Rabbis seem to be against Jesus more on purely religious grounds. Of course Joseph's response could simply be seen as him commenting on the bigger picture. Yoshua is dying because that is what he believes the messiah must do. Perhaps the motivation for Yoshua's death is irrelevant to his father.

    The problem with some of this is that it can end up looking like the Jews themselves are racist. The Romans are largely absent in this film, in fact Pilate is neither mentioned nor even seen. Gamaliel's statement that Yoshua needed bringing in to protect him from the crowd implies that Jesus is at risk from a racially motivated lynch mob. Whilst the group of rabbis all take different views, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are deeply uncertain rather than strictly pro-Yoshua, and their (white) intellectual dithering is too weak-willed to offer any resistance against those who seek to harm him (a possible indictment on equally ambiguous white liberals today). Other members of the Sanhedrin seem to forget their Torah in their desire to see Yoshua crucified.

    From a filmmaking point of view the results here are uneven. There are a number of interesting shots, particularly as the film draws to a close. There are also one or two interesting montages, such as the one depicting Yoshua washing his disciples' feet and the one following his death.

    Moreover, the film has two particularly masterful moments. Firstly, Yoshua's prayers in Gethsemane are incredibly powerful. With the camera right in his face, LaMarre portrays such fear and desperation that it makes the scene uncomfortable viewing. The shot also evokes images from other films that depict black men awaiting a violent, racially motivated death.

    The other is the cut from Yoshua's arrest straight to his crucifixion. It's unclear as to whether this is a reaction to the overly long trial sequence in The Passion of the Christ, or simply a way of emphasising the story's modern parallels. The crucifixion scene is brief, reflecting the disdain of Yoshua's persecutors. There is no calmly meditative dwelling on this man's death and the meaning of sacrifce. The execution is over in a minute. Yoshua is dispatched just like numerous other rebels at the same time. The dispassionate under-emphasis on his death is somewhat shocking.

    The film is a let down in other areas, however. The acting is uneven, and the music is mediocre. Whilst the script certainly has points of interest, in other places it is weak. At times it is over earnest, for example when Jesus comments on the beautiful fur of a black sheep. In other places it is simply inane such as when Mary Magdalene reveals that she let Judas have sex with her in order to delay his betrayal, or when the Boy Yoshua reveals he is the Son of God. Worst of all is when the soldiers arrive in Gethsemane and Peter claims to be Yoshua even though Yosuha has already identified himself. And yes, he really does say "I'm Yoshua".

    Such weaknesses mar, rather than completely dissolve, the film's points of interest, but thankfully a handful of strong scenes remain. It's certainly not destined to be a classic, but it's an utterly worthwhile project if only for being the first film to give African Americans a Jesus they can relate to.

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    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Tyler Williams on "Jesus of Hollywood"



    Back in November, I mentioned Adele Reinhartz's forthcoming book "Jesus of Hollywood". My copy arrived on Friday, and I've been eagerly reading it over the weekend hoping to post an early review. Unfortunately, Codex's Tyler Williams has beaten me to it.

    My own review should be up within a week.

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    Another new Mary Film? Myriam, Mother of the Christ

    Peter Chattaway has another scoop. According to the Hollywood Reporter, MGM has gained the rights to a new film about the mother of Jesus. Myriam, Mother of the Christ has been written by Benedict Fitzgerald who also wrote The Passion of the Christ and who will also produce it alongside Richard Garzilli, John Garbett and Erik Lomis.

    Peter makes some great observations. Personally, I have a number of questions regarding timing. Firstly, does the timing of this announcement signify that MGM were encouraged by the turnout for The Nativity Story, or that they think New Line botched it? Does planning to show the film at Easter (2008) mean that they have given up hope of Christian related material getting aired at Christmas, and that the more overtly Christian Easter time might be more profitable? Finally, there are now at least three bible films heading for an Easter 2008 release (this, the BBC's as yet unnamed project and The Resurrection). Admittedly one is a British television project, but the other two would rather seem to clash. I wonder if box office clash between films written by the (presumably) Catholic Fitzgerald, and the evangelical La Haye will result in the coalition which resulted in such success for The Passion of the Christ splitting to leave neither film the winner.

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    Nativity News vol.19

    Here's a series I didn't think I'd be resurrecting until much later in the year! Over at FilmChat Peter Chattaway has revealed that The Nativity Story will be released on DVD on the 20th March (which, as he notes, is in time for the Feast of the Annunciation on the 25th).

    I think this must be part of a multi-layered DVD marketing strategy. The obvious time for a DVD release would be around October, so it is in people's minds in the run up to Christmas. The fact that this version of the DVD has no special features (other than one of the two trailers) even though there were 5 featurettes on the official website, suggests a special edition DVD release will be made available later, perhaps even as early as this Christmas (as I originally expected). There will, however, be both widescreen and "full-frame" version of the film on the disc, something which might not be available in later releases.

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    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Story of Ruth - Scene Guide


    I reviewed Henry Koster's 1960 film The Story of Ruth last week, and, as usual wanted to follow it up with some scene analysis.
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Death of Kilion and Elimelech - (Ruth 1:1-5)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Mahlon dies - (Ruth 1:5)
    Orpah returns Ruth stays - (Ruth 1:6-18)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Return to Bethlehem - (Ruth 1:19-22)
    Ruth Gleans Boaz's field - (Ruth 2:1-23)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor - (Ruth 3:1-18)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Boaz buys off his kinsman - (Ruth 4:1-8)
    Ruth marries Boaz - (Ruth 4:9-13)
    Genealogy - (Ruth 4:17-22)
    Notes
    The film's runtime is just over 2 hours, and it's interesting how the biblical material is spread over those 130 minutes. The first thing to note is that the halfway point of the film occurs before Naomi even gets to return to Nazareth. So, as is often the case with biblical films, the film is particularly interested to set up the background story and the characters. As I noted in my review the film is particularly interested in the character of Mahlon, and the role he has in revealing his God to Ruth.

    Because the book of Ruth is 4 chapters, it's all too easy to divide up a two hour film into four sections and see how the map to one another. So 90 minutes through lands in the middle of Ruth and Boaz's greatly embellished courtship (middle of chapter 2), and the two hour mark arrives whilst Ruth and Boaz are still at the threshing room floor. The action packed last ten or so minutes wraps up the end of chapter 3, and deals with chapter 4, which is admittedly fairly brief.

    The appearance of an mystery figure who may simply be a holy prophet, or may be just an angel is imported from a number of other biblical stories, in particular the prediction of Abraham's son (Genesis 18), Jacob wrestling (32), Gideon's call (Judges 6), prediction of Samson's birth (Judges 13). The latter two examples are fairly contemporary with the story of Ruth, and so such an import is not so far fetched. The first two examples it is unclear exactly whether the person(s) in question are men angels or even God himself.

    The famous scene where Ruth decides to stay with Naomi was a little weak. Orpah offered very little resistance (despite the fact she had been an established part of the family for quite some time), and Naomi doesn't seem to try too hard to dissuade Ruth from joining her (despite her previous antagonism).

    Likewise the scene of Ruth and Boaz at the threshing room floor was very restrained. The biblical account clearly has Ruth lying somewhere in the vicinity of Boaz. If taken literally "at his feet" seems fairly subservient (and is she pointing in the same direction as Boaz, or at 90o)? Some scholars, however, have suggested that feet is a euphemism for male genitals.

    The American film industry was still under the Hays Production Code at the time so that, at least, would have been far too racy for them to show. However, the film uses subtle distinctions here to explain why Tob (the closer kinsman) relinquishes his claim, but also is able to stress that Ruth is still upright and that therefore Boaz has not compromised himself.

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    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Living Bible - Episodes 1 & 2 (UK version)

    Back in October, I mentioned the release of The Living Bible on DVD in the UK. I mentioned this series when I first started this blog. What is interesting that the US version and the UK version of these films are definitely different. The US version I have is 12 half hour episodes, whereas the UK version is twelve 15 minute episodes. Not only does this mean that each episodes handles it's bookends differently, but also some of that held between them is different. I'll post more on that as I go through the series, but for now I'm going to look at episodes 1 and 2 of the UK version. (This corresponds roughly to episode 1 of the US version).
    Episode 1
    [extra-biblical episodes - Intro]
    Prophecy about Jesus - (Is 9:6)
    Annunciation - (Luke 1-26-38)
    Elizabeth and Mary - (Luke 1:24,39-44)
    Magnificat - (Luke 1:46-49)
    Joseph's Dream - (Matt 1:18-24)
    Census - (Luke 2:1-5)
    Birth of Jesus - (Luke 2:6-7)
    Shepherds and the Angels - (Luke 2:8-16)
    Prophecy about Jesus - (Is 9:6)

    Episode 2
    Circumcision of Jesus - (Luke 2:21-24)
    Simeon and Anna - (Luke 2:25-40)
    Wise Men and Herod - (Matt 2:1-8)
    Wise Men and Jesus - (Matt 2:9-12)
    Escape to Egypt - (Matt 2:13-15)
    Slaughter of the Infants - (Matt 2:16-18)
    Return to Nazareth - (Matt 2:19-23)
    [extra-biblical episodes - Life in Nazareth]
    The Boy Jesus - (Luke 2:41-52)
    Notes
    Firstly, a comparison with what I wrote about the US version of these episodes is interesting. Episode 1 of the UK version ends by repeating the initial prophecy of Isaiah from Is 9:6. Episode 2 then starts with a new intro. But there are other changes as well. There is (from memory / record) a shorter version of the scene with Zechariah and Elizabeth, although I'd have to double check to be sure. Similarly it doesn't appear that the US version includes the scenes from Nazareth of Jesus growing up, (but again it might just be that I didn't note them when I watched the US version). Later on in the series, though, I believe the differences are more significant.

    Having watched a number of nativity films / scenes since I first commented on this series, I can't help but be impressed by it's economy and ability to contain nearly all of the biblical material. The conception and birth of John are absent, but otherwise pretty much all of the nativity data from Matthew and Luke is present. The scenes lack the dramatic impact of some of the other films, and the characterisations are much shallower, but nevertheless I appreciate the approach for what it is.

    It really stood out for me watching this film this time how awkwardly Matthew explains Jesus's return from Egypt (Matt 2:19-23). Matthew does occasionally explain something in a way that is fairly confusing, usually when he's trying to be too clever and communicate too many ideas at once (c.f. Matt 27:51-53). Here is both trying to explain Joseph's legitimate fear, but continue to portray him as a man lead by God, and gaining inspiration (like his biblical namesake) from his dreams. So Joseph gets two dreams in 5 verses - one telling him to return to Israel, and then another telling him to go to Galilee. But that second movement is also linked to Joseph's fear of Herod Archelaus. Perhaps I'm making something out of nothing, but I've a host of questions about these few verses.

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    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    The Story of Ruth - Review

    Many scholars see Ruth as a relatively late addition to the Hebrew bible, brought in (along with Jonah) around the time of Ezra either to balance, or directly rebuke the rise of anti-gentile sentiment amongst the Israelites. Interestingly then, Henry Koster's 1960 film The Story of Ruth could be argued to be fulfilling the same function in mid-twentieth century America.

    In many ways Koster's film is a rebuff to DeMile's The Ten Commandments. There, DeMille pitched the Israelites as proto-Americans who God delivered from the dictator led Egyptians in a prefiguring of the cold war. Norman Corwin's script frequently inserts references to the Israelite laws regarding care for aliens as if throwing out the challenge to an increasingly paranoid America. If the US wanted to see itself as the new Israel, then it had better start acting like it.

    One of the by-products of McCarthyism was that many screen writers with leftist sympathies had to leave Hollywood and head for pastures new. Naomi's return to Bethlehem also perhaps mirrors the return home of a number of writers as a decade of paranoia and suspicion subsided.

    The other contribution The Story of Ruth has to make is it's midrashic extrapolation of the biblical text. The book of Ruth is just four short chapters long, and some of the most pivotal figures are dead almost before the story has begun. Naomi and Ruth's husbands, Elimelech and Mahlon, make unusual yet significant decisions Elimelech moves his family to a foreign land, and Mahlon takes a foreign wife.

    The Story of Ruth takes its time over this pre-story, at least as far as Mahlon is concerned. Of all the figures in the film, he is the one who is the most readily identifiable with a biblical epic archetype. Whilst his character is far more fleshed out than in the scriptures, he is certainly far simpler than Boaz turns out to be. On the one hand, Mahlon is good, upright and moral, particular in contrast to the child sacrificing Moabites he lives amongst. But come the odd bit of injustice, he is perfectly willing to fight with a sword, and set fire to a vast set in order to make his escape.

    The focus of these early scenes is Ruth, and her metamorphosis from a idol worshipping pagan to a God fearing one. Indoctrinated from childhood, it is only when she meets with someone from another faith that she questions her own. It turns out that she was good at heart all along. All of which raises two questions – why if such good people existed in non-Israelite tribes were those tribes so indiscriminately slaughtered on occasion. Secondly, if that situation was the case then, it surely must have something to say about those pockets of contemporary Christianity which see all members of other religions as destined for damnation.

    Once Ruth's transformation is complete, however, she gradually becomes less of the focus, and Naomi and Boaz move to centre stage. The two are not on good terms. Boaz is much changed from his youth, and torn between politics, the law and soon his love for Ruth. In contrast to the biblical accounts Boaz is brutish with Ruth when he first meets her and remains distant for some time. This is contrasted with the reaction of his kinsman, Tob, who's first meeting with Ruth results in him forsaking opportunities to claim property, and being overly helpful to Ruth and her mother-in-law.

    Portraying these two male leads in such a fashion allows the film to try and negotiate some of the strangest customs mentioned in the bible. The gleaning laws have been preserved in the text of Leviticus (23:22), but what exactly the story was with the exchange of the sandal and the subtleties of the inheritance laws are far less clear. Some of these are brought to prominence others sidelined. Indeed it could be argued that Tob refusing the wealth Boaz offers him demonstrates that his motives are the very opposite of his biblical counterpart.

    In the end, however, Tob's attitude to women is that which would have been standard in biblical times – they were seen as property. Whilst Tob's last gasp change of heart is muddled and unconvincing, it does highlight that Boaz actually loves her. In fact, even in the bible that appears to be the case. The film dilutes this observation, however, by portraying the norm as marriage for love rather than possession / survival. It is fairly likely that the person Ruth would have loved the most would have been Naomi.

    The film also touches on the role of both Naomi and Ruth in the ancestry of King David. It cleverly gets around the book's inserting a narrator by inserting an angel / holy man / prophet into a couple of scenes. He not only predicts their role in David's line, but also that of one "who some say will be the messiah". The phrasing is sufficiently ambiguous to avoid offending either Christians or Jews. Biblical scholars, however, cannot fail to spot the anachronism of talking about a messiah long before anyone in Israel had any concept of what one might be.

    The greatest weakness of The Story of Ruth, however, is that it is twenty minutes too long. There is much unnecessary material inserted into the story when really the film should be wrapping up. A sub-plot concerning two Moabite soldiers trying to track Ruth down, and their attempt to stir up trouble for her with the townsfolk is muddled, cheesy and banal. Whilst it serves to deepen Boaz's complexity a little, overall it detracts from much of the good work elsewhere. Likewise Mahlon's rescue scene seems to have been added largely to increase the entertainment factor, which studio exces may have been concerned about given the absence of orgy scenes and scantily clad women.

    Without those two excesses the film would have been brave indeed. Without battle scenes and overly demonstrative love affairs typical of epic films of the period, the film is able to take a far more serious look at some of the real issues behind the story. An early miracle makes it clear that this is a film that recognises God in all that will go on, but that will be concentrating on the other issues that surround this unusual story.

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    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    New Bible Films Released on DVD

    Just before Christmas, I mentioned that the "definitive edition" of The Passion of the Christ was to be released on DVD. For those who weren't yet aware, it will be released on the 30th Jan 2007.

    Also released to DVD on the same day is last year's film about Esther, One Night With The King. There's some info about the DVD on the FoxFaith website. From the information presented there won't be any extras to speak of, other than English / Spanish subtitle options. The aspect ratio will be 1.78:1 (widescreen). I must admit I'm a little surprised that the film is being released to DVD so soon after its cinema run. I suppose it will mean it is available in the run up to Purim.

    Even more surprising is the news that Jean Claude La Marre's black Jesus film Color of the Cross has already been released on DVD. There's no info about it on the FoxFaith site, but it's available to buy through Amazon and all the usual outlets. In terms of extras again there are English / Spanish subtitles (as well as French), but there is also a behind-the-scenes featurette. I'm hoping to review this film shortly.

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    Monday, January 15, 2007

    New blog on The Resurrection

    Now that The Nativity is over, Queen Spoo has switched her attention to the next New Testament film on her radar The Resurrection. She's created a new blog to cover the film which I imagine I'll be citing fairly often. Thus far there are only a few posts from last year, most of which I covered at the time.

    The film was originally scheduled for an Easter 2007 release, but things have gone so quiet that it's hard to believe that is still the plan. I've added Spoo's new blog, as well as her main one to my side bar.

    I've also added a link there to the new blog at re:jesus, (more on that later), and removed a couple of seemingly defunct ones.

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    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Esther and the King - Scene Guide

    I watched Esther and the King back in September last year, when I made the first post of what I thought would be series of three. Well October was a busy month, and the last ten weeks have been pretty hectic, so it got put on the back burner. Now, however, I've finished talking about films about the nativity, and now I'm itching to get back to something from the Hebrew Bible, and so this post's time has finally come! I thought I'd start with a look at the scene breakdown before publishing a review.
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    The King Rejects Queen Vashti - (Esther 1:1-12)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Vashti is Banished - (Esther 1:13-22)
    The King's Decree - (Esther 2:1-4)
    Seizing of the Virgins - (Esther 2:5-9)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Esther Tells Mordecai - (Esther 2:10-11)
    Esther is Chosen as Queen - (Esther 2:12-18)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Haman's Plot to Destroy the Jews - (Esther 3:6,8-9)
    Esther Approaches the King - (Esther 5:1-3)
    Haman's Plot to Destroy the Jews - (Esther 3:6-7)
    Esther Pleads for the Jews (again!) - (Esther 7:1-6)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    The King's Second Edict - (Esther 8:8, 11-14)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    (Psalm 23 cited)
    The Jews Defend Themselves - (Esther 9:1-17)
    (Psalm 121:4)
    Haman is Hanged - (Esther 7:10)
    It should be obvious from the above that the film omits a great deal of the biblical material. So Mordecai is not shown saving Ahasuerus' life, neither is he honoured accordingly. Esther does not provide any banquets for Ahasuerus and Haman, nor does she fast and pray before making her plea to the king. The Jews do not fight for a second day and Esther does not request all Haman's son's be hanged.

    In place of all these biblical stories we have a number of ludicrous, and convoluted sub-plots. Haman's murderous intent is stoked solely by his lust for power. When Esther spurns his advances he decides to annihilate the Jews, using the law passed by Dairius which led to Daniel being cast into the Lions Den (Dan 6). Esther, however, convinces the king to relent, leaving Haman to launch a second plot, fabricating evidence to get Mordecai convicted of treason. Esther makes a second plea to Ahasuerus, but it is only partially effective. The decree stands, but will not be carried out until the king returns from checking things for himself. Haman uses this opportunity to try and assassinate Ahasuerus, but when his plot fails, the king sends Simon with instructions to help the Jews to defend themselves.

    The other strange alteration to the biblical story this film makes is in the opening scenes dealing with Queen Vashti. I discussed this to some extent in the "Sexual Politics" post. Essentially Vashti's refusal to come is played sullenly, and linked to her adultery with Haman. Once banished she then comes and performs a striptease. This is a far cry from Vashti's refusal being an anti-war protest in the recent One Night With the King.

    There are a number of citations from elsewhere in the bible. In particular Mordecai recites Psalm 23 as he waits in prison for the destruction of his people. This is one of the most popular parts of the bible to be cited in films. Obviously it appears in most films about David, but also Pale Rider, The Elephant Man, Paradise Road, The Wicker Man, X-men 2 and Ushpiniz and Hitchcock's Lifeboat. It is also parodied in Jarhead and Full Metal Jacket. There are no doubt plenty of others. The film also quotes Psalm 121:4 ("he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep"), and, as mentioned above, discusses Dairus' edict in Dan 6.

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    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Christus (1914)

    A while back someone very kindly let me know that the silent, Italian Jesus film Christus was available in Italy as part of a 2 DVD set along with Maria Figlia Del Suo Figlio. They also point out this page which has a brief overview of the film, and a whopping 78 stills from the film. That page is in Italian, but there's a translated version of courtesy of Google.

    There were a number of things about this page that caught my eye. Firstly it's obvious from the photos that this was a lavish production in it's day and the accompanying text notes that over 2000 actors and extras were used. Just look, for example, at the numbers of people accompanying the wise men.

    Secondly if the ratio of stills to runtime is anything like accurate then around 40% of the film's runtime is devoted to the nativity sequences. The length of the film is given in metres, which means that its length in minutes depends on the projector's frames per second. Manfred Tiemann's notes on over 650 Jesus films records it as 60 minutes, but at 2279m it's likely to have been somewhat longer.

    One that that particularly jumped out was that the face of the actor playing Jesus was familiar, but it wasn't until I reached the stills of the resurrection and ascension that I realised where I knew him from. Back in May, I blogged about a film released either in 1916 or in 1919 under the title Jesus of Nazareth. It turned out that the film was actually a re-release of From the Manger to the Cross with resurrection and ascension scenes from two different films tagged on. And this film is one of the bits of footage used. What's even more interesting about this is the way that Christus borrows ideas from From the Manger to the Cross, such as the use of the Sphinx and the Pyramids, the boy Jesus forming a cross shape with hi shadow etc. There are also obvious borrows from other Jesus films of the era, such as the appearance of the angels to the shepherds which is straight out of The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ .

    Silent Jesus films were obviously fairly restricted in the amount of dialogue they could convey, and as a result most of them focussed more on Jesus the miracle worker, rather than Jesus the teacher. This film, however, may be an exception. The only discernable miracle displayed is the walking on water. It's possible that some of the crowd scenes relate to miracles in the temple or something, but otherwise there is very little of the miraculous in this film. This is perhaps not surprising. As noted above around 40% of the film deals with the nativity and a further 45% deals with the last supper onwards leaving only around 15% to do with Jesus's life and ministry. We do however see him teaching in at least two different contexts.

    Assuming the order of these stills is correct a scene guide for the film looks as follows:
    Annunciation - (Matt 1:18-25 / Luke 1:26-1:38)
    Census - (Luke 2:1-2)
    Birth - (Luke 2:3-8)
    Shepherds - (Luke 2:9-15)
    Wise Men - (Matt 2:1-12)
    Flight to Egypt - (Matt 2:13-15)
    Boy Jesus - (Luke 2:41-52)
    Sermon on the Mount - (Matt 5-7)
    Temptation (?) - (Mark 1:12-13)
    Baptism - (Mark 1:9-11)
    Rejection at Nazareth ? - (Mark 6:1-5)
    Mary Magdalene ?
    Jesus's Feet Anointed - (Mark 14:3-9)
    Walking on Water - (Mark 6:45-52)
    Journey to Jerusalem - (Mark 10:32)
    Triumphal Entry - (Mark 11:1-10)
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:22-31)
    Plot to Kill Jesus - (Mark 14:1-2)
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-52)
    Trial - (Mark 14:53-64)
    Beating - (Mark 14:65)
    Pilate, Jesus and the Crowds - (John 18:28-40)
    Flogging - (John 19:1-3)
    Pilate condemns Jesus - (John 19:4-16)
    Via Dolorosa - (Mark 15:20-22)
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:22-39)
    Burial - (Mark 15:40-47)
    The Guard at the Tomb – (Matt 27:62-66)
    Risen Jesus Before Disciples – (Luke 24:36-41)
    Ascension - (Luke 24:50-53)
    This is all very provisional based on the stills on the site, but it appears that Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount before his baptism which also occurs after his temptation.

    Visually there are a few interesting shots. Firstly, one shot has Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders. It's rare to see such an image these days except on super-kitschy items, but I'm under the impression that it was much more common. Rather than a reference to a direct incident, it is of course a literalisation of Jesus's metaphorical use of a good shepherd. I also like the shot of Joseph's dream prior to the Flight to Egypt. Certainly mundane by today's standards, but I've not seen such an early use of that technique prior to this. There is also one with someone who looks like they are meant to be a prostitute, who may or may not be Mary Magdalene. Nothing specific to say other than that I'm particularly drawn to the composition of this scene. To me, at least, it seems fairly advanced for its day (although I'm certainly no expert in such things).

    Finally, it does appear that some of this footage uses a different actor to play Jesus. Either that or the actor playing him (Alberto Pasquali) looks very different from certain angles.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Why is the Historical Jesus Quest so difficult?

    Mark Goodacre has an interesting post over at NT Gateway, summarising why the quest(s) for the historical Jesus is so tricky as 7 points
    (1) So much data is missing, e.g. there is so little on Jesus’ life before 30.

    (2) The data we do have is highly prejudiced, mainly pro-Christian propaganda.

    (3) The sources we have are disputed -- different scholars value the sources differently

    (4) The sources are sometimes contradictory and difficult to interpret.

    (5) Our distance from the data is so great – we read our own prejudices into the texts.

    (6) And now there is so much secondary literature available that it is difficult to navigate our way through it all.

    (7) Jesus is a figure in whom so many have a stake, and the quest is often controversial.
    These points are a mix of those that apply to any historical figure, and those that apply particularly to religious figures, or those whose ideologies remain controversial. However, with numbers 6 (the muddying of the waters by other questers) and 7 (the controversy), although they are not exclusive to Jesus, it's hard to think of a figure for who they could be truer. I'm guessing of course, but I imagine that more books have been written about Jesus than any other figure, and of course each of these has been distorted by these 7 points as well.

    I'd also add an eighth - that there seems to be so little agreement. It must be very difficult to know what foundations to start building on, given that whichever foundation you start on will be rejected by more people than accept it. Obviously most people accept Jesus was a first century Jew, but beyond that there is such tremendous diversity.

    Mark concludes that he will go on to tell his students that "the news is not all bad. We are actually surprisingly well informed about Jesus compared to many other figures from the ancient world". Which is true, and of course one advantage of his importance through the ages is that we have (relatively speaking) such old documents found and preserved.

    One of the reasons that this summary is of interest is because I'm in the middle of a bit of a catch up session on historical Jesus literature at the moment. Having finally read Geza Vermes' "Jesus the Jew" over the summer, I've also recently finished Borg & Wright's "The Meaning of Jesus" (my thoughts on that can be read here), Crossan's "The Essential Jesus" which I hope to make a few rudimentary points on fairly soon. I've also (re-)read a few of the other documents outside the New Testament, such as "Q", Gospels of Thomas, and Mary, and the Infancy Gospel of James. I've also just acquired a copy of Crossan's "The Historical Jesus", and find myself wanting to re-read Wright's "Jesus and the Victory of God", as I've forgotten most of what I liked about it last time (other than what I've read of his elsewhere). Perhaps it's about time I re-read some of Mark's old lecture notes as well.

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    Biblical Studies Carnival - Best of 2006

    Further to my post last week regarding the Biblical Studies Carnivals, I'm pleased to announce that Tyler Williams has announced the Best of 2006 Carnival at his Codex blog. There are plenty of interesting-sounding posts, that I somehow missed the first time, and as blog articles go, there are A LOT of links and so on in that one particular piece.

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    Monday, January 08, 2007

    "Jesus Beyond his Genre" - Excerpts up at Image Facts

    Back in April, I mentioned my friend Mike Leary’s paper to be delivered at the (then) up and coming SBL conference in November. Not being a member of the SBL I didn’t make the conference itself, but I was pleased to read on his Ekthesis blog that not only does he plan to have it in print sometime soon, but also that he’s posted a few excerpts three of the films he covered at his Image Facts blog.

    The first film is Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005). I watched this fairly recently and I have to say I was disappointed. I've read a few of the things Mike has to say about this film, but I just didn't see them personally. The visuals, it has to be said, are incredibly beautiful, but it just didn't engage me as a whole, despite loving one of Van Sant's other recent films Elephant.

    Mike also discusses La Vie de Jesus (1997) by Bruno Dumont. I've never actually seen this, but Mike's comments are fascinating, and have certainly made me want to catch it sometime. Essentially he (and Dumont) argue that the title of the film invites viewers to comment on the absence of Jesus throughout it.

    Last of all we come to Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar (1966). Bresson austere style gets some getting used to, but once one puts in the time and effort it is well worth it. Au Hasard Balthazar is possibly his most often discussed film - at least in discussions about faith and film - for it's donkey-as-Christ-figure motif. One notable commentary is in Lloyd Baugh's Imaging the Divine where he calls the film "an exceptional Christ-Figure".

    When I find out publication details about this paper I'll post them here, either in the comments on this post, or in a new one. Mike is only one of a number of bibliobloggers who have posted their thoughts on this year’s SBL. Worth reading are the considerable number of posts by Mark Goodacre, (who I will never think of in quite the same light after seeing this photo which he posted on his blog last week).

    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    Cammina, Cammina (Keep Walking - 1982)

    Having received a copy of Ermanno Olmi's Cammina, Cammina for Christmas, I thought it would be good to review it on the traditional, but increasingly forgotten, Twelfth Day of Christmas – Epiphany.

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    There have been relatively few films made about the nativity, and nearly all of those that have been made tell the story from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. Cammina, Cammina is in many ways the perfect Epiphany movie as it moves Mary and Joseph to the sidelines, and focuses instead on the longer and even more perilous journey made by the wise men. In doing so it is able to examine the nativity story in general as well as the idea of pilgrimage with far more depth. Its flawed and ordinary protagonists make the piece far less deferential than most of the standard treatments of the story.

    Indeed ideas of journey and pilgrimage are so dominant that film has run for two hours before any of Matthew's story is covered. Were someone without a TV guide to stumble across this film one night just after it began, they could watch for around two-thirds of the film without knowing which story it was portraying. Unusually, that might actually be the best way to view the film. It would certainly give the viewer a greater affinity with the film's protagonists – unsure of what they let themselves in for and ultimately arriving at a nativity scene that is so incredibly low key that it is something of an anti-climax.

    Certainly the pilgrims are unsure what to make of what they discover. Olmi manages to create an atmosphere which definitely suggests that something special has occurred, yet at the same time it appears utterly unremarkable. The desperate poverty of the holy couple, and their lowly stable is somewhat tempered by the poverty of the pilgrims themselves.

    In the bible, Luke's account of the shepherds visiting Jesus comes complete with a full angelic visitation. Matthew's account of the magi is far sparser (vivid dreams aside), and Olmi visualises this perfectly. The people find what they have travelled to find, and yet, when they do, they are uncertain about what exactly they have found. Ultimately, they accept that they have found what they were searching for, simply because all the clues they have had seem to point that way. But they are more than a little unsure that it all adds up. Released just three short years after Life of Brian which began with three over eager magi barging into the wrong stable, Cammina, Cammina shows us the other side of the same coin, albeit it in a more reserved fashion.

    Traditionally, of course, this unspecified number of magi, has been pictured as three wise men, or even kings. Olmi sticks with this tradition, deftly combining the wise men / kings traditions by portraying Jesus's visitors as wise men who are represent their respective kings. They even wear crowns on more formal occasions as a sign that they carry their kings' authority. Moreover, these three travellers are each accompanied by a sizeable entourage. Some have come because they have little choice in the matter, others because they have seen the star and want to meet the person who it honours.

    This is quite a different portrayal than the recent movie The Nativity Story. There the magi, who are largely present for comic relief, travel alone, and are friends and colleagues long before they see the star. In contrast, this film depicts the magi as meeting up for the first time relatively late on in the film, having solely followed Mel(chior) and his party for the first couple of hours. This enables the character of Mel to be put under the microscope and fleshed out, and it is this that gives the film much of its interest. We are in his presence long enough to get a really good understanding of his character, his passion, his devotion, the things that make him tick, his strengths and flaws. Mel is a man deeply routed in the Jewish tradition, frequently breaking out into a citation from the Hebrew bible. He is so well respected by his people, that many of them follow him when he announces that he is going to find the king who is represented by this new star.

    At the same time he also has his flaws. Despite being so immersed in the scriptures he is stuck for ideas when the caravan fails to find the new born king in Jerusalem. It is one of the younger women who suggest going to "Bethlehem". He is deeply disappointed by the scene he finds there. Whilst he is sharp enough to spot that soldiers might attack the village, and warns the other magi, he fails to tell Mary and Joseph. Later on, one of his followers hands a stinging rebuke both for not staying to defend them, and for hanging on to part of an offering that the people had taken earlier.

    As the film ends it grows more and more deeply ambiguous. It is unclear whether or not Mel did the right thing. It is perhaps unlikely his people could have defended themselves against the soldiers, yet the closing scenes, which show the adults of Bethlehem lying murdered as well as the infants, is, nevertheless, fairly damning. Unlike most versions of the nativity we do not even know for certain that the new family has escaped. In fact given that the village is never named, it is not even certain that this is Mary and Joseph. Strangely the only quote from one of the gospels is from the Gospel of Thomas. ("Lift a stone and you will find me, divide a log and I will be there")

    The film ends with Mel's party arriving back, joyously, at their home town. The brevity with which the return journey is dealt with is in stark contrast with the lengthy portrayal of the outward journey. As noted above this forms this body of the film. Whilst initially the events that occur on the way appear quite random, in fact, they all reflect various stories related to Jesus.

    So we see a shepherd lead his sheep through the camp (the Good Shepherd). We see a wedding party (reminiscent both of parables about wedding feasts, and of John's metaphor for the church – the bride of Christ). We see his followers drift off the path or land on rocky ground like the seed in the parable of the sower. We see a rich man who has brought all his belongings with him, and is unwilling to risk them to see Jesus. Finally we see those unable to follow the narrow way. On top of this the images of the people trailing after their leader through the desert is strongly reminiscent of Moses and the people of Israel.

    Hence whilst the film portrays the pilgrimage of Mel and those that follow him to their destination, their journey reflects the challenges all believers face on their own, spiritual journeys.

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