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    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, April 24, 2006

    The Bible According to Hollywood (2004)

    I briefly touched on the documentary The Bible According to Hollywood back in March when discussing the recent Channel 4 documentary The Passion: Films, Faith and Fury. I decided it might be interesting to get hold of a copy and compare the two.

    Essentially the two are trying to different things. "The Passion: Films, Faith and Fury" was primarily concerned with the rocky relationship between the film industry in general and the church, and arranged its material neatly in accordance with that goal. "The Bible According to Hollywood" on the other hand is far more concerned with Hollywood proper (i.e. specifically films made by Hollywood studios). It also focussed more of its attention on showing clips from the films (although usually just bits from the trailers which are talked over by a voiceover).

    Those are of course generalisations. This film does include some interesting interviews - notably Charlton Heston - although it is always unclear which parts are uique footage, and which are simply borrowed from elsewhere. There is also some discussion on the Italian Epic film industry.

    There are immediate pluses and minuses then. "Films, Faith and Fury" was clearly the more expensive, and well put together film, and the array of interesting interviewees made it really special. "The Bible According to Hollywood" on the other hand had more clips and was able to show parts from very rare bible films, some of which I had not seen anything from.

    The main selection of clips which I had not seen were those from cheap / less serious / exploitational films notably of the late fifties to early seventies, involving either Adam and Eve, or Samson and Deliah. So there are clips from the Mexican film Adam and Eve (1958 - pictured right) whose main attraction was a former Miss Universe in the lead role, The Sin of Adam and Eve (1972), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve starring Mickey Rooney.

    More interesting was the clips from some of the earliest Bible films including Noah's Ark (1928) and D.W. GRiffith's Judith of Bethulia (1916 - pictured). There is also some stills the now lost 1921 version of The Queen of Sheba. Both of those latter two films were re-made by Italian studios in the golden age of the epic and there is footage from the 1960 Judith of Bethulia and 1952 La Regina di Saba.

    And there are of course numerous clips from the most famous 50s and 60s Hebrew Bible epics Samson and Delilah (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), The Ten Commandments (1956), Solomon and Sheba (1959), The Story of Ruth (1960), Esther and the King (1960), and The Bible In the Beginning (1966)

    The New Testament section skips past the many film versions of the life of Jesus only to spend far too long stuck on the Roman-Biblical Epics such as Ben Hur and The Robe. Whilst there is some interesting footage of the original versions of Ben Hur (1907), Quo Vadis (1912), and Salome (1918).

    Perhaps most interesting was the inclusion of some footage from Civilization (1916 - pictured right). This stars George Fisher as Jesus who appears superimposed on footage of world war one (as far as I'm aware the footage was of actors not real footage). The film appeared in 1916 halfway through the war as a cry to keep America out of the war, and was incredibly popular until America joined her allies the following year. I suppose this was probably the first time an Akerican anti-war film was made, which seems a million miles away from today where almost every film that gets released is examined for politcal arguments in the subtext.

    Anyway, "The Bible in Hollywood", certainly has enough going for it to make bible film affectiandos stump up a few pounds to catch a few glipmses of films they've not seen, even if its low production values will give you a few chuckles as you go.



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