• 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.

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    Joseph films for Church Use

    A while back, one of the churches I'm involved with has asked me about good clips for use in a series on Joseph. I've been flat out recently, so I suspect I'm too late to be of any use, but I thought I'd highlight a couple of films that might be useful for churches looking at Joseph.

    Compared to some biblical characters, Joseph hasn't actually had that many films made about him, and there are still a few I need to see. Chief amongst these is 1974's The Story of Jacob and Joseph (sometimes called simple Jacob and Joseph), starring Colleen Dewhurst amongst others, which sits unwatched on my shelves. It's got 7.1 on IMDb suggesting it's better than average for the time, period and subject, but I suspect it probably is still a little too shabby for public use.

    There were a number of silent films on the subject, most notably La Sacra Bibbia (The Sacred Bible): The Story of Joseph in Egypt (my review). The first Genesis film was one about Joseph, the French Vendu Par Ses Frères (Joseph Sold by his Brothers) made in 1904. IMDb turns up a couple of others both from 1914 - Joseph in the Land of Egypt and Joseph's Trials in Egypt. (Campbell and Pitts list date Joseph in the Land of Egypt as 1915). None of these three are commercially available.

    There were then a string on Joseph films in the 1960s, predictably two coming out of Italian studios - Giuseppe Venduto Dei Fratelli [Joseph Sold by his Brothers] (1960), I Patriarch Della Bibbia [The Patriarchs of the Bible] (1963) - as well as a couple of Israeli films - the puppet animated Joseph and his Brethren (1962) and Joseph the Dreamer (1967). The story is also covered by the Living Bible series (1957 - Joseph, The Young Man and Joseph, Ruler of Egypt, ) and the Greatest Heroes of the Bible series (1978 - Joseph and his Brothers).

    However, all these films are probably too dated for modern audiences. Some people in those church groups might find them interesting, but as all generations become increasingly more media literate, the above films seem increasingly archaic and unintentionally humorous. So realistically we need to look to the modern era. A neat division is made here by the absence of any Joseph films from the 1980s.

    Al-Mohager [The Emigrant] (1994)
    Whilst the film's subtitles will mean that this film is probably not going to work for most congregations, it's probably the best of the films about Joseph in my opinion. It's been five years since I saw it, but as I mentioned in my review at the time, it's the one version of this story that actually makes me care for the protagonist.

    The Bible Collection: Joseph (1995)
    This entry (also known as Joseph in Egypt) is arguably one of the best in the Bible Collection Series - it did, after all, win an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries. Much of that is down to Ben Kingsley's portrayal as Potiphar, although Paul Mercurio's (Strictly Ballroom) turn in the lead role and a strong supporting cast (Martin Landau, Monica Bellucci, Warren Clarke and Lesley Ann Warren) also helped. At 3 hours long you would expect it to cover most of the story's main episodes, although it's been so long since I saw it that I can't remember. Peter Chattaway fleshes things out a bit in his thoughts on the series.

    Testament (1996)
    I've reviewed much of the Testament:Biblein Animation series in recent years, but this is one episode it's been a while since I saw. It's one of the few puppet animated entries in the series and so will work well for kids, although that usually puts off the adults who fail to realise that this is animation made primarily for adults. So whilst it's a succinct and relatively thorough account of the story, with all of Testament's usual technical excellence, I'd advise potential users to think about how it will be received.

    Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999)
    If you wanted to go for campy humour value then look no further. This 1999 recording of Rice and Webber's stage show camps it up to the max, but even so the final result is exceptionally poor. There's perhaps some credit to the casting of Joan Collins as Potiphar's wife - genuinely terrifying - and the songs are (annoyingly) memorable, but even the straighter Jason Donovan version of the stage show brings little but an easy laugh.

    In the Beginning (2000)
    Landau pops up again in Joseph's ancestory, but here he's playing his Great Grandfather Abraham (rather than his dad Jacob as in the Bible Collection). The film is pretty poor, but the Joseph scenes are not the worst of it.

    Joseph, King of Dreams (2000)
    King of Dreams is the prequel to the hugely successful Prince of Egypt so the fact it went straight to DVD speaks volumes. That said there are some notable successes, primarily the early scenes of Joseph's dreams, which are visualised in the same breathtaking style that won so many plaudits in Prince of Egypt. It's also notable for some voice work by Mark Hamill, although it's Ben Affleck who voices the hero. For whatever reason I do remember this one rather fondly and so have a hunch that had it been made today, with the popularity of sequels being what it is, it probably would have got a proper cinematic release. That's why it would be one of my recommendations to look at and why I'll be revisiting it with my children shortly.

    It's also surprising to look at the films that don't include the Joseph story. For all it's boats about it's long running time, this year's The Bible almost completely ignores Joseph. Another interesting film not to include the story here is Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse which is written during the time that Joseph is in Egypt, but written about the exploits of the rest of the family in his absence. There is of course reference to what has happened, and the film does a powerful job of portraying Jacob's grief, but essentially this is a film about Joseph made through his absence rather than his presence. Also falling into the close-but-no-cigar category are Huston's 1966 The Bible, Year One and The Real Old Testament all of which stop in the time of Joseph's father/grandfather.

    Overall then, for church use, I'd cautiously suggest checking out the Bible Collection's Joseph miniseries and having a look at Joseph, King of Dreams and the Testament entry as well. For a film night for more discerning viewers either Al-Mohager or one of my perennial favourites La Genèse.

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