• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Death of Christ (c.1900)

    Following on from the last two days' posts where I have been looking at a couple of very early Jesus films, I wanted to post today, in more detail on the second of these The Death of Christ. It was hard enough trying to date The Life of Christ, but at least it provided a date to be sceptical about! With this film I would place it at around the same time, maybe even slightly earlier than The Life of Christ, but I wouldn't place it any early than the date claimed at the start of the Life of Christ. Anyway - the full discussion of that was two days ago.

    This film is actually more interesting to right about than the earlier one since whereas that film largely contained material that was incorporated into The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. Whilst this film is shorter (only 10 minutes long), most of the material is original to this film. First things first the scenes guide with scripture citations.
    Last Supper (start of) - (Mark 14:16-17)
    *Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-42)
    *Arrest of Jesus - (Mark 14:43-46)
    *Trial before Pilate - (Mark 15:1-14)
    *Scourging & Mocking - (Mark 15:15-20)
    *Presented before the People - (Matt 27:24-26)
    Road to the cross - (Luke 23:26-28)
    *Crucifixion - (Mark 15:22-33)
    *Death of Jesus - (John 19:30,34)
    *Resurrection - (Mark 16:1-8)
    Ascension - (Luke 24:50-53)
    A Few Notes
    *These scenes are different from those in The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, although in many cases they have strongly influenced that film, with it being really clear that it re-filmed some scenes almost exactly the same, with only minor "improvements". A good example of this is the trial of Jesus in front of Pilate where in this film it is not very clear that Barabbas is present, whereas in the later The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ Barabbas is far more distinct. The shot is very similar in most other respects.

    Only three scenes then are used in The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. Firstly, the last supper, where the scant footage shown here is actually that which immediately preceds the longer scene in The Life and Passion. Next is the road to the cross scene, and finally, the ascension scene. These last two scenes are actually in all three films. The latter scene is far more complex than any of the other scenes in this film, and has been reasonably well done so it is not surprising that no-one went to the trouble fo re-filming it.

    Two further points. Firstly, in comparing the scenes here with the Life of Christ, I noticed that that film seems to jump from the money-changers scene straight to Jesus's trail. Even for viewers who know the story this is a strange move. It does make me wonder if some of the material here was at one stage part of that film.

    Secondly, of all three of these early films I think this is my favourite. This is partly because it is the least coloured, and the technique is a bit of a distraction, it's partly because it contains one really great scene - that in the Garden of Gethsemane, as well as being the source, I assume, for the innovative ascension scene. I also like the depiction of the scourging in contrast to The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. Here Jesus offers some resistance, there Jesus almost seems to volunteer for it. I wonder if this was the main reason that this scene was re-filmed as except for a difference in background it is more or less the same. I also much refer the resurrection scene. It's one of the hardest things to film, and film-makers have used a variety of approaches. This is one of the best. Fairly literal, and yet not sensational, kitschy, or cheesy. That said it doesn't really rely on any of the gospels (non of which describe the actual resurrection), and perhaps is most similar to Mel Gibson's version, but it's far more simple, and effective, and not nearly so pleased with itself.

    All in all, I'm glad I've uncovered this early classic. Jesus films for the next 110 years have swung between the kitsch and the more profound, and I'm glad that at least one of the very earliest Jesus films falls into the latter category.


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