• 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


    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    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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