• 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


    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Young Avraham Movie
    Film Based on Abraham's Childhood

    Peter Chattaway has news of a forthcoming film based on the Jewish Midrash. Young Avraham will follows the childhood of Abraham upto the point that he burst onto the scene in Genesis 11. Peter thinks this is the first example of a film being released which is based primarily on a midrashic tale (as opposed to merely incorporating midrashic accounts to flesh out a biblical story).

    The film's official production blog contains a good number of production stills as well as come clips from the film which have been put on YouTube. The animation looks very similar to the biblical parts of last year's Friends and Heroes. There's also a summary of the story which is useful for those of us who are not that familiar with it.

    It's a bit unclear what's happening with the release of this one. The official site says it will "be available for purchase Winter 2007", but that's been and gone and there are no links or anything which suggests you can buy it yet. Moreover, there's nothing at Amazon as of yet.

    I hope it makes it. It certainly sounds like an interesting idea.

    Labels: , ,

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Johnny Got His Gun

    Films in the Jesus Cameo performance sub-genre tend to fall into one of two categories. On the one hand they are films set in or around first century Palestine or Rome, and the words / actions of Jesus are shown as a significant moment in a character's story. Films such as Quo Vadis, The Robe, Ben-Hur and even Life of Brian fall into this category. The other grouping is more set in modern times where Jesus appears in dreams or visions. Again this usually occurs at at critical point in the film, but the films themselves are a little more diverse ranging from Bad Lieutenant to Superstar featuring Will Ferrell as Jesus.

    Johnny Got His Gun is perhaps one of the stranger entries in the latter category. Joe Bonham 1 is a soldier horrifically injured in the First World War. His doctors consider him all but dead, but viewers are party to his inner monologue and therefore realise just how concious and active his mind remains. As he lies shut away in various army hospital beds the audience has a unique position. Joe is unable to see and hear and so is oblivious to what is happening in the room he is in. The various doctors, nurses and army officials are likewise oblivious to Joe's thoughts and dreams as he is also unable to speak. We, however, witness both and so the central tension of the film is the journey towards these two sides finally communicating. It's also an interesting testimony to the ability of cinema to give us different angles on things; to witness one story from two perspectives simultaneously, and to portray fantasy as if it were reality.

    The "action" such that it is, alternates between Joe's two states of consciousness. When he is fully concious the camera is present and in the room with the medical staff while Joe's inner monologue is brought to the foreground. In between times he drifts out of consciousness and we experience his dreams. Joe dreams are a disorientating combination of his past (the night he spent with his girlfriend before he left for war, his father's funeral incidents from his childhood, the moment he was injured) and his fantasy which encompasses such bizarre episodes as a futuristic military supplies salesman, a rat crawling on him, his parents running a freak sideshow on which he stars, and the two sequences where he talks with Jesus.The first Jesus sequence arrives around the half hour mark, and stars Donald Sutherland as a gambling, drinking, train-driving Christ. Joe, Jesus and a group of others play cards in a waiting room. Jesus flashes a couple of fancy tricks, but is bemused by his inability to hit 21 from 12. As the conversation becomes more serious it becomes apparent that Joe's colleagues all have an imminent date with death. Jesus is vaguely compassionate yet he nevertheless ushers them towards the train that is taking them towards that end, and the section's closing shot is of Jesus yelling out of the cabin window as he drives the train to his destination at full speed.

    A short while later Jesus appears in a totally different sequence, and here the image of Jesus the film presents is far more troubling. The preceding sequence ends with a tormented Joe desperate to work out the difference between reality and fantasy, particularly as he is unable to see, hear, touch or say a thing. Suddenly Joe and Jesus are alone in his carpenter's shop and Jesus is trying to offer some advice.

    Unfortunately, and for all his good intentions, Jesus's advice is quite useless: he's seemingly unable to grasp quite how desperate Joe's plight is. His only credentials seem to be the fact of his own suffering, which is alluded to in the earlier sequence and symbolised here (by a van driver placing crosses on the back of his vehicle in the background). The implication is that Joe's suffering is beyond even that of Jesus, and it leaves him looking somewhat impotent. Perhaps frustrated by his failure to find a solution, this Jesus becomes increasingly unhelpful ("it would be cruel to pretend that anyone could help you what you need is a miracle"), ultimately becoming downright heartless. "Perhaps it would be better for you to go away now. You're a very unlucky young man and sometimes it rubs off." The dream ends with Jesus even raising questions about his own existence.
    Joe: Are you and I really here together or is this just a dream too?
    Jesus: It's a dream.
    Joe: How do you know?
    Jesus: Because I'm a dream.
    Joe: I don't believe you.
    Jesus: Nobody does. That's why I'm as unreal as every other dream that didn't come true.
    It's difficult to work out how seriously we should take the negative image of Jesus that is presented in these dream sequences. Clearly he is not meant to be a representation of the real Jesus, just the product of Joe's troubled and dreaming mind. At the same time it seems fairly likely that the filmmakers are making covert statements about their opinions on Jesus and the religion which has taken his name. The fantasy aspect of this depiction enables the film to say things about Jesus that most films back then couldn't. It raises the point of view that Jesus is unable to relieve some people's torment, and that he is just "as unreal as every other dream that didn't come true".

    The interplay between dreams and reality continues elsewhere. Indeed like many dreams vs reality films (The Wizard of Oz, Pleasantville) the "real sequences" are shot in black and white, and it's only once we move into the fantasy world where colour is restored.2

    Interestingly, in between the two scenes featuring Jesus we observe the young Joe going to a church service where excerpts are read out from the works of Mary Baker Eddy. The passage in question is:
    All is infinite mind and it's infinite manifestation... matter is the unreal and temporal... Spirit is God and man is his image and likeness. Therefore, man is not material; he is spiritual...
    (abbreviations theirs)
    In many ways these words support the film's use of colour. The unreal matter is shot in black and white whereas the dominion of the mind is filmed in glorious colour. Joe himself embodies this (if you'll pardon the pun). Without the usual array of senses to determine what is real and what isn't he is able to experience life on the spiritual plane.

    There's one other religious scene of note which also slots into the section between the two Jesus scenes. The pope, the yet to be born Gandhi and a third man stand on a balcony as the pope prays for "all those in the armed forces who sacrifice their young lives in this just and holy war for everlasting peace" implying religion's complicity in the waging of war.

    Reading the comments for Johnny Got His Gun on the IMDb, it's surprising just how many people claim this film turned them into pacifists, particularly as it was released around the time that the draft to the Vietnam war was beginning to bite. Whilst this is certainly not a film that glorifies war, it's far from anti-war propaganda. Sadly it's far more polemical about religion. Christianity = bad, gnostic -esque spirituality = good.

    Whilst I disagree with the ideas that the first part of the film seeks to explore, it is nevertheless quite interesting to see these ideas explored so imaginatively. Nevertheless, it's the second half of the film, where Joe gradually begins to regain his connection with the world, that is by far the stronger.

    Joe is played by Timothy Bottoms who is now best known for playing George W. Bush in no less than three different productions.
    2 - I actually watched this film in two parts, and, by sheer chance, I happened to watch Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror in between the two sittings. Mirror also touched on memories and dreams of the past interwoven with the future in a complex series of flashbacks. Needless to say it made an interesting, if very confusing, combination.


    Monday, January 28, 2008

    Churches Media Council on The Passion

    (See all posts on this film)
    A couple of further points on HBO/BBC1's The Passion. Firstly, the Churches Media Council has set aside a dedicated section of their website to cover the series. So far it includes the four "principles" they are commending ("We welcome this production; This is a BBC series; This is a work of drama;" and "Let's talk about Jesus") as well as an FAQ, information on what the national church is doing, and advice for local churches.

    Two things caught my eye from the FAQ. Firstly, that the first episode will be going out in the UK on Palm Sunday (16th March 2008). I think I had expected the Monday for some reason, but Palm Sunday makes a good deal more sense. Secondly, that Peter will be played by Darren Morfitt who played Jesus in 2006's Manchester Passion.

    The other piece of news I have is that the official première is taking place on the 28th February in London. More details on that to follow.

    Labels: ,

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    Tom Wright Interviewed by 'The Door'

    Satirical magazine The Wittenburg Door isn't exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find an interview with the Bishop of Durham, which is no doubt what lies behind the title of their interview with Tom Wright - 'Heavy Theological Dude Mistakenly Talks to Us'.

    It's a good interview though: well informed enough to make it interesting, whilst managing to keep things sufficiently engaging for those unfamiliar with N.T. Wright and his chummy alter ego Tom. I particularly liked the bit that follows on the authority of scripture, a phrase which, for me, always seems so overbearing.
    In Christian theology, such phrases (as "the authority of scripture") regularly act as "portable stories"—that is, ways of packing up longer narratives about God, Jesus, the Church and the world, folding them away into convenient suitcases, and then carrying them about with us. Shorthands enable us to pick up lots of complicated things and carry them around all together. But we should never forget that the point in doing so, like the point of carrying belongings in a suitcase, is that what has been packed away can then be unpacked and put to use in the new location. Too much debate about scriptural authority has had the form of people hitting one another with locked suitcases. It is time to unpack our shorthand doctrines, to lay them out and inspect them. Long years in a suitcase may have made some of the contents go moldy. They will benefit from fresh air, and perhaps a hot iron.
    There's also a recent, though less reverential interview with Rob Bell.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    Goodacre's 'The Synoptic Jesus and the Celluloid Christ' Now Available Online

    A couple of weeks ago I looked at one of the ways Bible films can aid those engaged in studying the Bible, even in an academic context, in my post Bible Films and the Two Halves of the Brain. Coincidentally, that day Mark Goodacre posted a link to Google Books which has recently uploaded a number of titles from the 'Library of New Testament Studies', including some of his own. It appears that amongst them is his 'Case Against Q', chapter 6 of which is called 'The Synoptic Jesus and the Celluloid Christ: Solving the Synoptic Problem through Film'.

    I first read this chapter several years ago, and I still consider it to be one of the most significant pieces of writing on the study of the Bible in film. Until recently, the article has only been available to subscribers of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, and even then it was slightly different from the version that appears in the book. Now much of the chapter is available to all, although, as is Google's general policy, a few pages are missing here and there.

    So what do Jesus films have to offer the debate about the synoptic problem? Well, Goodacre is a Q sceptic, preferring the Farrer Theory instead (which argues that 'Luke' did not write independently of Matthew's gospel, but used it as one of his sources). In response to the Farrer Theory, those who, like the majority, continue to believe in the independence of Matthew and Luke (and thus require additional source, Q, common to both authors) have raised a number of objections to it, including the argument that no-one, on reading Matthew's magisterial Sermon on the Mount, would then chop it into bits and distribute it throughout their own gospel.

    'The Synoptic Jesus and the Celluloid Christ' seeks to demonstrate that this argument is unfounded. As it is, essentially, based on a modern aesthetic value judgement, does that judgement hold up to scrutiny?

    So Goodacre took the (then) five most widely available dramatic Jesus films and looks at how they use the material from the Sermon on the Mount. Using King of Kings (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964), Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) he examines how they treat Matthew's sermon. Significantly he finds that there are numerous examples of the makers of these filmmakers shortening the sermon, and, in several cases, breaking it up and redistributing throughout their own, filmic, gospel. In other words the very thing that many scholars have argued would be highly unlikely had happened time and time again.

    There can sometimes be too little emphasis on the artistic value of the Biblical texts. We all know that they are literature of some sort; we recognise they contain allusion, imagery and comparison, and that they are the product of an active, thoughtful and deliberate mind. But the assumption is often that the works of the biblical writers are the works of those akin to modern theologians. Whilst this is truer for the gospels than, say, the wisdom / poetic literature in the Old Testament, there are still a good number of differences.

    What Goodacre does is view the texts through a more creative lens. The filmmakers in question primarily think like artists, rather than theologians, and the result is that the modern aesthetic value judgement is shown to be too great an assumption.

    It seems to me that this process, of using Jesus films to throw new light on theological connundra, is important fresh territory, which begs the question "where else might movies based on the Bible be of assistance?" I've been chewing it over ever since I first read this article, and, I'm afraid to say, I've yet to come up with many possibilities other than my posts on The Early Jesus Film Synoptic Problem, Thomas on the Road: A Comparison of the Gospels of Cash and Thomas, and a still in the process of being written piece on Magdalena: Released from Shame which all look at the similarities between the formation of the ancient gospels and modern filmic gospels. To be honest, none of these quite do what Goodacre does, but hopefully there will be more substantial examples of this approach being utilised more widely in the coming months and years.

    Those interested in this discussion may also like to seek out F. Gerald Downing's response "Dissolving the Synoptic Problem Through Film?", and Goodacre's counter response, both also in the 'Journal for the Study of the New Testament'.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Another Islamic 'Bible' Film

    Firstly a few more bits on Mesih / Jesus, the Spirit of God (the image above [AFP] is of Talebzadeh during filming. It's interesting to note how the two actors pictured are so middle eastern looking, particularly when compared to the film's image of a blond Jesus shown below).

    Firstly, the Breitbart article that I discussed a few days ago has disappeared, although it's still available at Islam Online. Secondly, the story has been followed up by an article in Variety which includes the following quotation:
    "It is important to show our history before the Islamic revolution," said CMI managing director Mohammed Reza Abbasian. "These episodes of religious history and Iranian history are very popular with Iranian audiences. We want to show the opinions of Islam toward the prophet. This story came from the Koran without any changes. You could call it Jesus through Islam's lens."
    But then the article also goes on to discuss the next project by Iran's state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcastingand its production and sales arm Cima Media Intl.
    CMI execs have even bigger plans for their follow-up skein, a $20 million version of the life of Joseph and his multi-colored coat, helmed by Farajollah Salahshoor, that is set to be one of Iran's biggest-budget productions ever.

    The costly skein could be described as a passion project for its producers, as they will have little chance to ever recoup their money back from foreign sales.

    "We have tried to sell it to Arab TV stations, but they say that they cannot show the face of the prophets, and, at the same time, it's not good for European TV," said Abbasian. "The Iranian government is spending its money on the project, but it wasn't supposed to cost this much.

    "When you start a project you say it will cost $2 million, but we wanted to film this on 35mm not video so it's become more expensive. We can't stop the project now. We have to spend more money so we can save the money we already spent. Next time, though, we will film with HD or Digi-Beta."
    I imagine this will be a more serious take on it than Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat. It'll be interesting to find out how the Joseph story varies in the Koran, and also whether the "coat of many colours" features, given that biblical scholars now consider that particular phrase a mis-translation (it should be coat with long sleeves or something along those lines).

    Labels: , ,

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Blogger Now Available in Hebrew

    Any Old Testament scholars who read this blog might be interested to know that Blogger is now available in Hebrew. This is apparently quite a breakthrough as it means that Blogger has had to adjust to writing from right to left. It's also added Arabic and Persian.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    More on Islamic Jesus Film(s)

    About a year ago, I made a couple of posts about a possible Muslim-made film about the life of Jesus called The Messiah (official site?). At the time, Peter Chattaway also reported on the story. Now, he's picked it up again linked to an article at Breitbart which discusses what appears to be the same film only with the (new?) title - Jesus, the Spirit of God.

    Both Mesih and Jesus, the Spirit of God are by Iranian director Nader Talebzadeh, and were released around some point last year. Indeed Jesus, the Spirit of God won an award in Italy's "Religion Today Film Festival" in 2007. It's also about to be expanded into a 20 part series to run on Iranian national TV.

    The same article has been used wholesale in a number of different publications originating with Agence France-Presse, so I'll only reproduce the bit that most caught my eye.
    Talebzadeh insists it aims to bridge differences between Christianity and Islam, despite the stark divergence from Christian doctrine about Christ's final hours on earth.

    "It is fascinating for Christians to know that Islam gives such devotion to and has so much knowledge about Jesus," Talebzadeh told AFP.

    "By making this film I wanted to make a bridge between Christianity and Islam, to open the door for dialogue since there is much common ground between Islam and Christianity," he said.

    The director is also keen to emphasise the links between Jesus and one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, the Imam Mahdi, said to have disappeared 12 centuries ago but whose "return" to earth has been a key tenet of the Ahmadinejad presidency.


    The bulk of "Jesus, the Spirit of God", which won an award at the 2007 Religion Today Film Festival in Italy, faithfully follows the traditional tale of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament Gospels, a narrative reproduced in the Koran and accepted by Muslims.

    But in Talebzadeh's movie, God saves Jesus, depicted as a fair-complexioned man with long hair and a beard, from crucifixion and takes him straight to heaven.

    "It is frankly said in the Koran that the person who was crucified was not Jesus" but Judas, one of the 12 Apostles and the one the Bible holds betrayed Jesus to the Romans, he said. In his film, it is Judas who is crucified.

    Labels: , , ,

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    BBC series on The Bible?

    My church is part of the Pioneer Network of Churches, which produces the rather swish libraryoflives journal on a regular basis. The latest issue arrived this morning and I was surprised to read this from Gerald Coates who leads the Pioneer Team and is part of the Central Religious Advisory Council:
    Recently we were shown a taster from what can only be described as an absolutely stunning series currently called The Bible. It relies heavily on animation. The BBC are spending £1.3 million on each programme.
    It sounds intriguing. I'll try and find out more and report back. (By the way, the image shown has nothing to do with the actual production!)

    Labels: ,

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    The Eyes Have It
    Demonic Similarities Between The Passion and The Miracle Maker

    Over the years there have been various people who have spotted similarities between Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and other Jesus films. Some of them are very well known, for example the fact that Gibson shot his film in Matera, Italy - the same place where Passolini shot his Gospel According to St. Matthew. Others were apparent on the film's initial release. For example, Jeffrey Overstreet noticed so much similarity between this soundtrack and that of Last Temptation of Christ that he claimed that composer John Debney "turned in something that sounds like musical plagiarism".

    Visual similarities have also been noted. Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing director Lance Tracy whose 2001 film The Cross had used flashbacks to punctuate the violence, and who claimed that one of GIbson's associates had seen his film. And Peter Chattaway has also noted various similarities with DeMille's 1927 The King of Kings such as the raven on the cross, and the difference between Jesus's cross and those of his disciples.One of the more unusual bits from The Passion is the scene following Judas's return of the money to the high priest (a hot from which is above). As he hides, tormented by his own actions, two Jewish boys stumble across him, and their initially friendly banter, turns into mockery, before the boys' faces distort and it appears that now Judas is being tortured by a demon or some such thing.

    Last week I came across a very similar moment in The Miracle Maker (1999). This time it is Mary Magdalene who is disturbed, and the film is even more explicit, albeit in a later scene, that she is being tormented by demons. And this time rather than it being two Jewish boys, it is two Roman soldiers whose faces distort and terrify her, as shown below.I find this interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because Miracle Maker was distributed by Icon, the company founded by Mel Gibson. Whilst he may have had nothing to do with it, it's hard to imagine he's entirely unfamiliar with it.

    Secondly, I have a vague, and quite possibly incorrect, recollection that Gibson claimed he hadn't really paid much attention to the other entries in the Jesus films canon. We know he'd seen a few before as in the run up to the release he mentioned other Jesus films such as Pasolini's and those where Jesus had "bad hair", although that's no reason to doubt that he steered clear of them during filming. What's interesting, though, is that if he didn't directly copy these visual ideas, that they nevertheless appear to have entered his psyche and come out subconsciously.

    Thirdly, it's interesting how this scene changes from one film to another. Obviously the way Mary and Judas are characterised in this film required that particular change, but it's interesting that the later film also changes the perceived persecutors from Roman soldiers (where there would be good reason to be fearful) to Jewish children. I don't think this changes my thoughts on the anti-Semitism question that I outlined in my recent podcast on this film, but it's certainly an interesting observation in that regard.

    Labels: ,

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    The Ten - Review

    Years of playing in a rugby club have left me pretty thick skinned. After a decade of changing room banter, I'm pretty much unflappable when it comes to being offended. Which leaves me in a difficult position when reviewing David Wain's The Ten, because it didn't really offend me, even though I can't help feeling it probably should have. Unless you're similarly unoffendable, I have to advise you steer clear of this. Certainly it goes too far for the majority of Christians, and I'm amazed that it's escaped the ire of some of the volatile sections of the Christian press.

    None of which will overly concern Wain and his ensemble cast. Their aim is clearly for envelope-pushing, taboo-breaking, bawdy comedy, and, it has to be said, they are rather good at it. Perhaps it's because the film's surrealism makes everything so absurd, or because beneath the silliness of it all its satire is occasionally wickedly effective. Some people might think that I should probably give this film a bad review just on principle, yet that would be neither honest nor fair and it certainly wouldn't be accurate.

    The Ten is effectively a shortened version of Kieslowski's Dekalog for fans of American, gross-out humour. Like Kieslowski's film, the ten short films which comprise The Ten sometimes map to more than one commandment, and do not always support their conclusion. The characters from the various stories crop up in smaller roles in other segments, whilst Paul Rudd's host character acts as a kind of "watcher" providing a continuous presence throughout the film.In contrast to Kieslowski's film, however, the film is more about entertainment than serious moral exploration. That's not to say moral exploration is entirely absent. Indeed the opening skit's take on the fickleness of celebrity culture is spot on, and will, no doubt, ring true for one or two members of the cast. Stephen Montgomery is forced to spend the rest of his days living in the ground after a tragic sky diving accident, but unexpectedly becomes a star, grabbing headlines, interviews, a cult fan base and even his own sitcom. Eventually, though he becomes self obsessed, falls foul of the law and is caught in media scandal. It's far from co-incidental that his girlfriend is played by Winona Ryder, whose character also features in the "Thou shalt not steal" episode.

    It's perhaps the second section which has the most potential to offend. A woman (Gloria) travels to Mexico and gains a sexual awakening at the hands of a local carpenter named Jesus. He appears to be normal until one day he suddenly dashes off across the water to grab her some flowers. Astonished, Gloria questions him and he eventually reveals that he is the real Jesus, but that he's not quite got around to bringing about Armaggeddon because it's such a lot of work.

    Other sections tread slightly safer, though no less eccentric ground: two neighbours engage in a ridiculous attempt to outdo each other by buying a huge number of CAT scan machines, a woman runs off with a ventriloquist's dummy, and a surgeon is jailed after leaving a pair of scissors inside his victim "as a goof". That said, other segments of the film do return to more risky territory such as the story which reunites us with surgeon in jail. There he is struggling to decide which of his two fellow inmates should get to be the one who rapes him. It's both utterly appalling and yet also brilliantly written.

    What's impressive about The Ten is the way in which it manages to alternate the style of the various segments without losing the flow of the film as a whole. One section is partially animated, another is partially subtitled, some are parody, others merely absurd. It even manages to develop the linking sections into its own narrative where Woody Allen films such as Annie Hall are not only discussed, but also evoked.But Wain reserves the best segment until last, with his take on keeping the Sabbath holy (something I suspect is deliberate as this commandment usually appears at number 4). In a plot resembling the Simpsons episode where Homer skips going to church, Oliver feigns illness in order to grab himself a relaxed Sunday morning. Somehow he ends up spending the morning naked, and he finds the experience so surprisingly liberating that the following week he invites his friend, who later invites his own friends starting a movement which grows and grows. It's done so well that it well and truly skewers all those male bonding movies like Fight Club and The Full Monty, whilst simultaneously providing a suitably amusing finale.

    In many ways The Ten's surreal humour, and its controversial take on a religious subject, make it something of a successor to Life of Brian. And like that film it is actually funny - although it takes a little while to get used to its unique brand of humour. Whilst it's hard to imagine that The Ten will ever become as popular inside the church as Life of Brian has, there is certainly some common ground.

    Ultimately, then, The Ten is the kind of film that I could recommend to almost no-one, but that, nevertheless, I have to admit I enjoyed. Which leaves me wondering whether my own conscience has given up the ghost, and permitted the rest of me to have a great time at the wake.

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Divine Images the Movie
    Kinnard and Davis get the YouTube Treatment

    I tend not to link to YouTube very much, partly because much of what is there is dubious from a copyright point of view, partly because embedded YouTube films take ages to download for those who are not on broadband, and partly because there's so much there that this blog could easily specialise in YouTube finds alone.

    This, however, caught my eye. The filmmakers blurb describes this as "Images of Jesus Christ In Movies, with Music By Python Lee Jackson (Featuring Rod Stewart): In A Broken Dream". What it doesn't note, however, is that all the images featured are from Roy Kinnard and Tim Davis's excellent 'Divine Images' an extensive list of films about Jesus with numerous illustrations.

    In effect then this short film is an abridged adaptation of that book. Which I kind of like. I'm a big fan of the book so I hope that not only will its authors be please, but that it will bring it to a wider audience. The image above, by the way, is from 1949's The Lawton Story starring Millard Coody as the actor who plays Jesus in a local passion play.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    New Release Date for The Final Inquiry

    Peter Chattaway has the latest news on the Final Inquiry saga, the (sort of) sequel to The Passion of the Christ. It looks like the theatrical distribution part of Fox Faith has ended and that they are just concentrating on releasing DVDs. As far as this film is concerned it means that the plans for a "small theatrical" release in January 2008, followed by video at Easter which I reported in October have been scrapped. It will now go straight to DVD on February 19th.

    Labels: , ,

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Bible Films and the Two Halves of the Brain.

    I've just finished reading Walter Wink's book 'Transforming Bible Study'. Whilst it's primarily equipping its readers to facilitate a specific type of group Bible study, it also discusses the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which, in turn, got me thinking about where Bible films fit into the picture.

    Wink's main points are that the fields of academic study of the Bible and of personal transformation by it are growing ever further apart; that, very loosely speaking, these two fields map to the split that has been found between the two halves of the brain; that if we only use one hemisphere of our brain when we approach the Bible we are ultimately being "halfiwits"; and, thus that we should be seeking to re-integrate the two.

    Wink also outlines the advantages of doing so, particularly for those approaching the issue from the academic (left side) side of the divide. He cites evidence suggesting that re-allocating time spent studying maths to music and art actually improved scores in maths, and goes on to cite various stories of scientists who have made their breakthroughs, not whilst hard at study but whilst engaged in something else entirely, such as Archimedes's bath, Newton's apple or Kekule's benzene ring. The theory is that once the right brain is given the chance to work on such problems it uses it's intuition and creativity to find a solution that the right brain would not have found. The final part of the argument is that the best situation is when both halves of the brain are working together.This got me on to thinking about a couple of examples where watching Bible films has been significant in increasing understanding. The first relates to my own experience. Perhaps seven or so years ago, I was still trying to make my mind up over whether Genesis should be taken more literally, or more symbolically. I swayed towards the latter, but still felt some sympathy with the former position. However, the decisive moment for me was watching John Huston's The Bible. That film takes a very literal approach, but at the same time its dark and primitive feel undermines its handling of the text. For me, for reasons I'm still not sure I can explain, the penny dropped, and these stories have remained firmly mythological for me ever since.

    The second example I can think of is during the release of The Passion of the Christ. At the time I remember being amazed at just how many people said that this had made them understand more clearly how Jesus had suffered and so on. Shortly afterwards I was in a talk where the speaker really over did it on describing a crucifixion and I remember feeling it was all a bit over the top so soon after that film.In both cases there was a certain amount of critical understanding and academic engagement with the text, but looking at a more creative exploration of it enabled the viewers to "get it" on a whole new level. The penny dropped as the right side of the brain was brought into it.

    And this, I guess, is one of the reasons why Bible films can be important, especially for those studying the text. Anyone who is studying a given text has a good knowledge of it, primarily from using the left half of their brains. By watching that text depicted on screen, the right half of the brain is brought into the equation and the two can work together towards more innovative solutions.

    Labels: ,

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    Jesus Cooks me Breakfast

    Thanks to Jeff Staley for letting me know about this one. Jesus Cooks me Breakfast is a quirky sounding film about Jesus by writer/ director/ producer Jason Antoon (who had a part in The Ten). The official website includes the following plot synopsis:
    JESUS COOKS ME BREAKFAST is a surreal comedy about an unmotivated New Yorker named Jules, who gets a surprise visit from the son of God. While preparing breakfast, Jesus reveals that God is missing and he wants Jules to find him. With relationship problems weighing on him, will Jules be able to motivate and take on this monumental task, or will he fall back into his miserable modern existence and ignore the King of Kings?
    Clearly there's a comic element to the film, but it's hard to know from the site whether it's also raising serious questions as well. Certainly that synopsis suggests that it has potential to do so.The casting on this one also looks interesting given that the role of Jesus will be played by three separate actors, including Daniella Van Graas as Jesus (as a young woman). Here's the cast list:
    Jesus(as young man) - YUL VAZQUEZ
    Jesus(as middle-aged)- JASON ROBARDS III
    Jesus(as young boy) - MARQUIS RODRIGUEZ
    Jesus(as young woman) - DANIELLA VAN GRAAS
    Tracker - KENT ABBETT
    Slotnick will be familiar to some, and Robards's name is familiar because of his Dad (who starred in All the Presidents Men and Magnolia).

    The website also notes that the adventures of Jules will continue with parts 2 and 3 called Satan Buys me a Drink and God Gives me an Apple, but I suspect that's just a joke. The irreverent spin off web site doesn't mention them, although it does contain this background information:
    Even before I existed trackers have been searching and gathering the evidence that is needed to prove the existence of God... My ways may be mysterious but my method is simple - I cook you breakfast and reveal the truth about my missing dad. My specialty? An omelet. This omelet is the only thing that seperates you from becoming a tracker.

    Rules are simple - eat the omelet and you will continue your life the way it was before I arrived. You will forget my visit and everything I have revealed. Do not eat the omelet and you must take on my task and become a tracker.


    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    Spears to Play Virgin Mary?
    Sweet Baby Jesus

    According to Us Weekly Magazine, Britney Spears has been offered the role of Jesus's mother, Mary, in an up and coming comedy on his birth.
    The character Mary is a pregnant 19-year-old unsure of her baby's paternity who goes into labor on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Maryland, as rumors swirl that the birth is Jesus Christ's second coming.

    "I had to convince my partners because they were like, 'Oh, no. Britney?'" the film's French producer, Philippe Rebboah, tells Us. "But I thought it was brilliant. It's a bit ironic that she would play the Virgin Mary, no?"

    Rebboah says Spears is reviewing the script and will make a decision within days. The film is set to shoot in March. Also mulling roles: Lily Tomlin and Melanie Griffith.
    From that looks like this is a combination of a second coming story and a modern, satirical, take on the Nativity, sort of Hail Mary meets The Seventh Sign.

    Thanks to Peter Chattaway for spotting this one.

    Labels: ,

    Biblical Studies Carnival XXV

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Christian Brady of Targuman has posted the latest Biblical Studies carnival. It's been labelled as the 25th such carnival, presumably in the hope that last month's carnival will eventually be posted, but I have to say that that looks most unlikely now, meaning that technically this is only the 24th such official carnival, although there was an unofficial one posted by Doug Chaplin. Perhaps we should grant Doug's post official status so it doesn't throw the numbering out of sync?

    Tyler Williams is also lined up to host the "Biblical Studies Carnival - Best of 2007" post sometime soon. Kevin Edgecomb of Biblicalia will be compiling highlights of January 2008's posts at the start of next month.

    You can read more details about these carnivals, at the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.


    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Gallo Remakes Salome - Johnny 316

    Happy New Year! Whilst I was away enjoying Christmas, Peter Chattaway posted Variety's review of Johnny 316. It's actually a film that had completely passed me by until now, but it seems that it's a modernised version of Oscar Wilde's play 'Salome'.

    The official website describes it thus:
    A modernized version of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome', JOHNNY 316, directed by Erick Ifergan, unfurls in the boulevards of Hollywood, California. Vincent Gallo plays a penniless street preacher who spends his days giving out pamphlets and spreading the word of God. One day, he meets Sarah, played by Nina Brosh, a beautiful bereft hairdresser who lost her job. For Sarah, it is love at first sight. She follows the preacher home and tries to seduce him.

    Despite his deep attraction to her, he pushes her away. Oblivious to his rejection, Sarah continues to pursue the preacher, convinced that she can win him over. Poetic and violent, this impossible love story explores the themes of spirituality, intimacy and loss, set against the backdrop of the harsh unforgiving reality of the streets.
    Despite a score of 8.4 on the IMDb at the moment, the Variety reviewer is fairly unimpressed:
    This "Sally" never dances, but she does meander the boulevard in a movie that similarly wanders and never finds a groove, tone or point of view. The rather inspired central idea of Gallo as a modern-day John the Baptist goes undeveloped, with a ton of pretense in its wake.
    ...long, lingering shots (often in hyper closeup) of Gallo's Johnny calmly preaching are not so fluidly intercut with similarly claustrophobic shots of Sally impatiently dealing with her infirm mother (Louise Fletcher)before going to her job at a Hollywood Boulevard hair salon. The same effects and devices that can work well for brief music videos... undermine scene after scene in Ifergan's film,
    A slightly younger Gallo convincingly summons a spiritual and peaceful guy (in an ice cream suit), in what amounts to a solo performance. By contrast, Brosh looks out of her element.

    Music cues are all over the map, from Bach cello suites and Tom Waits ballads to free jazz and a Nick Cave closer. Telecine print screened was below average, taking away from what appears to be intense cinematography by Toby Irwin.
    It seems the film was originally shot in 1998, but reworked with new footage and completed in 2006. It has also changed it's name from Hollywood Salome to Johnny 316. The new title is surely some kind of reference to John 3:16 (perhaps amongst other things), which is unusual given that particular verse is unrelated to John the Baptist, and is from the gospel which, not only pays him the least attention, but, like Luke, doesn't actually mention how he came to his end.

    Labels: ,