• 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


    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Life of Christ (1898)

    Yesterday's entry looked at the problems of dating some early films picked up on eBay. Today's post will look at the first of those (as it arrived on the disc), The Life of Christ, purporting to be from 1898. The film is just 14:23 minutes long, and none of the actors' names are given. Here's the scene order (as ever, scripture citations are in the normal format.)
    Angels and Joseph's Dream - Matt 2:13-14
    Escape to Egypt - Matt 2:15
    *The Boy Jesus and the Doctors - Luke 2:40-52
    Baptism - Mark 1:6-11
    *Woman at Samaria - John 4:4-29
    †Feeding 5000 with Fish and Bread - Mark 6:30-44
    Christ Walks on Water - Mark 6:47-48
    *Entering into Jerusalem - Mark 11:1-10
    *Driving out the Money Changers - Mark 11:15-19
    Trial before Pilate - Mark 15:1-15
    *Ecce Homo - John 19:5
    (Veronica) - Tradition
    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
    Acension - Luke 24:50-53
    A Few Notes:
    †This scene (the feeding of the 5000, or the "Fish and Bread" as the intertitles call it is the only one in the film without parallel in The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. That said...

    *Scenes marked with a * are different from those in The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, even if the later film copies / improves upon them. Sometimes the details are fairly minor (e.g. different actors or backgrounds), at other times the whole composition of the shot is fundamentally different.

    Four scenes use camera trickery - essentially double exposure. The two appearances by angels in the first two scenes both use this technique fairly simply, but the resurrection scene, where Jesus floats out of his grave, and "Christ Walks on Water" are both a bit more sophisticated. The later is possibly significant as renown camera trickery pioneer George Méliès released a film in 1899 called Christ Walks on Water. This was thought to be the first part of the bible to be shown on camera outside of Jesus's Passion. Part of me wonders if this scene (later incorporated into The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ) was Méliès's original, and whether this effects the potential dating of this film.

    The film starts in a strange place as well, not showing the nativity or any of the events leading up to it, but starting after the departure of the wise men as Joseph is about to have the dream that instructs him to take his family to Egypt. Having thought about the dating of the film more since yesterday, this was one piece of evidence I didn't really consider enough.

    As with The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ this film was shot in black and white, but a number of scenes have been hand coloured. In addition some scenes stencil on extra details, most notably the Holy Spirit stenciled on as a dove in the baptism scene (see left) and the ascension scene.

    In terms of episodes that rarely make Jesus films, obviously this film has nearly all of it's material in common with The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. Even so, both films show the Ascension in an unusual way, and in fact, depictions of this are rare in themself. The scene with the woman of Samaria is also fairly rare in film version of Jesus's life, which is unusual as it gives us a rare three dimensional female role. Directors are usually keen on such roles, note for example one of the most frequently filmed scenes outside of his Passion - the woman taken in adultery.

    Finally, one comment that is often made about The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ is worth repeating here. As this was filmed in the very early days of cinema, it's very obvious from this film that even the most basic aspects of moviemaking have yet to be discovered. For example, the camera is always static, and the acting takes place in front of it - this works similarly to watching a play. In a similar vein, nearly all the action takes place in the middle distance. There are a couple of exceptions in this film, and these may have been the first films to pioneer these new techniques. The first is the Ecce Homo moment. The camera get that bit closer to Jesus, just showing his upper half as he stands in front of the words "Ecce Homo" behind him. The second is a shot of Veronica, after she has wiped his face. The camera cuts to a shot of her holding her cloth, close enough for the viewer to see she has a perfect image of Jesus's face upon it.

    This film will probably be available from this seller on eBay as part of a compilation DVD Early Religious Films.


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    • At 2:45 am, March 16, 2008, Blogger Antonio Ventaja said…

      Sorry, I don´t speak and not wright in english ( I am spanish).
      I beliver that this film is
      La Vie et la Passion de Jésus-Christ of 1898 of directors Georges Hatot and Louis Lumière.
      Thanks for your blog.

    • At 3:11 am, March 16, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for that, I'm not sure I've heard that before.




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