• 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


    Sunday, September 03, 2006

    Jesus in Intolerance (1916)

    I've been meaning to post about D.W. Griffith's famous epic Intolerance since we finished re-watching it about 3 months ago (it was ideal entertainment for us during Nina's first night feeds). In particular I was struck by just how short "The Judean Story" is compared to the other three stories which Griffith weaves together. The total run time of the film is almost 3 hours, but the 7 scenes from the Judean Story total only about 10 minutes as shown below:
    7 Mins in - We meet the "certain hypocrites amongst the Pharisees" - literalisation of Jesus' parable of publican and tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) - "O Lord I thank thee that I am not like other men" [3 minutes long]

    54 Minutes in - Marriage at Cana (John 2:1-11), (includes quote "Be ye harmless as doves (Matt 10:6) and the doves are actually shown), [3:30 minutes long]

    64 Minutes in - "Glutonous and a winebibber" (Matt 11:19 ), Adulteress (John 8:12-11) [2:30 minutes long]

    85 Minutes in - "Suffer (the) Little Children" (Mark 10:14) [15 seconds long]

    138 Minutes in - Via dolorosa [30 seconds long]

    159 Minutes in - Via dolorosa [10 seconds long]

    171 Minutes in - Crucifixion [5 seconds long]
    Despite the Judean story's short running time, it's surprising that it is given so much attention in the study of Jesus films. For example, it gains a whole chapter in W. Barnes Tatum's excellent "Jesus at the Movies", as well as being included in many other discussions about films based on the life of Christ.

    Within in those sparse 10 minutes Griffith actually uses episodes / quotes from all four gospels (five if you include the Gospel of Thomas), four of which are unique. So even with such a short screen time he offers a harmonised portrayal. Furthermore, he also removes three quotes from their original context. In other words this is a highly selective portrait of Jesus. The aim of this ultra-selective portrayal of Jesus is in order to co-opt him as a poster-boy for Griffith's anti-prohibitionist cause (then a very big issue). Personally I've never been a particular fan of this part of the story, for precisely this reason.

    Tim Dirks has written a great review of Intolerance at filmsite.org.

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