• 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, February 15, 2011

    Reflections on 10 Days Bible-Filming

    ...not, I should say, making a film about the Bible, but just running a number of different group sessions on Bible films. As most of you are probably aware it's 400 years since the King James Bible was released and many organisations are marking the occasion with a campaign to encourage more people to read the Bible. As a result the last ten days have seen me preparing and delivering a number of projects/ sessions/ presentations on the Bible films, and so I thought I would share some of my reflections here.

    The first session I actually got to run three times, although the last time was slightly different. It was designed initially as part of an initiative run by the Loughborough Churches Partnership. People from the different congregations gathered and chose three out of six workshops looking at the Bible in a different way. Fearing that all six may end up using the gospels I decided to focus instead on Moses. I started getting everyone to read the story of the burning bush. Then I took clips from five film interpretations of Moses, and got those present to think through various questions relating to them. I'm planning to upload my slides for this talk so anyone who wants to can have a look at them.

    For various reasons I didn't want to talk very much in this session so I restricted myself to a one minute intro where I explained about how Bible films force us to look at the Bible through someone else's perspective; explained what we were going to do and then just set a timed PowerPoint presentation do the rest. That worked pretty effectively. I had previously put the clips into PowerPoint using the methods I discussed last year, and during the questions used a PowerPoint timer tool I built to let people know how long was left before the next clip (as well as a beep). What I didn't do was leave any time for discussion as I only had 30 minutes.

    The first two times around I used 5 clips and my work looking at portrayals of the burning bush last year came in very handy. In the end though I cheated a little bit. Wanting to include a silent clip, but knowing that DeMille's 1923 version of this story did not include this encounter I used a clip from Curtiz's Noah's Ark (1928) instead. Whilst this is a little cheeky, I would argue that Curtiz's scene of Noah hearing God's command atop a mountain with a bush bursting into flames as God speaks is an interpretation of the Moses story to some degree. I also used the scene from DeMille's later film in 1956, Moses the Lawgiver (1975), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and 2006's The Ten Commandments. This meant I left out the two films from 1996 - Testament and Moses. I didn't really feel they added a great deal and I didn't really have the time.

    The session seemed to go down reasonably well first time around. That said not having time for discussion afterwards meant that it was hard to ascertain exactly how people had found it other than the handful of encouraging comments I got at the end. The second time around I did it at lunchtime, the audience was significantly older and I only got feedback from one person (I didn't know as many) so I didn't feel that it went down as well, but I think that probably reflects more on my state of mind than anything else.

    The third time I opted to run this session was at church weekend away which I oversee (at least from an administration point of view). Here I had a longer slot - 45 minutes - which enabled me to reinstate the Moses (1996) clip and hold some discussion afterwards. Here the audience was entirely students which meant that almost all of them had seen The Prince of Egypt when they were around 6-7, and had, in effect grown up with this image of Moses. All of them stated that this was their favourite portrayal. There were also a couple of interesting observations that came out. One liked how the 1975 clip captured the fear of seeing a staff turn into a snake and a hand become leprous. Another commented on how it would take Moses a long time to adjust to God's call and how the 2006 clip bought that out for them. I enjoyed this session in particular. It's good to run it without human intervention but the feedback at the end can be pretty valuable, and brings further perspectives out for those who are there.

    The second presentation I was doing was running a similar session at our weekend away only using clips from different films covering different parts of the life of Jesus. The preparation for this session was rushed due to family concerns, and as a result there were a few technical issues, notably the last clip which hadn't converted properly, and an annoying blue line around the edge of the screen. I did like the effect though, having not really done something before. It was "quite intense" (in a good way) as someone said afterwards, and moving from one film to another with the marked changes in styles was quite jarring, preventing us from slipping into passivity. The clips I used were as follows:
    Gospel of John (2003) - John's prologue
    Mary the Mother of Jesus (1999) - Jesus' mandate
    Son of Man (1969) - Sermon on the Mount
    Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Sermon on the Plain
    Jesus of Montreal (1989) - Miracles montage in play
    Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Raising of Lazarus
    Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) - Dispute with the Pharisees
    Jesus of Montreal (1989) - Little Apocalypse
    The Passion (2008) - Crucifixion
    The Cross (2001) - Resurrection
    Having not actually sat through this session before I ran it (which would have eliminated the technical problems) I really enjoyed it and would be keen to run a tweaked version of it again.

    The final project was to compose 30 minutes of clips from the Bible as a whole that would be visual enough to work without sound. They also had to be child friendly. This kind of thing is always harder because the people there haven't necessarily wanted to see stuff like this this, (it was just on in the background during worship) and without the balance of other clips there's a higher demand for something that is roughly on a par with what they are used to seeing from films. The lack of sound also means the visuals have to be stronger than normal and, of course, many films on the Bible struggle here in particular. In the end I went for these five clips:
    The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) - Creation
    Testament: Abraham (1996) - Isaac on the altar
    Ten Ten Commandments (1923) - Parting of the Red Sea
    Miracles of Jesus (2007) - Widow of Nain's son
    From the Manger to the Cross (1912) - Crucifixion
    The Cross (2001) - Resurrection
    This went down quite well, particularly with the older children. I also got someone asking me about the 1923 film, and various people seemed to access it across the weekend.

    The nice thing about doing all of this is it gives me a few presentations (they were all done using PowerPoint) which I can access in future. I've also sorted out my laptop so I have more of a central area for this material from now on.

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