• 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


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    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Early David and Saul Films Redux

    Tyler Williams has blogged the two films early (David and) Saul films I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It's great to have some more in-depth comments on these two films, particularly as Tyler comes at it from a different angle than my original post. If you've not read it yet I suggest you do. There are however a couple of places where I wanted to comment on what he says, partly because he brings something new that I'm impressed with, and partly because in places he disagrees with my earlier comments and so I thought I would respond.

    Firstly, Tyler makes an excellent suggestion for how these two separate films are related. "From the discussion in Abel, however, it is clear that the Death of Saul on the DVD does not include its original beginning. Perhaps that is why excerpts from "Saul and David" were included at the beginning. That certainly seems like a good explanation to me. It would be surprising if either of these films were in their complete form, and the combined narrative does seem a little more rounded, if lacking the narrative arc that cinema quickly achieved shortly afterwards.

    Next comes the episode analysis, and there are a couple of places here where we disagree. Having read his counter-arguments I do partly agree. There are two places we disagree, both of which are from the first film David et Saul (1911). I'd like to start with the second scene first. Whilst the intertitles on these films aren't always that clear (they severely distort in places), they do identify the final scene we are shown in David et Saul as "Fatigued, Saul Seeks Repose in the Cave where David was Hidden". Somehow I missed that and from the following images considered instead the scene to be the more obscure episode from 1 Sam 23:24-28 where David and Saul are found on different sides of a mountain. This is in part because the most famous part of this story (David cutting Saul's cloak from 1 Sam 24)is absent from the film. If we assume that the footage is incomplete then I have to concur with Tyler's assessment. This time around I also noticed that Saul does go into the cave where David and his men were previously, and that at the point where the footage ends, David does seem to be heading in Saul's direction.

    (It's interesting to note that although camera language such as "pan and scan" is absent the idea of location continuity has been established. That is to say, Saul enters the cave and is heading to the left, David and his cohorts respond to that action suggesting it is to their right [see top]. Theatre does not have these basic continuity rules that cinema does. Often theatre characters can journey from left to right, and then appearing the next time from the right heading left. In film the same two scenes would take place with the characters moving in the same direction.)

    Of course it's possible that both Tyler and I got it wrong and the original scene was actually 1 Sam 26, which may or may not be the same story from a different tradition.

    This also challenges my identification of the earlier scene which originally I placed as David feigning madness whilst in hiding (1 Sam 21:10-15). Tyler disagrees and considers it to be David hiding at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1-2). Having re-watched the scenes I have to disagree with both suggestions. As noted above the rocks and the caves shown are the same ones Saul relieves himself in later on. So it makes the most sense to see this scene as a pre-cursor to the later one (a sort of establishing shot), rather than a scene in itself. That said David does look a little mad in this scene (see the close up - right), and whilst this is probably just the vastly different acting style of that time, it may have been the director adding in David's madness as well. So I suspect the correct scripture passage for this scene is 1 Sam 23:29.

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