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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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    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    The Cross (2001) – Review

    Having heard of Lance Tracey's The Cross, a few years ago, I was delighted to find out recently that it is not only available to buy on DVD, but also to download (although this takes several hours). Here's my review, with a scene guide and (hopefully) an interview with the director to follow.


    During the 90s "What Would Jesus Do?" became a popular slogan to encourage Christian teens (and other ages) to look at the world with his eyes and live accordingly. Lance Tracy's 2001 film The Cross takes things a step further making the camera the eyes of Jesus and placing its viewers in his place to see his crucifixion from his perspective.

    Such point of view shots have become increasingly popular in Jesus films, as they have progressively de-mystified the person of Jesus. Interestingly, however, it is precisely the reverence Muslim filmmaker Moustapha Akkad had for Mohammed that led him to use point of view shots in his biopic The Message.

    Neither film uses point of view shots exclusively, but given the way the technique in general enables audiences to identify with that particular character, there is clearly special significance in applying this method to a film about someone of religious significance.

    That said The Cross is much more than a single concept film. The point-of-view shots are only one of a number of new ideas that the film brings to the table. The film opens with a couple of establishing shots. These are not from Jesus's point of view, but create the context into which the rest of the picture will happen. We quickly find ourselves looking down a crossbeam at the Via Dolorosa. The crowds press in, some sympathetic, some not and it seems like the film is going to be over before it has even started.

    However, the camera settles on a particular woman. As we wonder if this is Mary Magdalene, the shot dissolves into a flashback, and we see Jesus heal her from what appears to be a self-inflicted slit wrist. Three years later, The Passion of the Christ would popularise this flashback-as-memory technique in films about Jesus.

    But this film does more than simply punctuate its linear narrative with the odd flashback. The normal flow of the story is shattered and re-assembled in non-linear fashion. Even for those familiar with the gospel accounts this is disorientating, and serves to create a level of confusion in the viewer that Jesus must have felt on the first Good Friday. As Jesus is crucified numerous blackouts and blurry point-of-view photography heighten the disorientation.

    The array of shots taken from Jesus's point-of-view encourages the viewer to consider other characters whose perspective we might temporarily be adopting. One of the most well-known point-of-view shots is the one taken from on high – popularly known as the "God shot". The Cross' religious subject matter means that it is only natural to interpret any overhead camera work in this manner. Indeed there are several shots that adopt this position, most notably a Dali-esque image at the moment Jesus dies. One of the most powerful moments in the scene is also filmed from this perspective as Mary Magdalene runs to tell the disciples of her encounter with the risen Jesus.

    Elsewhere, we witness the moment where Jesus's parent's lose him in the temple from his mother's perspective. Here, also, the camerawork is disorientating and enables the viewer to share Mary's panicked state of mind. Arguably the most striking shot in the film is when Judas leaps to his death. With the camera placed almost directly below him, the shot suggests the point-of-view of Satan as if Judas is jumping straight into the world below.

    Not all the aspects of the film are as impressive as the camerawork. As one might expect for a low budget film the acting is a little weak in places. This is exacerbated slightly by the lack of an (on-screen) lead character to give the picture a dramatic core. Addressing that problem, however, would have almost certainly weakened the very concept Tracy sought to explore.

    The "making of" documentary on the DVD notes that the film's low meant that it had to be limited to 20 minutes. Unfortunately, adopting Jesus's perspective takes a good while to establish. Sadly, by the time the film has achieved this, there is very little time left to do anything else.

    It's a shame that The Cross was produced in 2001 - just after the glut of Jesus films that ushered in the new millennium, and just before The Passion of the Christ made religious films popular again. Even in its original form, The Cross deserved a great deal more attention. Had it been given the resources Lance Tracy's undoubted talents deserved, it may have gained it.



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