• 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


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    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Scene Guide - The Real Old Testament

    Having reviewed Paul and Curtis Hannum's The Real Old Testament last week, I'd like now to give some scene analysis on the film. This is a fairly easy task as the individual episodes are given Bible references, and tie in fairly well with the chapter breaks on the DVD. Citing Bible references makes the film more authoritative, particularly for those who are not that familiar with Genesis, whilst also defusing some of the potential objections that its critics might raise. The main story headings (for each chunk of the story) are just cited as whole chapters, but each element within that chunk is accompanied by more specific references. To capture this I've made the main headings bold. All verses are as cited by the intertitles
    [Extra-Biblical Episode - Introduction]
    Gen 1-3 - The Garden of Eden
    The Forbidden Tree - (Gen 2:15)
    Temptation at the Tree - (Gen 3)
    The Fall From Grace - (Gen 3:9)
    Gen 4 - Cain and Abel
    Cain and Abel's Offering to God - (Gen 4:3)
    Cain kills Abel - (Gen 4:8)
    God Confronts Cain - (Gen 4:9)
    Gen 12, 15, 16 - Abram and Sarai
    God Comes to Abram - (Gen 12)
    Sarai is Barren - (Gen 16)
    Sarai Deals Harshly with Hagar - (Gen 16:6)
    God Find Hagar in the Wilderness - (Gen 16:7)
    Gen 19 - Sodom and Gomorrah
    Lot Visited by Two Angels - (Gen 19:4)
    Lot and His Family Flee - (Gen 19:15)
    Sin of Lot's Daughters - (Gen 19:30)
    Gen 17, 20-22 - Abraham and Sarah
    Abraham and Sarah meet King Abimelech - (Gen 20)
    Sarah Laughs at God's Pledge - (Gen 18:9)
    God Tests Abraham - (Gen 22)
    Gen 29-30 - Jacob and Rachel
    Jacob Meets Rachel - (Gen 29:9)
    Laban and Leah deceive Jacob - (Gen 29:23)
    Jacob and the Handmaidens - (Gen 30:3)
    Rachel Trades Jacob's Favours for some Mandrake - (Gen 30:14)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode - The Re-Union Show]
    There are a number of similarities between this film and John Huston's The Bible: In the Beginning (in addition to covering the same subject matter). Firstly, the film's title suggests it covers a greater portion of the Bible than it actually does: Huston's film stops at Genesis 22 (after the aborted sacrifice of Isaac). The Real Old Testament goes eight chapters further.

    Secondly, from a textual point of view, both films offer a fairly literal reproduction, yet in both cases it is precisely because these films let the stories speak for themselves that they bring such uncomfortable challenges to the original stories. Finally both films star their directors in key roles: Huston plays Noah and Paul Hannum plays Snake whilst Curtis Hannum plays God. There are, of course, numerous other comparisons.

    This is the only film I can recall which shows the incident with Lot's daughters. It's absence in other Genesis films perhaps owes something to it's strangeness, and even though it's played for laughs here, it's uncomfortable viewing. Another episode usually glossed over is that of Rachel swapping sex with Jacob for Mandrake. Having recently watched Pan's Labyrinth (my review), where the legends surrounding the plant are explored, these aspects seemed particularly pertinent to me this time around. For more on this see the post on Rachel and Genesis 30 at Ralph the Sacred River.

    Whilst covering most of the first thirty chapters of Genesis there are a few notable omissions. In particular Noah and the Tower of Babel, as well as the stories of Isaac and Esau. I imagine that former pair were omitted for reasons of budget as much as anything else. (Interestingly the Noah scene is the only one in which Huston sought to bring out the humour). I'm curious as to why the story of Esau was left out. Perhaps the Hannums couldn't see the humour in it when they were creating the scenarios. Or perhaps it was filmed, but didn't reach the same standard as the rest of the film. One or two scenes are moved out of the order they occur in the bible, although their arrangement there is not actually chronological in any case.

    As with MTV's The Real World, the film ends with a "Re-Union Show" where all the characters get together again. Bring characters separated by time together produces a few new laughs, such as when one character calls Eve a "babe" before realising that they're supposed to be related, or Snake extolling the virtues of agents. It is however, the weakest part of the film. Interestingly though, it does raise questions about the treatment of women in the book of Genesis.

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