• 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


    Monday, July 31, 2006

    Moses (1996) - Part 1 Scene Guide

    The Bible Collection's Moses was one of those films that really made me want to write more about films in general, and bible films in particular. The film is split into two parts, so I'll look at the first today, and the second later in the week. The scenes included in this film are as follows:
    Birth of Moses - (Ex 2:1-2)
    Death of the infants - (Ex 1:22)
    Moses put on the Nile - (Ex 2:3-4)
    Baby Moses discovered - (Ex 2:5-10)
    [Extra-Biblical Episodes - Moses grows up]
    Moses slays an Egyptian - (Ex 2:11-12)
    Moses rescues Jethro's daughters - (Ex 2:16-20)
    Moses, Zipporah and Gershom - (Ex 2:21-22)
    Ramsees I Dies - (Ex 2:23)
    Burning Bush - (Ex 3:1-4:17)
    [Extra-Biblical Episodes]
    Moses returns to Egypt - (Ex 4:18-20)
    Aaron meets Moses - (Ex 4:27-28)
    Moses and the elders - (Ex 4:29-31)
    Moses and Pharaoh - (Ex 5:1-6)
    Bricks without straw - (Ex 5:7-19)
    Moses's staff and Pharaoh magicians - (Ex 7:10-13 )
    Plague of Blood - (Ex 7:14-24)
    Plague of Frogs - (Ex 8:1-15)
    Plague of Hail - (Ex 9:13-33)
    Plague of Locusts - (Ex 10:1-20)
    Plague of Boils - (Ex 9:8-12)
    The Passover - (Ex 12:1-28)
    Death of the Firstborn - (Ex 12:29-30)
    Pharaoh frees the Slaves - (Ex 12:31-32)
    The Exodus - (Ex 12:33-42)
    Pharaoh Changes his Mind - (Ex 14:5-12)
    Although the film's narrative starts with the events at the beginning of Exodus the opening scene is actually of an older Moses. The camera circles him as an old man on his knees in prayer before going to the start of the story. It's an interesting way to start the film as there is no dialogue, internal or external commentary, or anything that links this opening shot with the start of the story. Moses, of course, has traditionally been associated with the authorship of Exodus (and of the whole five-book Torah in general), it would seem that this is the film-makers way of referring to that tradition. Whilst the text is largely devoid of the literary flourishes one would expect (at least today) from such an auto-biographical work, tradition, at least, has asserted that we hear it through Moses's lips. It is not surprising then that in the cinematic version of his story we see the events through Moses' eyes.

    The film only shows six plagues (Blood, frogs, hail, locusts, boils, and death of the firstborn), and even these are out of order. Interestingly, not all of the accounts of the 10 plagues in Exodus were in the original sources. The main source for them is the 'Yahwist' source, which featured seven or eight plagues (Blood, Frogs, Flies, Livestock, Hail, Locusts, Death of Firstborn and possibly the Plague of Darkness, although some list this as originating with the 'Elohist' source). This was later enhanced by two from the 'Priestly' source (Gnats and Boils). However, there is no real correlation between this film's choice of plagues and any one particular source. The use of Ten Plagues of judgement is possibly to mirror the Ten Commandments that Moses will also bring from God. Although whereas the first group of ten gradually build towards a climax, the later Decalogue starts with the greatest commandment and lists the others as being its logical outworking.

    Whilst the first part of the story is fairly conservative in its scene selection, opting to go for the most popular episodes as expressed by the wealth of previous artistic interpretations of the story, it also subverts the most well-known version of this story to audiences today, namely Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. It does this by highlighting parts of the text that DeMille ostracizes in order to present a classically heroic Moses. So here Moses stutters (Exodus 4:10), and has Aaron do his early bidding. His pleas that God's chose another liberator are heartfelt, unlike Heston's Moses who appears to be simply being humble.

    That said the film also goes beyond the text to subvert DeMille. So Moses always seems awkward and out of place in Pharaoh's palace - almost faintly ridiculous. His Hebrew ancestry, whilst unknown to Pharaoh, are known by Ramsees II amongst others - there is no great discovery. His rescue of Jethro's daughters is more due to his bluff and quick wit than his athleticism and power.

    Perhaps the most significant place where Moses subverts DeMille by returning to the original text is in the parting of the Red Sea. In both of DeMille's version of this incident the parting of the seas is almost instantaneous, and dramatic. However, the text of Exodus actually states that "all that night the LORD drove the sea back" (Ex 14:21). Here, Lionel Chetwynd's teleplay works the drama in another fashion by ending the first half of the film with Moses and the Israelites still waiting God's deliverance whilst the Egyptians close in. Given that the play was originally made for TV this cliff-hanger will have sent many back to their bibles to view the story afresh for the first time, finally liberated from DeMille's showmanship.

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    Friday, July 28, 2006

    Godspell (1973) Scene Guide

    In finishing my 30-film scene guide spreadsheet, I recently revisited Godspell (1972). The film calls itself "A Musical Based Upon The Gospel According To St. Matthew", and so I have prioritised referencing Matthew’s gospel rather than Mark’s as I normally do. I've also listed the times, and the song titles are italicised.
    [0 min] Prologue - (Gen 1)
    [1 min] John the Baptist - (Matt 3:1-12)
    Prepare ye the way of the Lord
    [9 min] Baptism of Jesus - (Matt 3:13-17)
    Save the people
    [14 min] Fulfil the Law - (Matt 5:17-20)
    [17 min] Pharisee & Publican - (Luke 18:10-14)
    [18 min] Settling Disputes - (Matt 5:23-26)
    [19 min] Unmerciful Servant - (Matt 18:23-35)
    Day by day
    [24 min] Eye for Eye - (Matt 5:38-42)
    [25 min] Sheep and Goats - (Matt 25:31-46)
    [27 min] Lamp for the Body - (Matt 6:23)
    [28 min] Two Masters - (Matt 6:24)
    Turn Back O Man
    [33 min] Good Samaritan - (Luke 10:30-37)
    [35 min] Giving Alms - (Matt 6:1-4)
    [36 min] Rich Man & Lazarus - (Luke 16:19-31)
    Bless the Lord
    [42 min] Beatitudes - (Matt 5:3-12)
    All for the Best
    [49 min] Love your Enemies - (Matt 5:43-48)
    [50 min] Parable of the Sower - (Matt 13:3-8, 18-23)
    All Good Gifts
    [53 min] Consider the Lilies - (Matt 6:28-30)
    [56 min] Prodigal Son - (Luke 15:11-32)
    [62 min] Ask Seek & Knock - (Matt 7:9-12)
    [63 min] You are the Light of the World - (Matt 5:13-16)
    Light of the World
    [65 min] Question on Authority - (Matt 21:23-27)
    [66 min] Taxes to Caesar - (Matt 22:15-22)
    [67 min] Greatest Commandment - (Matt 22:34-40)
    [67 min] Seven Woes - (Matt 23:1-39)
    Alas for You
    By my Side
    [74 min] Betrayal of Judas - (Matt 26:14-16)
    Beautiful City
    [78 min] Last Supper - (Matt 26:17-35)
    On the Willows
    [84 min] Gethsemane - (Matt 26:36-46)
    [85 min] Temptation - (Matt 4:1-11)
    [86 min] Arrest - (Matt 26:47-56)
    [88 min] Death - (Matt 27:45-50)
    [92 min] Burial - (Matt 27:57-61)
    Long Live God
    The first thing that is obvious from the above is that not all of the incidents and quotes come from Matthew’s gospel. In addition to two of the songs being loosely based on Psalms, a number of pieces of teaching that are included are from Luke’s gospel. This has led Richard Walsh to claim that the film is more of a version of Q than of Matthew, as it also contains no birth narratives, miracles or prophetic actions. The argument is a little more complicated than that, but even in this simplified form it’s an interesting observation. Certainly, it's one of the Jesus films with the least amount of "action", and no miracles.

    Despite the ongoing popularity of the stage show, the film itself is generally poorly regarded, due to the extent to which it has dated, and the campiness of the film. One other weakness is the way which the script inadvertently breaks the natural narrative arc of the gospel story. Jesus’s confrontation with the religious authorities is depersonalized – his harshest critic is a bizarre robotic creature. The ruling authority is represented by the police, but it is unclear why they wish to see him dead, or how they manage to electrocute someone on a fence (particularly when they are not in contact with the ground). In short Jesus’s death is stripped of its meaning, and is not invested with any new meaning. He appears to die for no other reason than that is what happened in the original story.

    That said, the way the burial / resurrection is handled is far more interesting. Whilst it denies the traditional resurrection, it does visualise a more Bultmannian theory on the resurrection. For Bultmann and those who developed his theories, Jesus remained dead, but the stories of his life were carried to the people, and inspired them with his continuing presence. Here we see Jesus remain dead, but his followers literally carry his body onto the deserted streets of New York. Suddenly as they round a corner they merge into a huge crowd that has suddenly appeared. It's not my personal view of the resurrection, but it's one that has a certain degree of theological insight.

    This is one of only three films to cover the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the other two being Il Messiah, and The Revolutionary. It's an interesting parable, not least because many hold it was one Jesus adopted and put a twist into his adaptation, rather than an original. The setting for this parable is one of the high points of the film visually, using a long stair case which extends from an underground room, to the top of a monument. The camera shots up the steps from the rich man's point of view underground are impressive.

    This is also the only Jesus film that includes the sayings about the sheep and the goats. It is interesting, however, how the film undermines the harsh nature of the original story in its retelling. Once Jesus completes the story "the goats" to come and join the others.

    There are a host of Godspell sites and resources out there, both about the musical and the film. In particular, the full (musical) script (rather than just the song lyrics), and a whole host of photos.

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    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    King of Kings A Few Additional Comments

    Having already reviewed Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961), and written the accompanying scene guide I recently watched it again, for the first time in widescreen, and noticed a few extra things I’d like to comment on. Whilst most critics view the film as a bit of a disaster, no doubt due to the power struggles etc. during production, there are several places where the artistry of Nicholas Ray still shines through, particularly visually.

    One thing I noticed on this viewing was this shot of Jesus at the Last Supper (above). Whilst even early Jesus film’s like The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ avoid showing him with a halo, many Jesus films find alternate, subtler ways to continue this tradition. For example, Godspell depicts Jesus with a 70s "afro"-style hair cut; The Greatest Story Ever Toldplaces him in front of a lighter coloured arch. Here, Ray places a light on the back wall directly behind Jesus actor Jeffery Hunter’s head.

    I also noticed the visual similarity the film makes between the betrayal of Jesus, and the way Herod the Great is betrayed by his son Herod Antipas (as he murders him). Both scenes involve overhead shots, and the betrayer walking up steps en route to their betrayal. Both are attempting to climb up in the world under their own steam. Also in that scene we see the death of one King of the Jews – Herod, prefigure that of Jesus. As Herod falls back down the stairs he lands on his back in a cruciform position, a point which Orson Welles’s narration also notes.

    Despite the vast backdrops this film is shot against, and the spectacle of scenes such as the Sermon on the Mount, Ray also creates a far more intimate Jesus film than those that preceded it, with more of a focus on the motivations and emotions of the key players. This is partly due to the number of close ups in the film, in particular there are two shots where Jesus’s eyes fill the screen. There are also a number of close ups of Judas’s face. Whilst DeMille also uses close ups they feel more detached and objective. DeMille often clouds his close ups with soft focus effects, or refrains from showing Jesus looking directly at the camera. The notable exception – where he heals the blind girl – is the warmest part of HB Warner’s portrayal.

    Alongside the use of close ups we also see a number of shots where Ray physically arranges the actors in places which speak volumes. There are several places where although two characters are talking, the one nearest the camera has their back to the other who stands to the rear of the shot. Such placing, which was popular in the 50s and sixties in films such as Paul Newman’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof signifies the one character trying to shut out the other, and prevent them from coming any closer, or perhaps having their mind on other things. The distance between the characters signifying some other form of distancing, or that their thoughts are far away. In the final scene with Jesus at his mother’s house, Jesus tries to talk about unfinished tasks from his days as a carpenter, but his mind is clearly elsewhere. It takes Mary to articulate what is on Jesus’s mind.

    Whilst I’m discussing some of the visual references of the film, I may as well mention the only place where this film deliberately references the earlier film The King of Kings (1927). On the road to Calvary we see the end of Jesus’s cross bump its way along the street, and just as in the DeMille film the camera moves in for a close up.


    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Rev. Peter Jackson (1949-2006)

    I received sad news yesterday. Peter Jackson, who was the vicar of St. Barnabas church in Leeds where I spent my teenage years, died yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was a remarkable man who greatly inspired me as a teenager in my walk with God, not just as a teenager but as Dad to my good friend Lee Jackson. Not only was he full of wisdom, but he was also someone that took risks and released people (giving me many opportunities for service that most teenagers would be denied), and a great encourager - a living demonstration of the spirit of the man our church was named after.

    He'd worked as an electrician in Teeside for much of his life before finding God and training to become a vicar at St. John's College, Nottingham, and serving as a curate in York. After St. Barnabas he was vicar of St. Luke's church in Holbeck. He had recently retired, but kept active, living passionately for God, even urging others his age to do the same in a chapter in Lee's recent book "Cut to the Chase".

    He was also the first person I heard really talk about Jesus films, whether it was joking about how Robert Powell never blinked, or discussing how films in the 50s only showed Jesus's back or his arms. He also published a review of Last Temptation of Christ when it was first shown on Channel 4. His review refused to over react, pointing out some of the film's strengths as well as it's weaknesses. I think that left an indelible impression on me at least.

    He leaves behind his wife Avril, his children Angela and Lee, and 4 Grandchildren: Amy, Philippa, Lauren and Rhea. Peter often talked about Heaven, and it was perhaps fitting that I had been giving two talks on the subject of future hope on the day I heard he had died - even quoting him at one point. Two things he said stick out in particular. Firstly, how he expected God would point out various people to us who were only there because of our actions, and secondly, how he looked forward to playing his trumpet there. Heaven's gain is our loss.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Huston on making The Bible

    I realised the other day that I haven't blogged on a film about the Old Testament since the 5th June when I posted about the planned, Ten Commandments spoof, The Ten to star Paul Rudd. This is, of course, partly due to having time off for becoming a father, as well wanting to cover Radio 4's Silverscreen Beats series on the music of various Jesus films, as well as there being a fair bit of news about forthcoming Jesus films such as The Nativity Story, and the BBC's Passion. Anyway, it's clearly time to redress the balance.

    Recently, I picked up a copy of John Huston's auto-biography "An Open Book" (which you can search inside at Amazon). My main point of interest was of course his discussion of his 1966 film The Bible: In the Beginning which is one of my favourite Old Testament films, and which I discussed briefly in my review of films about Genesis. Huston, as the title suggests, is fairly open about the various comings and goings, and is much more interested in telling stories surrounding the production that giving a careful shot by shot analysis of every scene. Although he later denied any similarity with Cecil B. DeMille, they do, at least, have this in common.1

    Huston raises a number of interesting points. Firstly, he clearly has a love for animals, and readily gives the impression that the part of the film he enjoyed most was the scenes of Noah's Ark. Of course, ultimately Huston himself played Noah, and incorporated into the final film several of the quirky habits of some of his four legged friends such as the elephant that uses his trunk to force Huston to stroke him some more, the hippo who would open his mouth as soon as he heard Huston approach, and the giraffes that would block his path until he fed them sugar. Despite his love of animals, and the high level of care and personal attention he gave to them before and during filming, Huston originally had wanted Charlie Chaplin for the role.
    It would have been a strange choice, although perhaps it explains the strangely anachronistic scene where Noah gets a bucket of pitch stuck on his foot, and slides down the ark's sloping deck. That scene has always felt so out of keeping with the feel of the rest of the film. The other actor Huston wanted for the role was Alec Guinness who was at the time, popularly known as much for his (Ealing) comedy as his more serious work.

    My favourite sequence of the film is the creation scene, and Huston explains how they spent quarter of a million on these opening few minutes alone. The scenes were not shot by Huston, but by stills photographer Ernst Haas, who had no experience of motion picture photography and had to go on a crash course before flying to the far corners of the globe to get his footage. Huston explains how he wanted these scenes to be shown...
    ...not as a single event at the beginning of time, but as a continuing, eternal process. Each morning is a new creation - something now and forever.
    What is impressive about these, in addition to the jaw dropping beauty of the images, is the way they so skilfully plot a course between a seven-day literalist interpretation on the one hand, and more metaphorical readings on the other. Just like the written text, the viewer looks at the raw material and is able to apply their own interpretation. In fact, the whole film works in a similar way. the great strength of this film is how it manages to be rigidly literal to the text, whilst simultaneously suggesting a mythical reading.

    When interviewed about the film, Huston was almost always asked if he believed the bible literally, and he obligingly includes his stock response that

    Genesis represented a transition from Myth, when man, faced with creation and other deep mysteries, invented explanations for the inexplicable; to Legend, when he attributed to his forebears heroic qualities of leadership, valor and wisdom; to History, when, having emerged from Myth and Legend, accounts of real exploits and events of the past were handed down from father to son before the written word.
    The reading of Genesis marking a movement from myth to legend to history is not uncommon, in fact CS Lewis expressed a similar view in his essay "Is Theology Poetry" for "Screwtape Proposes a Toast":
    The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical - hanging in the clouds: but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah's Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate.
    (You can read more of this here)

    Huston does reveal a few of the tricks of the film. The tower of babel was shot on two sets in two different countries. The base was built on the studio's back lot (presumably in Italy), whilst the summit was built on the top of a steep slope outside Cairo. However, to give the impression of a tall tower whilst filming at the base they used a glass shot (painting the top of the tower, in correct perspective, on a piece of glass positioned in front of the camera). He also discusses in some detail the process used to create the (seemingly unedited) creation of Adam sequence using three clay casts built by sculptor Giacomo Manzu.

    There are also a few interesting quotes. He recounts, for example, what is probably his most famous cry during filming "I don't know how God managed, I'm having a terrible time". It would appear that this was caused more by George C. Scott and the Egyptian authorities, than by animals behaving as they shouldn't.

    There are also a number of quotes on the nature of his faith. Perhaps the most extensive is his answer to the question "Do you believe in God?"
    in the beginning, the Lord God was in love with mankind and accordingly jealous. He was forever asking mankind to prove our affection for Him: for example, seeing if Abraham would cut his son's throat. But then, as eons passed, His ardor cooled and He assumed a new role--that of a beneficient deity. All a sinner had to do was confess and say he was sorry and God forgave him. The fact of the matter was that He had lost interest. That was the second step. Now it would appear that He'd forgotten about us entirely. He's taken up, maybe, with life elsewhere in the universe on another planet. It's as though we ceased to exist as far as He's concerned. Maybe we have.

    The truth is I don't profess any beliefs in an orthodox sense. It seems to me that the mystery of life is too great, too wide, too deep, to do more than wonder at. Anything further would be, as far as I'm concerned, an impertinence.
    You can read more of Huston's quotes on religion, faith and God here.

    1-Madsen, A., John Huston: A Biography, Doubleday and Company: Garden City, New York (1978), p. 212

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    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    30 Film Scene Guide Spreadsheet Available to Download

    Anyone who regularly finds themselves flipping through Cassettes or DVDs of various Jesus films might find this useful. I have finally posted my spreadsheet giving a side by side comparison of the episodes in 30 Jesus films. For ease of use I've also segmented this into the three main chunks in the life of Jesus (at least according to the movies) - Birth & Childhood, Ministry, and Passion Week. The lists of films included are as follows:
    La Vie du Christ (1899?) La Mort du Christ (1902?) Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1902-8) From the Manger to the Cross (1912) Son of Man (1915) Jesus of Nazareth (1916/1919) The King of Kings (1927) Golgotha (1935) Living Christ Series (1951-52) Day of Triumph (1954) King of Kings (1961) Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Son of Man (1969) Godspell (1973) Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Gospel Road (1973) Il Messia (1975) Jesus of Nazareth - long (1977) Jesus of Nazareth - short (1977) Dayasagar / Karunamoorthy (1978) Jesus (1979) Life of Brian (1979) Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Jesus of Montreal (1989) The Revolutionary (1999) Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999) The Miracle Maker (1999) Jesus - Mini Series (1999) Jesus Christ Superstar (2000) The Passion of the Christ (2004)
    There are a couple of notable emissions. Firstly, I've ignored the three word for word films adaptations of the gospels, The Genesis Project's version of Luke (1979), The Visual Bible's version of Matthew (1994), and their more recent Gospel of John (2003). As all three of these are word for word, I figure people can just follow them with a copy of the relevant gospel in front of them instead. I also haven't been able to include The Day Christ Died (1980) as, sadly, I have never seen it. Anyone who knows how I can get hold of it I would love to know! There are also two different guides for the two cuts of Jesus of Nazareth available at the moment. In the UK we can only get the four and a half hour version at the moment (or at least last time I looked), whereas the longer six and a half hour version is the standard version in the US (and hey, what's an extra two hours when you're that far through!) A few acknowledgements. Although this is almost entirely my own work, there are a few places where I've utilised other people's work to patch up a few holes in my records. So in one or two places I used Stern, Jefford and Debona's Savior on the Silver Screen, plus I referred to a guide Alan Thomas did for the longer cut of Jesus of Nazareth (available here), and a scene-by-scene guide that Darell Bock did for The Passion of the Christ. I've tried to use consistent names for the same incidents, although there are plenty of examples where I haven't, but hopefully that makes searching for various representations of the same event Yancey-style a bit easier (use Excel's "Find" feature). I've also included some of the key extra-biblical episodes, but not every incident, and again this is a bit inconsistent from film to film. These are marked in pale grey. In terms of printing it out I suggest you use Excel's "Hide" function to hide any columns for film's you're not interested in. Please feel free to download this guide and use it as you wish. I do however ask that if you are reproducing it you give me the appropriate credit as author, and do not use it for something you're charging for without asking me first. I've fairly laid back about such things, but it's nice to be asked.


    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    The DeMille Collection

    I've been meaning to post this for a while. Five of legendary Bible Films director Cecil B. DeMille's films have been released on DVD as "The DeMille Collection". The collection includes Cleopatra, The Crusades, Four Frightened People, Sign of the Cross and Union Pacific, which, as far as I'm aware, aren't available on DVD in any other format yet.

    I've not actually seen any of these films, and so I'm fairly tempted to get the collection. Of most relevance here is obviously Sign of the Cross, the now infamous "early Christian" film which provided the necessary impetus to get the Hayes production code off the ground. There's obviously some common ground as well with Cleopatra and The Crusades, two stories which have been fairly poorly represented on the screen. The most famous version of Cleopatra is the 1963 Liz Taylor and Richard Burton version, whilst the lost, Theda Bara version from 1920 seems to be the one otherwise best remembered. Similarly there have been relatively few movies on the Crusades. Last year's Kingdom of Heaven being something of an exception. Peter Chattaway has previously discussed some of the other films that have looked at those events.

    As for Four Frightened People and Union Pacific I know very little other than what it says on the Amazon & IMDB.


    Monday, July 17, 2006

    Golgotha (1935) Scene Guide

    I wrote a review for Julian Duvivier's 1935 Jesus film Golgotha when I first viewed it last year. As I hadn't started this blog by then I never got around to writing up a scene guide, but this weekend, I finally got around to it. Like the scene guide for the Indian Jesus film Dayasagar whilst it is a bit more of a challenge working out which episodes from the life of Christ, it is surprising how much of it one can decipher. As usual, this scene guide follows my citation policy.
    Plot against Jesus - (John 11:45-57)
    Triumphal Entry - (Mark 11:1-11)
    Cleansing the Temple - (Mark 11:15-18)
    Taxes to Caesar - (Mark 12:13-17)
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:12-31)
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-42)
    Arrest - (Mark 14:43-52)
    Caiaphas Trial - (Mark 14:53-64)
    Mocking - (Mark 14:65)
    Pilate 1st trial - (Mark 14:66)
    Herod Trial - (Luke 23:1-5)
    Crowds reject Jesus - (Luke 23:6-12)
    Scourging - (John 19:1-3)
    Pilate 2nd trial - (John 19:4-16)
    Road to the cross - (Luke 23:24-26)
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:24-32)
    Death - (Mark 15:33-41)
    Burial - (Mark 15:42-47)
    Women at the tomb - (Matt 28:1-10)
    Road to Emmaus - (Luke 24:13-35)
    Jesus Appears to Disciples - (Luke 24:36-39)
    Thomas - (John 20:26-29)
    Restoration of Peter - (John 21:15-19)
    The film appears to have originally released under the title Ecce Homo. The title was changed on it's release to American audiences.

    I noted in my review of this film how unusual it is to see John 18:6 portrayed on screen, even claiming that as far as I was aware "no other film has shown this incident". I've since realised that another of my top ten Jesus films also depicts this incident - From the Manger to the Cross (1912).

    It's interesting seeing Judas betray Jesus with a kiss in a French film. Firstly, the way Judas kisses Jesus is on both cheeks, in typical French style. Seeing this though placed the kiss in a new context, a more commonplace greeting, and probably closer to the original cultural practice than the more reserved "Men don't kiss" approach of Britain and America.

    Another fairly rare scene is the restoration of Peter from the epilogue to John's gospel in chapter 21. This is obviously included in The Gospel of John (2003), as well as Dayasagar (1978). It is also referenced in The Miracle Maker (1999), but even so it's still relatively rare. I suppose in some ways it's a bit of a dramatic anti-climax coming after Jesus's resurrection, and it's difficult to include it without it becoming one of those films that has too many endings. That said, The Gospel of John in particular makes this scene a real high point.

    One interesting detail I noticed was that the nails are placed through Jesus' wrists rather than his hands. This is generally held to be more historically accurate, but at this stage filmic depictions of the crucifixion always showed the nails going through the hands. Prior to seeing this film I had thought it wasn't until Campus Crusade/Genesis Project's film Jesus (1979) that a Jesus film had shown the nails going through the wrists (and from then on, it became the norm).

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    Friday, July 14, 2006

    The King of Kings (1927) - Scene Guide

    This scene guide will be slightly different to normal as DeMille and his writer, Jeannie MacPherson, take a different approach to most Jesus films - different even to other silent films about the life of Christ. Whilst they build their plot as normal - primarily using stories out of the gospels - and also take the majority of their dialogue from the gospels, the words "spoken" are not infrequently from a different gospel story to that which is being shown. Hence, two sets of verses will be cited. Firstly, those in round brackets (like this) will refer to the episode being shown, and will follow my usual practice. Secondly, those verses in curly brackets {like this} will be the verses that form the dialogue, based on the intertitle cards which cite the relevant passage.

    [extra-biblical episode - Home of Mary Magdalene]
    [extra-biblical episode - Healing of Mark] - {Mark 2:1-2, John 9:16, 1 Pe 3:13}
    The 12 disciples - (Mark 3:16-19)
    [extra-bibical episode - Healing a blind girl] - {Mark 3:2, John 12:46, Luke 8:39}
    Exorcism of Mary Magdalene - (Luke 8:2) - {Matt 7:7, 8:3, 5:8}
    The Plot against Jesus - (John 11:45-53) - {John 12:19, 5:18, Matt v21:46, John 7:47}
    Woman Caught in Adultery - (John 8:2-11) - {John 8:4-5, 7, Luke 18:11, John 8:10,11,11}
    Jesus and the Children - (Mark 10:13-16) - {Luke 8:1, Mark 10:14}
    Raising of Lazarus - (John 11:17-44) - {John 11:21-22, 23, 17, 25, 43, 44}
    Cleansing the Temple - (Mark 11:15-16) - {John 2:14, 16, Mark 11:15, Matt 21:23, 13, John 2:19}
    Triumphal Entry - (Mark 11:1-11) - {Luke 19:37, Mark 11:10, John 14:6, Luke 19:38}
    Attempt to crown Jesus King - (John 6:14-15) - {John 6:15}
    Temptation of Jesus - (Matt 4:1-11) - {Matt 4:8, 9, Luke 4:8, John 18:36, Matt 6:9-10}
    Judas agrees to Betray Jesus - (Mark 14:1-2, 10-11) - {Matt 26:14-15, Mark 14:2}
    Last Supper - (Mark 14: 12-31) - {Luke 22:19, Matt 26:27-28, John 13:33-34, Luke 22:21, John 13:27, Matt 26:22, John 16:33, Matt 20:28}
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-50) - {Matt 26:36, 38-36(sic.), Luke 22:42, 44, Matt 26:40-41, 42, John 17:1-4, Matt 26:48, 49, Luke 22:48, Matt 26:51, 55, John 18:8}
    Trial before Pilate - (John 18:28-38) - (Mark 15:1, Luke 23:2, 3, John 19:10, 18:37, 38, Luke 23:14-22, Matt 27:20, Ps 15:5)
    Mocking and Scourging - (John 19:1-3)
    2nd Trial before Pilate - (John 19:4-16) - {Matt 27:18, John 18:39, Luke 23:18, Matt 27:22, Mark 15:14, John 19:15, Matt 27:24, Matt 27:4}
    Road to the Cross - (Luke 23:26-32) - {Luke 23:32, Mark 15:21}
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:21-32) - {Luke 23:33, Mark 15:23, Matt 27:42, Luke 23:34, 39, 40-41, 42, 43, Matt 27:45, 43
    Judas Hangs Himself - (Matt 27:5)
    Death of Jesus - (Mark 15:33-41) - {Luke 23:46, Matt 27:51, Mark 15:39, Matt 27:51}
    [extra-biblical episode - Resurrection]
    Appearance to Mary - (John 20:11-17) - {John 20:11, 15, 13, 16, 16, 17, Matt 28:6}
    Appearance to Disciples - (John 20:19-29) - {John 20:19, 19, Luke 24:39. John 20:28, 29, 21:17, Mark 16:15)
    [extra-biblical episode - "modern" day ending] - {Matt 28:20}
    Firstly, the above guide is based on the shorter version of the film (112 minutes) which has been available on NTSC VHS for a number of years, and until recently was the only version on general release. I believe this is the version that has now been released on DVD in the UK (although different retailers claim different things). However, in America there is now a 2 disc version of this film available which contains both this shorter cut (which I believe was not released until 1928), and the longer original release which ran to 155 minutes. Peter Chattaway reviewed the Criterion 2-disc release for Christianity Today back in 2004 and listed the following scenes that were cut from the version I am familiar with:
    For those familiar only with the shorter version of the film, the original, longer version is a revelation. Most significantly, it enhances the role of Judas, and his efforts to exploit the ministry of Christ for political purposes. The original film also suggests it was Judas who tried to cast a demon out of a possessed boy but failed, presumably because he wasn't a "real" disciple, before Jesus came along and did the job properly (Mark 9:14-29).

    Other roles are enhanced, too. The Virgin Mary comforts the mother of one of the thieves at Calvary, and can now be seen directing Jesus's attention to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb; Pilate's wife (Majel Coleman) makes an appearance; and the scene in which Peter (Ernest Torrence) denies Christ has been fully restored. In keeping with DeMille's creative rearranging of biblical stories, the longer film also includes a sequence that brilliantly combines the conversion of the tax collector Matthew (Mark 2:14), the exchange in which Jesus advocates paying taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17), and the episode in which Jesus pays the Temple tax with a coin that Peter finds inside the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:24-27)
    . He also notes how not only is the colour technique used for the resurrection scene at the end of the film, but it is also used for the scene in Mary Magdalene's house at the start of the film.

    Secondly, another guide to this film is included in Stern, Jefford and Debona's "Savior on the Silver Screen". However, I was surprised to find such a large number of differences between their account and mine. I think there must have been a typesetting error at their end as they jump from Jesus blessing the little children to Gethsemane and the trial before Pilate, and then back to the raising of Lazarus and the cleansing of the temple. I did wonder whether they were reviewing the longer cut, but they don't mention the changes Peter highlights, nor does the flow of their narrative (no matter whether you read it columns then pages, or the other way around). However, it is also interesting to notice that we come up with different sets of verses. I think this is possibly because they are more interested in allusions from the gospels, whereas I'm more interested in the portrayal of incidents from the gospels.

    Finally, it's interesting to see how this film compares with the gospels it harmonises. DeMille both blends the gospels fairly closely, and conversely does away with chunks of them in favour of his own interpretation and re-contextualisation. But which gospel portrait does it most closely resemble? One obvious pointer is that the film excludes Jesus's childhood (like the gospels of Mark and John). Like DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923) before it the film is not concerned with its central figure's character development, emotions, or inner thoughts. This is a fully developed Jesus remote from human experience from the start. This would be a more Johannine portrait than a synoptic one. If we take a closer look at the scenes we find that of the four key biblical episodes shown prior to the Last Supper (Woman Caught in Adultery, Raising of Lazarus, Cleansing of the Temple and the Triumphal entry) two are solely from John, and the other two are in both John and the synoptics. Furthermore, the trial scenes most closely resemble John with the scourging seeming to be Pilate's attempt to placate the crowd yet save Jesus's life. Finally, the only scenes following Jesus' resurrection are John's accounts of Mary finding the risen Jesus, and his appearance to the disciples with Thomas's confession.

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    Thursday, July 13, 2006

    Jesus of Nazareth (1916) Final Scenes Guide

    It seems worth rounding off my look at From The Manger to the Cross (1912), and the modified version of it Jesus of Nazareth (1916/1919?) by posting a scene guide for the closing scenes. As I noted in my discussion of the film, it is basically From The Manger to the Cross with a tagged on burial, resurrection and ascension.

    I noted earlier how these final scenes use a different actor from Robert Henderson Bland who played Jesus in From the Manger to the Cross. Furthermore, whilst posting this, I've also realised that these few scenes actually utilise two different actors to play Jesus as should be obvious from their pictures on the right. Anyway, here is the detail on those extra scenes:
    Guide to scenes taken from From The Manger to the Cross
    Burial - (Mark 15:42-47)
    [extra-biblical episode - The Resurrection
    Women at the Tomb - (Mark 16:1-8)
    Ascension - (Luke 24:50-51, John 14:6)
    What is interesting about these extra scenes is that it shows what the bible doesn't describe - the actual moment of resurrection - and then skips the stories the bible does include, namely the discovery of the empty tomb, and the various reactions to it, and the appearance to various disciples. Whilst films from The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1905) to The Passion of the Christ (2004) have shown the resurrection despite it's omission from the gospels, most of them have also shown some reaction to it (although Gibson's film is a notable exception). Here though we only see one woman joining two others. I read this as Mary Magdalene telling some of the other female disciples about his resurrection, although it is hard to tell with such a brief scene (11 seconds and a very poor quality picture). However the shot is interpreted it is hard to fit this scene into any of the post-resurrection accounts that any of the gospels give. Mark lists 3 women who find an empty tomb and run off scared. Matthew has only two women who find an empty tomb and then meet Jesus. Luke has more than 3 women finding and empty tomb and telling the disciples, and John has Mary alone finding the empty tomb, telling Peter and John, and then meeting the risen Christ on her own.

    The final scene is the ascension which possibly goes further than any other film in showing Jesus flying off into space, and ends on the sign of the cross. I'm still wondering what the best cinematic depiction is of this scene. I quite like the ones in The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1905), where he, quite literally, goes up into heaven in one (smoothish) move, and the one in Dayasagar (1978) where he grows showing the transition from a man to a man of heaven, and the influence his life would have after his resurrection. I also like the brief version in Pasolini's film, and the shot of the event from Jesus' point of view in Jesus (1979).

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    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Nativity News vol.3 - Hardwicke's Thirteen

    Having not seen the other films by The Nativity Story director Catherine Hardwicke I thought it would be good to catch up on them at some point before the release of the film, and thankfully I got hold of both her major works to date in a sale at the local video shop. Last night I got to sit down to watch the first of those two films Thirteen (2003).


    Thirteen follows approximately six months in the life of Tracey (played by Evan Rachel Wood) from the start of her new school term when she decides to re-invent herself in order to hang out with Evie, "the hottest girl in school". The two quickly become friends with both of them leaving their old mates behind to go after boys and experiment with all the things they know they shouldn't.

    What is impressive about Thirteen is the way it turns that seemingly banal premise into such a compelling and disturbing drama. One of the key ways director Catherine Hardwicke achieves this is through her dizzying expressionist camera work. Effortlessly fusing typically MTV style visuals with more restrained, intimate tableaux the film manages to help the viewer appreciate the story from the perspective of both Tracey and of her mother Mel. But the numerous point-of-view shots, particularly during the most shocking moments of the two girls' behaviour, means that the viewer experience the world through Tracey's eyes rather than her mother's.

    And there is much to be shocked at. Tracey and Evie (played by the film's 15 year-old co-writer Nikki Reed) put themselves through theft, piercings, sex, alcohol and drug abuse, which is horrendous enough when experienced by 18 year-olds, but despite their adult appearances these girls are only 13. They are old before their time, wishing their lives away for the cheap thrills of a forbidden world. When the film was first released it drew criticism for portraying these typical American girls in such an untypical fashion, and yet with rates of teenage pregnancies soaring can anyone really doubt that this film reflects the experiences of a significant number of teenagers?

    However, if the film only focussed on Tracey's experiences it would lack balance, and in many ways the shockingness of it is intensified by the empathy Hardwicke creates for her (presumably) adult audience with Tracey's mother Mel (Holly Hunter). Hunter gives a truly awesome performance as a women with a big heart but terrible boundaries, and an inability to say no when she really needs to. No-one can doubt her love for Tracey except for Tracey herself who only sees a broken relationship with her detached father, an unsuitable boyfriend, the poverty of her home, and the way she allows other to take advantage of her. It's no wonder that Tracey grows up with so little self respect. Perhaps the most heart wrenching moment of the film is not the various abuses listed above but when we see Tracey cutting herself early on in the film. At this point Tracey has not yet spiralled out of control, but the scars of previous cuttings are plain to see. Yet it's only when this deep self hatred emerges in her outward behaviour that her mother, and indeed the viewer are really appalled.

    Thirteen is a powerful film with an incredibly strong script (even before you take into account the inexperience of its co-writer). Whilst it doesn't take much to draw a strong performance out of Holly Hunter, Hardwicke certainly helps her achieve her best performance in years, and gets two such incredible portrayals out of her teenage stars that one is totally submerged in the film. The final scenes leave things ambiguous (how could they not?), but just as they offer a parting of the ways, one suspects that Tracey and Evie's lives will go in different directions. Tragically, Evie's mother is neither unable (or perhaps unwilling) to see through her daughter's lies, nor to face up to her own failings. Tracey, on the other hand is hugged for hours by her mother who offers love, understanding, and a resolve to change things in the light of the truth. Whilst I imagine that both families would face many struggles in the years ahead, I can't escape the suspicion that the family in which love and truth reign has the upper hand.


    There are a few points I want to make about the film particularly in relation to The Nativity Story.

    Firstly, on the basis of this film, the plot outlines for her other film Lords of Dogtown, and the talk about The Nativity Story Hardwicke seems to have a particular interest in hyper-realistic, coming of age dramas. Nativity will be her second film looking at a young teenage girl whose life is changed forever. I'm keen to see how these themes play out in Dogtown, I think they will give Nativity a real edge. There are some interesting comments by Hardwicke on Thirteen at CNN.

    Secondly, it is interesting that Mel's boyfriend, Brady, in Thirteen is played by Jeremy Sisto, who obviously played Jesus in Jesus (1999). Whilst Brady has good in him, he gives the impression of being equally as detached and unaware as Tracey's father. In fact it's interesting that there is such an absence of strong male characters in Thirteen. Does this absence suggest that this is part of the problem. How will this play out in Nativity where Joseph, Mary's father Joachim, and God himself are all, in some sense, fathers?

    Finally, as my review above suggests I am very impressed by Thirteen, and can understand Jeffrey Overstreet's excitement on hearing Hardwicke has taken the project. I hope she somehow retains much of the innovative camera work, and I can understand why she was drawn to Mike Rich's script and that it has "gotten so inside the characters".1

    1 - Mark Moring, "O Little Town", Christianity Today web edition, 06/07/06

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    Monday, July 10, 2006

    More News on BBC Jesus Film Project

    See all posts on this film
    Back in April, I mentioned news that following on from the Manchester Passion the BBC were planning to film a dramatised series on the life of Christ for Easter 2008. I've been eagerly awaiting more details on this project and Mark Goodacre has just revealed he has something of inside track on things. Whilst he's obviously not been able to talk about his involvement thus far, The Stage has a story on the film, which looks like it's going to be called The Passion.
    Frank Deasy, one of the writers of Prime Suspect, will pen the BBC’s new £4 million drama The Passion, which is understood to be scheduled for 2008.

    The mini-series will follow the week leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Producer Nigel-Stafford Clark, who recently worked on the Corporation’s award-winning adaptation of Bleak House, told MediaGuardian that he had selected Deasy because he had an instinctive understanding of the task.

    It is reported that the format will take the same soap opera scheduling approach as Bleak House - in half hour episodes each night.

    The production, which was the brainchild of the BBC religion department, will also see input from new head of religion and ethics, Michael Wakelin, while Mark Goodacre, a British academic expert on Jesus, has also been engaged as a consultant.
    This is all good news. I don't know much about Frank Deasy, other than that Prime Suspect was well thought of. However, I enjoyed Bleak House on the whole, and Mark's involvement is encouraging, particularly if they are going to take on board what he actually says. He is the ideal man for the job given his media experience, academic expertise and love of Jesus film.

    Whilst the budget of £4 million would be nothing for a Hollywood film (even Gibson's self-financed film cost $25 million), it isn't bad for a BBC TV production. Bleak House, with a running time of around 7 hours, looked lush on a budget of £6 million, so hopefully this shorter project (6 half hour episodes), will fare just as well.

    That story refers to this one from the Guardian, which also includes the following:
    Stafford-Clark's vision of bold, simple storytelling, and will fully characterise the other figures involved in the story. For example, the disciples will be distinctive individuals and the scribes and Pharisees will be fleshed out rather than portrayed simply as cartoon villains.

    The Passion will set the drama in an historical and political context and will tell the story from three points of view: Jesus; the Romans - headed by Pontius Pilate; and the religious authorities.

    Stafford-Clark points to Pasolini's 1964 film, The Gospel According to St Matthew, as the style he admires, rather than the violence of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ or Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which portrayed Jesus as a man with sexual passions...

    ...Deasy will write the first draft of scripts during the autumn, with filming on location in the second half of 2007, ahead of broadcast in 2008. The production is expected to sell around the world, appeal to family audiences, and will cost in excess of £4m.
    Of course it's par for the course that film-makers claim their films will be "historical". I also can't help but wonder about Stafford-Clark's comments about "cartoon villains", in the light of the fairly cartoonish portrayals of several of the characters in Bleak House such as Johnny Vegas's Krook. It's interesting that both sources present their villains fairly one-dimensionally, but in the earlier production that was built up, whereas here they sound like they are looking to down-play it.

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    Silverscreen Beats: Last Temptation of Christ

    The final part of BBC Radio 4's Silverscreen Beats series on Jesus films aired on Friday with a look at Last Temptation of Christ. It's a score that has gained wide acclaim, and many have cited it as composer Peter Gabriel's finest work. Certainly it gives the film a real edge, and whilst much of the music is more Arabic than Hebrew, the score's middle-eastern sound heightens one's awareness of the location, reminding the viewer that this story took place in a different place and in a different time.

    The analysis on this episode of Silverscreen beats is possibly a little greater than for the other four programmes. I particularly appreciated the comments made by co-producer David Bottrill about the uplifting music used at the end of the film. It's one of my favourite parts of the film. Many have criticised the film for, amongst other things, its exclusion of the resurrection. However, this misses the point of what the sound (and indeed the visuals) do at this point. The intense flashing images and the up-beat music not only hint at the resurrection that is to come, but it is also practically the only film that celebrates the victory that Christians believe Jesus won on the cross. Most films only focus on the sadder aspects of the crucifixion, rather than those aspects that gave the day it is celebrated the title Good Friday.

    One of the things that the programme mentions is how Scorsese actually cut certain aspects of the score, most notably in the scene when Jesus comes down off the cross. Even so, the score is not without its own controversy. In "Imaging the Divine", Lloyd Baugh objects to the way the film juxtaposes the most solemn ritual in the film, the jewish seder / Last Supper, with the Muslim call to prayer, calling it one of the film's "grotesqueries"1.

    What the programme didn't mention was how the film influenced the score for The Passion of the Christ. I remember how at the time a number of people were amazed that Gabriel was not credited in some way. For example, Jeffrey Overstreet wondered if it might qualify as "musical plagiarism", noting how "the themes and flourishes here are so similar that some will swear it’s exactly the same music. It would only have been fair to credit Gabriel’s influence".

    1 - Lloyd Baugh, "Imaging the Divine : Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film", Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward (1998) p.59.

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    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Silverscreen Beats: Life of Brian

    The fourth programme in the 5 part Silverscreen Beats series about music from Jesus films aired yesterday, and it was the turn of Monty Python's Life of Brian. When I first heard about this particular instalment I hoped it might be the most significant episode, but also worried it would just be 15 minutes discussion about "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". Thankfully, it was the former and not the latter.

    There were a few things that I thought were particularly worth of note. Firstly, composer Geoffrey Burgon, who was quoted extensively, expressed his disappointment that no-one ever picks up on the musical quotes he puts in citing, Mozart, Wagner and Monte Verdi in particular. I know that James Monaco in "How to Read a Film" suggests that our lack of appreciation for comedy film demonstrates that we don't really understand the medium of film enough. The fact that the music for Life of Brian has been so overlooked, even when it is actually a key part of the humour, gives some support to his theory.

    The other thing that particularly stood out was when Terry Jones admitted he hadn't really liked "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" when he first heard it. The musical analysis of the song reveals how it has the same underlying sequence as the famous do-wop progression (you'll know it when you hear it).

    One thing they didn't mention is how the film's score not only parodies 60s biblical epics, particularly King of Kings and Spartacus, but also how the song over the opening credits parodies the Shirley Bassey-esque opening songs of the James Bond franchise.

    There's plenty of discussion around about this film, but in particular I'd recommend the chapter on the film in Stern, Jefford and Debona's "Savior on the Silver Screen".

    The programme can still heard listened to on the BBC Website. The final programme airs this afternoon and investigates Peter Gabriel's score for Last Temptation of Christ.

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    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Silverscreen Beats:Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar

    I've been continuing to enjoy Silverscreen Beats, although more via BBC online than live. I notice that Mark Goodacre has responded to my question about his role in the series as follows:Well, the clip of me speaking, as well as a lot of the rest of the content, is taken from a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast on Easter Day 2004 and entitled Silverscreen Superstar. I blogged on it briefly at the time (Silverscreen Superstar, 15 April 2004). I didn't know about the new version, so I am interested to see how it pans out and whether they'll be using any more of me in it.In other words it is a new series made by interspersing recycled content from another programme with new comments from Miles Jupp (who the BBC introducers are keen to stress is a theology graduate).

    On Tuesday it looked at Godspell which is one of Jesus films that I appreciate less than most. Both of these films have dated significantly in the 33 years since their release, but Godspell possibly more than Jesus Christ Superstar. That said, hearing the music again has given me a new appreciation for the music in the film.

    The biggest strength of the film for me is the way it gives creative interpretations of the parables. Most Jesus films tend to produce these in a rather stodgy format, presenting them as the sacred texts they have crystallised into over 2000 years of church history losing the vitality of the dynamic, creative, challenging nature of storytelling. It's also worth pointing out how the parables were very much part of the wider culture in Jesus's time, a little like how the film tries to re-imagine the story into the culture of its time.

    The programme made a couple of interesting points. Firstly, one of the interviewees comments on how at the time Godspell was widely accepted by church groups, but has now fallen into disrepute as fundamentalism has risen. This strikes me as an interesting contrast to Jesus Christ Superstar which was considered scandalous in its time for it lack of resurrection amongst other things, but is gradually being rehabilitated. Whilst I don't imagine it's any more popular than Godspell amongst fundamentalists (especially as it also excludes the resurrection), it's curious to see these two films level out in acceptability having come from very different starting points.

    The other point that was new to me was the discussion of the movement between sharps and flats in "Day by Day" and how that reflects the back and forth of prayer.

    For what it's worth there's a 30 second clip of "All for the Best", one of the songs from Godspell, here. This clip has become infamous now for being shot from the roof of one of the twin towers, and it feels strangely inappropriate post 9/11. I've also just discovered Big Bopper which has music and a number of pictures from the film.

    One of the most interesting discussions about Godspell is in Richard Walsh's book "Reading the Gospels in the Dark" which I touched on st the end of this post from last month.

    Yesterday (Wednesday) the series looked at Jesus Christ Superstar, which whilst it also isn't one of my favourite Jesus films, is certainly my second favourite musical (behind Sweeney Todd). There's a nice article on this film by Mark Goodacre (who has appeared in all three programmes so far) at the Journal of Religion and Film.

    One of the things the programme didn't really talk about is the way Tim Rice harnesses the full potential of the musical to give us a new way of looking at Jesus. The Musical is one of the only dramatic art forms that allows a number of different characters to express their inner feelings whether through the solo (monologue), or songs with a number of the leads (which can either be dialogue or consecutive monologues). Of course, in theory, other dramatic forms can, and indeed do, do this on occasion, but it is perhaps in the musical where this feels most natural. What Rice does is include a high number of solos, giving us the internal monologue of a number of the lead characters. So for the first time we hear the "thoughts" of Judas, Jesus, Mary, Pilate, as well as Herod, Peter and Simon Zealotes to a lesser extent, all within the same piece.

    It was interesting to hear how the title "Superstar" got associated with the song, film and album. I must admit that I tend to think of this as a musical first, rather than an album as Rice was suggesting we should. But then since I'm such a big fan of the music in this film it shouldn't be too hard to make that leap.

    The series continues today at 3:45 BST with a look at the music from Life of Brian.

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    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    New BBC Documentary Series - "The Miracles of Jesus"

    UPDATE: I've now reviewed this programme, and hope to post an interview with its producer Jean-Claude Bragard shortly.

    BBC1 is to show a three part series looking at the miracles of Jesus, set to start on the 30th July 2006. The series called "The Miracles of Jesus" is produced by Jean-Claude Bragard who also produced 2001's 3 part documentary about Jesus "Son of God" (also known as "Jesus: The Complete Story" in the US).

    As ever there's a good bit of info on the BBC website with a reasonably detailed overview of each programme which are split up as follows:
    Programme One
    In first-century Galilee, what did miracles mean?
    Programme Two
    Did Jesus really believe he was the son of God?
    Programme Three
    The most astonishing miracle of all.
    There's also a special feature - Jesus's miracles: the ancient and modern meanings. At over 2800 words it's quite extensive for a programme's website, and I imagine it covers most of what the programme will do. There are some interesting interpretations there - very strong on putting the miracles in a first century Jewish context, and noting the resonances with key events in Israelite history.

    Usually these documentaries have a number of interesting contributors. "Son of God" had a number including Mark Goodacre, and Tom Wright who was critical of the final programme. That said, on the basis of the information given on the website it looks like Wright may well be involved again this time. One comment in particular has Wright written all over it:
    The widow's son, Jairus' daughter and Lazarus were resuscitated or revived: they would eventually die again. Jesus on the other hand would live forever. His resurrection entailed a complete transformation in his body and spirit, a complete victory over death
    The series is showing at 6:35pm on BBC1 over three Sundays, starting on the 30th July.


    Music in Movies about Jesus

    Peter Chattaway let me know about a feature taking place this week on BBC Radio 4. Silverscreen Beats is a regular programme, hosted by Miles Jupp, but this week they are looking at the music from 5 films about Jesus as follows:

    Monday - King of Kings
    King of Kings presents a treasury of tunes and surprising stories from behind the scenes. Composer Miklos Rosza reveals that despite winning an Oscar for the music of Ben Hur, this was the toughest score he ever had to write.

    Tuesday - Godspell
    Composer Stephen Schwartz reveals that he took five weeks to write the classic songs such as Day By Day. Another song, Beautiful City, became the unofficial anthem of the World Trade Centre disaster, and virtually all the words in Godspell are derived from the New Testament.

    Wednesday - Jesus Christ Superstar
    Lyricist Tim Rice reveals that the movie only came about because the stage show was such a flop, and how Tom Jones inspired the title to the film.

    Thursday - The Life of Brian
    Composer Geoffrey Burgon reveals how he wrote a traditional, serious score to counteract the comedy in a controversial film. Director Terry Jones admits that he was surprised that the song Always Look on the Bright Side became such a hit.

    Friday - The Last Temptation of Christ
    Composers Peter Gabriel and David Bottrill reveal insightful and surprising stories from behind the scenes of this controversial movie. Director Martin Scorsese admits to receiving death threats during production.
    The series actually started yesterday, but fortunately you can listen to it online. I'm not sure how long they will be available though - the only Silverscreen Beats programme I can find to listen to is yesterday's King of Kings.

    It looks like it will be an interesting series. Certainly today's had a number of pieces of information on King of Kings that was new to me, plus a couple of recording of Rosza himself (speaking not playing). There's also a story about Rosza finding out that not only did the actress playing Salome (Brigid Bazlen) have no dancing experience, but also that the choreographer, who was Nicholas Ray's wife, had no experience either. This fits fairly well with a number of other stories about chaos on the set that I mentioned in my review of this film. That said, I'm currently re-watching this film, for the first time in widescreen, and I find myself liking it more and more each time, even despite its problems.

    As for the series as a whole, I suspect it is a repeat. Certainly before Mark Goodacre's brief quote he is introduced as being from Birmingham University which would make it at least a year old! If that is the case, it's a very much welcome one. There's precious little discussion about the music of Jesus films (Godspell, The gospel Road and Jesus Christ Superstar aside), so this is a much needed area of analysis. I'm surprised by some of their choices though. I suppose Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar were obvious, and King of Kings is usually described as the finest piece from Rosza's incredible body of work. But Life of Brian is a (pleasant) surprise - comedy is often not taken seriously enough to be deemed worthy of any kind of analysis, let alone musical analysis. Hopefully it will go beyond simply discussing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". Last Temptation is an interesting choice too. Whilst not as controversial as many aspects of the film, the score still caused something of a stir in some quarters whilst generally gaining critical acclaim. So much so in fact that it clearly influenced John Debney's score for The Passion of the Christ.

    Sadly though there is no analysis of Pasolini's amazing score for his Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), which is easily my favourite of all the Jesus film music.
    Silverscreen Beats is playing every day this week at 3:45pm on BBC Radio 4. Programmes can be downloaded after the broadcast from the BBC website.

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    Monday, July 03, 2006

    Anne Rice sells film rights to "Christ Out of Egypt"

    I've been meaning to post on this since Friday morning, but alas, haven't quite had the time. Back in May I linked to an article where Interview with a Vampire author Anne Rice was talking about trying to develop her novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt into a film. Well it looks like she's taken the next step. Variety is reporting that she has sold the rights to Good News Holdings run by a consortium including fellow author George Barna, and former Paramount president David Kirkpatrick. This is the first film to be made by the recently formed Good News Holdings who were created to develop "faith-based content in multimedia formats".

    Variety notes how
    Rice, who stopped writing gothic novels shortly after she returned to the Christian faith following a 38-year estrangement, has made researching and chronicling the life of Christ her singular mission since 2002. "Out of Egypt" was the first of what she expects will be a four-book series.

    The first instalment began when Christ turned 7 years old and started to realize his destiny. The book covers the move of Christ and his Jewish family from Egypt to Nazareth.
    As far as I'm aware there has yet to be a film that has really explored this stage of Jesus's life, which is not discussed in the gospels, although some of the non-canonical gospels cover this period including the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an incident from which was briefly shown in the American version of Jesus (1999) (IV.2). Having not read the book, I wonder if this "gospel" is a major source. Both works have Jesus leaving Egypt at the age of seven (III.2) and this would seem like a likely source for a book/film covering this stage in Jesus's life.

    There is some more discussion about this project over at Cinematical, and, as ever, FilmChat. It looks like the plan is to release this in time for Christmas 2007 with plans to develop a number of sequels. Given that The Nativity Story is due for release this Christmas, I wonder if we'll see a Harry Potter-esque sequence of films about a boy with special powers growing up on our cinema screens every Christmas.

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