• 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


    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Official Website for The Passion

    See all posts on this film.
    I got back from the première for The Passion at lunchtime. I'll write up my experiences shortly, as I'm pushed for time right now, but I had a fantastic evening. Those who are really keen to know what I got up to can get a sneak preview at Mark Goodacre's blog.

    Anyway, the main reason for this post is to say that the official BBC website is now up. It features most of the information that was available in the press pack, as well as a message board, some video interviews and - at last, thank goodness - some more photos. I've not had a chance to browse it fully yet, but it all looks very interesting.

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    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    Podcast: Jezile (Son of Man)

    The fifteenth entry in my podcast is up. This month I'm discussing Jezile (Son of Man). The other entries are also still available.

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    Tuesday, February 26, 2008

    Passion Press Pack Released

    See all posts on this film.
    The BBC have released their press pack for The Passion and there's plenty of interesting material there for anyone wanting to find out more about the production. First and foremost there are several new publicity stills, which is great as all my posts on this film were all starting to look the same. There are also a whole host of interviews with the cast and crew, including Joseph Mawle (Jesus), James Nesbitt (Pilate), producer Nigel Stafford-Clark, writer Frank Deasy and director Michael Offer. There's also an interview with NT Gateway's Mark Goodacre who has been the historical consultant on the film.

    And there's more to come. On Thursday (28th Feb) the Beeb are launching a special website to cover the film.
    Users can explore a wealth of extra material, ask questions and contribute their own opinions and programme reviews.

    Features include episode guides, video interviews with cast and crew, picture gallery and specially commissioned articles giving the background to the drama and the Passion itself.

    The People's Passion tells the gospel story of the Passion in a wide variety of voices and accents from around the British Isles and beyond.
    The press pack also happens to mention that Stephen Graham will be playing Barabbas. I mentioned this back in November, but I'd not heard anything about Graham's involvement since. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if the IMDb had got it wrong. Thankfully their information appears to be correct, so I can only imagine, therefore, that his part is fairly small.

    I get to see some of this for the first time on Thursday, and whilst I'll probably have to agree not to reveal key plot points or share my opinions on it until nearer its broadcast, I may be able to provide some more fresh information.


    Azaria to be Abraham in Year One

    Photo by Kevinthoule, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    It's been a while since I blogged anything about Year One - Judd Apatow's forthcoming historical comedy. Back in December I linked to a piece over at MTV where star Jack Black described it as "a funny look at biblical tales", but didn't reveal which one(s).

    Peter Chattaway has made three more posts linking to other stories on the film which seem to indicate that the story of Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah will be (amongst those) covered. Certainly, at least according to the Hollywood Reporter, it will star Hank Azaria (pictured) as Abraham, and now Olivia Wilde has revealed to MTV that she'll play the princess of Sodom. She also repeats the points made elsewhere about Michael Cera and Jack Black's characters meeting "all these characters... from the bible" and that the film will have Monty Python-esque humour.

    It'll be interesting to see how this film compares to that other episodic comedy featuring Abraham, The Real Old Testament.

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    2 Kings Redux

    Last Friday I wrote about seven films that have covered the events of 2 Kings in preparation for the 12th session of my course Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years. Even as I was writing, I had a vague recollection that some Jesus film or other started with a flashback from 2 Kings but I couldn't quite remember it.

    It turns out that the film I was thinking of was the opening entry in the Living Christ Series which spends nearly ten minutes retelling the story of Isaiah, Hezekiah and the Israelites by way of introducing the prophet who would foretell Jesus's birth.

    As with the rest of this series the production values are very low, and the acting is hilariously poor in places, but it does give a rare treatment to this story. The series was generally fairly straight with its adaptation and this episode was no exception.A couple of things in this film caught my attention. Firstly, one of the film's opening images is of this map, dated 701 BC. As the narrator describes the Assyrian empire's march across the region he lists Sidon, Tyre, Ashdod, Moab and Edom, but, bizarrely, Samaria is omitted.

    The film also adds a few other educational comments from the narrator such as the detail that the Assyrians attached knives to their wheels and so on.

    In a similar vein the opening monologue also contains the shot below of a statue similar to the Assyrian Winged Bull that was originally part of Sargon II's palace, but is now in the British Museum. However, the film doesn't make any reference to the Taylor prism which tells the same story but from Sennacherib's perspective.I also showed the opening scene from the Bible Collection's Jeremiah where Josiah's men find the book of the law. It's an interesting sequence for two reasons, firstly because, according to some scholars, this "discovery" may never have happened, and secondly because it treats the scroll itself as almost human, using a point of view shot to give it's perspective on being discovered.

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    Monday, February 25, 2008

    ABC on Jesus the Spirit of God

    ABC News have interviewed Nader Talebzadeh the director of Mesih the film about Jesus based not only on the canonical gospels, but also The Koran, and, it would seem, the Gospel of Barnabas. The film, which won an award at Rome's Religion Today Film Festival is currently being made into a mini-series, and Talebzadeh was keen to talk about how he thought it could strengthen inter-faith dialogue as well as breakdown misunderstandings between Iran and the US.

    Peter Chattaway has also covered this story commenting in partiocular on Talebzadeh's statements about the Gospel of Barnabas.

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    Sunday, February 24, 2008

    Gospel of John 5:4

    My church is looking at John 5 on Sunday (The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda) and I was asked to find a video clip for it. As far as I'm aware the only proper version of this story on film is from Visual Bible's Gospel of John. So I sat down to watch it and noticed something I'd not seen in my previous viewings.

    Now many translations these days, including the Good News Bible which this film is based upon, omit part of John 5:3 and all of verse 4 as it doesn't appear in the more important manuscripts. It's thought to be a later addition, included to explain the paralysed man's comment in 5:7 ("Sir, I have no one here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up" - GNB). The surplus text explains this comment thus:
    They were waiting for the water to move, 4 because every now and then an angel of the Lord went down into the pool and stirred up the water. The first sick person to go into the pool after the water was stirred up was healed from whatever disease he had.
    The thing I noticed yesterday was how the film cleverly makes reference to this missing verse, without actually speaking the words. As Christopher Plummer reads out the first 2 verse we see a shot of the 5 porches, followed by a panning out God shot of the pool itself (shown at the top of this post). As you can see the water is bubbling there seemingly all by itself.

    The next shot is a brief action shot: a couple of characters run to some of those waiting by the pool. The character at the back of the above screen grab is slightly blurred. We then see a couple of shots of people helping those around the pool to get in. All this is happening whilst Plummer reads out the first part of verse 3.

    The way these shots are edited together suggest the missing text of verse 4. The use of a God shot rather than one that is more conventional; the way that the pool is being stirred, in a fashion, without anyone doing it; and the way that all of a sudden people are rushing to help others into the pool.The angel is obviously unseen which makes the reading of the scene somewhat ambiguous, but I like the subtle way with which this small detail is included.

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    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    US Version of Boulgakov's Master and the Margarita Announced

    Peter Chattaway has found a story at the Hollywood Reporter about an American adaptation of Michail Bulgakov's novel 'The Master and the Margarita'. I must admit I was unaware of both the book and any film version of this story until I read the brief passage about it in Adele Reinhartz's 'Jesus of Hollywood' at the start of last year. In the west it's best known as the inspiration behind the Rolling Stones' song 'Sympathy for the Devil'.

    The plot of the novel flips between 20th century Moscow, and first century Jerusalem. The "Master" of the title is a novelists whose version of Jesus's trial before Pilate had been burnt by a group of diabolicals who are terrorising the city's inhabitants. But Margarita, the master's lover, does a deal with the devil in an attempt to save her lover and his work.

    This will actually be the ninth film version of this story. There's an excellent, comprehensive website of Boulgakov's work in four different languages which lists the following directors and contains numerous video clips from a selection of them:
    Vladimir Bortko (2005)
    Ibolya Fekete (2005)
    Sergei Desnitsky (1996)
    Yuri Kara (1994)
    Paul Bryers (1992)
    Maciej Wojtyszko (1990)
    Aleksandar Petrovic (1972)
    Andrzej Wajda (1972)
    The most famous and most well thought of also seems to be the most recent - Vladimir Bortko's 2005 mini series (pictured above). That said the Yuri Kara (1994) is largely unseen having been embroiled in a row over rights since its inception. That website also includes an overview of each version, and there's a good article on the Bortko version at the St. Petersburg Times.

    The US version will be made by Stone Village Pictures and produced by Scott Steindorff.


    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Mallika Sherawat Given Leading Role in The Aquarian Gospel

    As if Drew Heriot's The Aquarian Gospel could get any stranger, The Times of India is reporting that Bollywood sex symbol Mallika Sherawat will play one of Jesus's loyal (and celibate) friends. Sherawat has caused controversy in India over her, er, more western attitude to her attire which has heightened her profile overseas. In 2005 she starred opposite Jackie Chan (pictured) in The Myth and there are rumours of various other Hollywood productions.

    Heriot is quoted as saying "Mallika is not just a pretty face. She is versatile, [and] has a background in philosophy, so she will convey the richness of the subject matter". Sherawat aims to bring wisdom and humour to her role qualities she finds largely lacking in "most mythological and spiritual film stories".

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    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    From Jesus to Judas
    Mawle given lead in Last Days of Judas Iscariot

    See all posts on this film
    Joseph Mawle, shortly to be seen on our screens as Jesus in the BBC's take on The Passion, will play Judas in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Mawle has always switched between television and the theatre, so in many ways his stint at the Almeida is nothing new. Yet at the same time it's a fascinating choice for his next role. The Almeida's website describes The Last Days of Judas Iscariot as a "hilarious and extraordinary court-room drama where history’s most infamous betrayal is dissected by the forces of good and evil."

    It will be interesting to see how this turns out given the fate of other actors who have played Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth's Robert Powell struggled to find any more serious work and ended up being Jasper Carrott's sidekick in The Detectives. Ted Neeley decided to make playing the lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar his career, and James Caviezel hasn't exactly done a great deal since starring in The Passion of the Christ. So is this an attempt to make a clean break from The Passion by playing the opposite character straight after? Or did he find the subject matter so engaging that he immediately sought to explore it from a different angle? Either way, whilst it may be precisely the thing that enables him to have a decent career post-Jesus, I suppose there's a risk that he might end up being type cast.

    The most notable example of the same actor playing both Jesus and Judas is John Drew Barrymore who played both roles in 1962's Ponzio Pilato. Other notable oddities are in Godspell where the roles of Judas and John the Baptist are often played by the same actor, and I seem to recall that the aforementioned Ted Neeley was originally planning to audition for the role of Judas rather than Jesus.As for the play itself, there's a good preview at Indie London which describes it as
    ...a time-bending, serio-comic drama in an imagined world between Heaven and Hell that re-examines the plight and fate of The New Testament’s most infamous sinner. In a trial of "God and the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth versus Judas Iscariot", figures ranging from Pontius Pilate to Sigmund Freud are called to testify.

    Guirgis’ distinct and utterly contemporary voice uses the violent, chaotic energy of modern America, and particularly of New York, to explore timeless questions of free will and responsibility, of faith and fate.
    One last connection here is that the original version of Last Days was shown at New York’s Public Theatre in 2005, and was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman, of course, had previously featured in Along Came Polly as an actor who is playing the roles of both Jesus and Judas in an am-dram version of Jesus Christ Superstar.

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    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Cindy Bond Interview & Timetable for Epic Stories of the Bible

    Peter Chattaway has interviewed Cindy Bond - president and chief operating officer of Promenade Pictures who brought us last year's version of The Ten Commandments. There's actually two different versions of the interview out there. The one up at Christianity Today has had additional material courtesy of Mark Moring, whereas FilmChat includes the parts of the interview that discussed the Epic Stories of the Bible series as a whole.

    After the interview, Bond also emailed Peter the list of films that will be covered by the series, along with a schedule for release:
    1. The Ten Commandments -- October 19, 2007
    2. The Flood -- Easter 2009
    3. David and Goliath -- Fall 2009
    4. Daniel and the Lion's Den -- Easter 2010
    5. The Story of Esther -- Easter 2011
    6. Creation -- Easter 2012
    7. Jonah and the Whale -- Easter 2013
    8. Samson and Delilah -- Easter 2014
    9. Joshua and the Battle of Jericho -- Easter 2015
    10. The Story of Peter -- Easter 2016
    11. The Story of Paul -- Easter 2017
    12. Bethlehem - birth of Christ -- Easter 2018
    There are a few points I'd like to make on all this. Firstly, it's interesting that they are making these films out of sequence. I can imagine that they might have started with Moses in order to test the water, but I can't work out why the rest of the series varies so. In particular, ending the Old Testament series on Joshua, and leaving the nativity story until the very end is somewhat unusual.

    Secondly, I'm surprised that out of all of those stories there are none that appear to deal with the ministry or the death of Jesus. These may well be touched on via flashbacks in the stories about Peter and Paul, but that omission is a bit of a shame, and I'm curious to know why that is.

    Finally, there are a few stories here that have generally not had a lot of screen time to date. In particular, the stories of Daniel, Joshua and Jonah have been covered only sparingly. So it'll great if they find their way to the cinemas screens at some point over the next decade or so.

    The interview at CT also mentions some interesting points. Firstly, Bond promises that the animation will be much improved for the next film in the series (which will be called either The Flood or Noah's Ark: The New Beginning). This was perhaps the most widely criticised area of Ten Commandments (my own review), so hopefully the improvement will be significant enough to allay those objections. She also revealed that Ben Kingsley would again feature as the narrator and that this time he would be joined by Michael Keaton, Marcia Gay Harden, and Rob Schneider.

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    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Films About 2 Kings

    Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years has got as far as 2 Kings now, and whilst I only show a film clip occasionally, I do like to find a still which I can use for the session's main image. This month, however, has been a bit of a challenge as it appears so few films have been made about events in 2 Kings.

    The most popular story - from a filmmaking point of view at least - is that of Elijah. Technically, most of Elijah's story falls within 1 Kings, but volume 2 does contain the closing scenes from his ministry, most notably him being taken up to heaven. But films about Elijah are rare: I'm only aware of three which cover events in 2 Kings and only one of those is a feature length film.

    Technically, the first of these isn't even really a film about Elijah, rather it's about his nemesis Jezebel. I've never actually seen Sins of Jezebel (1953), but seems to cover most of the events ascribed to her in the Bible, from her appearance as Ahab's wife in 1 Kings 16, through to her death at the hand of Jehu in 2 Kings 9. I suspect it takes the principles of the sex, sword and sandal epics to an extreme, but one of the commentators at IMDb describes it as a "fairly straightforward retelling of the Bible story". Production values, however are reported to be low, but then it was filmed in 3 days on only a $100,000 dollar budget.By far the best that I've seen is the Elijah entry in the Testament: Bible in Animation series. It's hand drawn, but highly stylised, animation accompanied by operatic sound courtesy of Bryn Terfel, and the BBC National Orchestra / Chorus of Wales. I've discussed this film before, but I'm struck on this occasion of how Elijah reminds me of a younger Brian Blessed.

    The other Elijah film, which I have also discussed before is Elijah, a Fearless Prophet from the Living Bible series. Both these Elijah films include his dramatic ascension to heaven, but omit the other main story from 2 Kings where Elijah condemns Ahaziah. I also yet to see Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath (1996), but I suspect from what I've read that it doesn't go as far as 2 Kings. (Neither does the Elijah excerpt from Friends and Heroes FWIW)

    Elijah's servant and successor Elishah has faired even worse. Whilst he does get a bit part on those Elijah films, there's only two "films" where he plays a more leading role. The first is The Son of the Shunamite from way back in 1911. It's described as a classic horror film, where Elisha raises the widow's son.There's also a more recent cartoon which covers the story of Elisha and Naaman. Riding for a Fall is part of the Bugtime Adventures series. As far as I'm aware it's the only version of Naaman's story. Quite where the bugs fit in is, at present, beyond me.

    However, it's the middle part of Kings where there is a real paucity of film coverage. As far as I'm aware there isn't a single film which so much as touches on anything between the end of Elisha's ministry and the beginning of the events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. Because that incident was so significant it spills over into other stories, particular those of Jeremiah and Daniel, and so there are a couple of films which deal with these events.Slaves of Babylon was released in 1953, the same year as Sins of Jezebel, which, given the general shortage of films touching on 2 Kings, is quite surprising. It starred Richard Conte and Linda Christian as two fictional characters Nahum and Princess Panthea. The most well known 'biblical' character is Daniel who doesn't actually feature in 2 Kings. I now realise that I missed this film out of my recent look at films about Daniel. For those who are interested there are a good number of photos from this film available here with some original pictures and a poster also available on eBay at the moment.

    Finally there's Jeremiah from The Bible Collection which is where I got the heading image (and the one I ended up using). I've been an admirer of this film ever since I first saw it. Whilst the Bible Collection's insistence on bringing a romance element into every story they handle is present here as well, it's less of a distraction, and doesn't detract from the fine work by Patrick Dempsey in the lead role. It's main achievement is highlighting sufficient narrative to make an interesting plot, whilst including enough prophecy to make the exercise as a whole worthwhile. In contrast to Slaves of Babylon, however, the fall of Jerusalem occurs at the end of the film rather than at the start.

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    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Dan Castellaneta to Play DeMille
    Sands of Oblivion

    Peter Chattaway has details of Anchor Bay's Sands of Oblivion which is being released on DVD next month. The story revolves around the set for DeMille's 1923 version of The Ten Commandments which was buried in the Californian desert upon the film's completion. DeMille joked at the time that "If, a thousand years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the banks of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America."

    It seems that DeMille's words became something of a self-(un)fulfilling prophecy. In 1983 filmmaker Peter Brosnan and archaeologist John Parker, began a quest to find the ruins in the sand dunes of Guadalupe, California. This new film has nothing to do with them, as far as I know. It's a horror film / conspiracy drama which is partially set in 1923 but also follows the fortunes of a "soon-to-be divorced archaeologist couple Jesse and Alice Carter". According to this movie, the reason that DeMille buried the set was nothing to do with foiling his competitors but because "the set holds the spirit of a vengeful Egyptian god, trapped in a smuggled artifact".It's certainly an unusual premise and I guess it'll be a combination of The Mummy, Stargate and Shadow of the Vampire. There are various interesting characters in the cast, including George Kennedy (from perhaps my favourite film Cool Hand Luke), but the most interesting casting choice, to me at least is that of Dan Castellaneta as Cecil B. DeMille. Castellaneta has made his name in The Simpsons but his face and his normal speaking voice are largely unknown. SO in some ways despite his fame he's a fresh face.

    And the interesting thing is that he actually looks a wee bit like DeMille as well. The baldness clearly helps, and the photo of DeMille below doesn't make the similarity as obvious as some pictures of him from around 1923, but nevertheless it will be interesting to see how he plays the role. There's obviously a good deal of footage of DeMille around - not least from the opening to his 1956 remake of the film in question.

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    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    More on The Final Inquiry

    For a film that's due to be released on DVD next week, Fox Faith have surprisingly little news about The Final Inquiry on their website. There's a discussion guide and very little else. There's a little bit more on the film's dedicated site but it perhaps explains why I've had such a hard time getting hold of a copy of the DVD to review. There are, however, plenty of stills from this film here.

    There are a few more bits on this film elsewhere. Greg Wright has interviewed Inquiry's star Dolph Lundgren, although he doesn't appear to have got a great deal out of him. The film is about "this rabble-rouser down in Palestine named Jesus", his character starts out as a "fierce warrior from the barbarian countries" but when he "observes this new religion being born" he's "transformed". As to his own faith, he notes that "as you get older... issues of faith become more of a conscious choice... You get more interested in life and death".Perhaps the most interesting comments on this film that I've read thus far are at Metro Movies
    There’s a fascinating audacity to this whodunit set in Roman Palestine in the aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, from the tone to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plotting. With his faithful Goth servant (Dolph Lundgren) in tow, a Roman legionnaire named Tito Velerio Tauro (Daniele Liotti) is sent by the emperor Tiberius to investigate the death of a Jewish religious dissident in the Judean prefecture, a death that was apparently heralded across the empire by a sudden solar eclipse and earthquakes.

    A sword and sandals film noir set in the blinding Middle Eastern sun, the film features a cast that includes F. Murray Abraham, Max Von Sydow, Ornella Muti and Monica Cruz, younger sister of Penelope Cruz, as the tragic Pharisee’s daughter and fledgling Christian that the legionnaire falls for amidst the back-stabbing and intrigues of Judea. Pontius Pilate and Saul of Tarsus – St. Paul after his Damascene conversion – are the main heavies, and authors of a cover-up that’s meant to strangle the Christian cult before it spreads beyond Israel.

    It’s a collision of the devout and the wacky that’s probably unintended, especially during a scene where Tauro goes all Gil Grissom and does a CSI on what’s supposed to be Christ’s corpse. As with most films marketed under the Fox Faith banner, it’s hard to figure out just who the audience for something this odd is supposed to be.
    I think Christianity Today are also planning to have a new piece on this film shortly.

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    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Son of Man Finally Comes to Cinemas

    I've been following the progress of the modern day, South African, Jesus film Jezile (Son of Man) for over 2 years now, eagerly awaiting its release in cinemas. Despite great reviews from Roger Ebert, The Daily Telegraph, Los Angeles Times, myself and various others who saw it at Sundance it's taken a while for it to gain a general release in cinemas.

    So those of you who are desperate to see it (and I've been emailed more about this film than any other over the past 2 years) will be pleased to know it is finally coming to cinemas in the UK. According to the new official website it will start "with an exclusive run at the Rich Mix Cinema in Bethnal Green" before "moving to Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Dublin and... venues across the UK and Ireland". The Rich Mix Cinema run starts on the 7th March; other dates and locations listed on the film's website are as follows:
    The British Museum, London: 14/Mar/08
    Showcase Cinema, Newham: 14/Mar/08
    Showcase Cinema, Manchester: 14/Mar/08
    Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry 15-16/Mar/08
    Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham: 15-16/Mar/08
    Riverside Studios, London: 19-20/Mar/08
    South Hill Park Arts Centre, Ringmead, Berkshire: 24-25/Mar/08
    It also looks like the DVD is to be released fairly soon. Thanks to Ron Reed for the tip off on this one.

    Incidentally, all my posts on this film (are still available including my review, a scene guide (with biblical citations) and the transcript of Jesus's main speeches.


    Friday, February 08, 2008

    Superstar (1999)

    No, this post is not about a version of Jesus Christ, Superstar featuring Will Ferrell in the lead role. Instead, it's about a 1999 comedy in which Ferrell co-stars alongside Molly Shannon. Ferrell's main role is as Catholic high school heart throb Sky, who is the object of desire for Shannon's character, Mary Katherine Gallagher. Mary is desperately seeking her first kiss, and has decided that the only way to attain it is to become a superstar. However, like many teens she's a little awkward, both physically and socially, and so has to settle for watching Sky go out with her nemesis Evian (apparently the prettiest girl in the school).

    About half an hour into the film Mary drifts off to sleep and is visited by Jesus. There's an obvious similarity, then, between this and films like Johnny Got His Gun which I reviewed last week. Here, however, there's an added twist: Jesus is also played by Ferrell. Mary's somewhat confused by this, but 'Jesus' explains to her that their conversation is all in her head:
    Mary Katherine Gallagher: Oh my God!
    Jesus: Oh my Me! How are you?
    Mary Katherine Gallagher: It's going OK. Are you the Lord?
    Jesus: Well, to you I am. See, technically, you're, like, in this REM sleep state, and I'm a mixture of your mind's images of God, some past authority figures, uh, Skye, and your dad. Basically, your subconscious came up with me to help you deal. Dig?
    In contrast to Johnny Got His Gun, the explicit denial that this is in any way the 'real Jesus', combined with the humorous nature of the film, mean that this film cannot be read as offering serious commentary on the historical Jesus. It does, however, draw attention to the way in which our subconscious image of Jesus is informed by various sources, which often have little to do with the Bible, or historical probability. It also comments on the social construct of Jesus. Increasingly in our society Jesus has become a hip, new-age type figure. Toothless and benign, he's seen as a man of peace who taught people to love. What's amusing about this film is the way it uses that characterisation to send up the guiding star figure movie cliché that is so prevalent in films such as this. Interestingly, it could be argued that this cliché actually originated in films such as Quo Vadis?, where the original 'guiding star figure' was a vision of Jesus himself. Indeed one scene from the film appears to parody (perhaps unintentionally) the pivotal scene in Quo Vadis?.

    It's also interesting that both Superstar and the earlier Jesus cameo films both present Jesus as somehow unreachable and put barriers between the viewer and Jesus. The 50s epics, did this by avoiding showing his face, either filming from a distance, from behind, or just showing his hand etc. In fact The Robe actually uses the cross as a physical barrier in front of Jesus's face. Barriers such as these came out of a spirit of piety, but nevertheless made Jesus more remote.

    Superstar, on the other hand, shows its Jesus face on and close up, but makes the point, that this is not the real Jesus. Thus Jesus remains as remote as he was in the earlier films, only this time the barrier is uncertainty about our ability to encounter anything of Jesus apart from our own experiences. It's not, by any means, a cynical portrayal, but it is very much the product of post-modernist understanding on the attainability of truth or otherwise.One final point here is that the figure of Jesus is also represented in this film by statues of him which appear in the background in various scenes.The other thought that occurred to me in watching Superstar is how clearly it demonstrates the importance of the choice of actor to play Jesus. At the time of the film's release Ferrell had already featured in two of the Austin Powers films having made his name on Saturday Night Live. In fact Superstar started life as an SNL skit, so, at least amongst the shows fans he brought numerous character associations with him to the role.

    Ferrell has subsequently gone on to find huge success in a range of performance from gross-out college comedies (Wedding Crashers to his role in the more thoughtful Woody Allen film Melinda, Melinda. Despite those roles coming after his performance in Superstar, they continue to inform and alter the film's meaning, albeit perhaps marginally. Viewers who watch Superstar after they have seen Elf or Anchorman cannot help but read this film through those previous performances, in a way that someone unfamiliar with his body of work could not. It's a good example of how stars are no longer able to provide a blank canvas to those they continue to work with. Their face brings to their new roles connotations associated with their previous work.

    Overall the Jesus character appears four times in the film (although it depends quite how you count it), and Ferrell's portrayal of Jesus was included in Entertainment Weekly's 12 favourite TV and Movie Jesuses.


    Thursday, February 07, 2008

    The Star of Bethlehem on DVD

    Peter Chattaway and Michael Barrett have both written about the 1912 silent nativity film The Star of Bethlehem, which is now available on DVD. Barrett describes the film as follows:
    After the busy opening at Herod’s court, with dozens of scantily-dressed extras filling the background, most of the film follows the three wise men through the desert, where they constantly point up toward the effect of the large superimposed star. Cut down from its original three reels, it doesn’t compare favorably with From the Manger to the Cross, released the same year by the rival Kalem Company, but that six-reel epic was shot on location in Jerusalem. Anyway, the Thanhouser version shows that Cecil B. DeMille didn’t invent the cinematic contrast between piety and flesh in the same movie.
    There's also a good write up on the Thanhouser company's website where you can download a PDF about various Thanhouser films which gives the following details:
    The Star of Bethlehem (1,000 feet, released December 24, 1912)
    Directed by Lawrence Marston. Production supervised by Edwin Thanhouser. Scenario by Lloyd F. Lonergan. Original length three reels (3,000 feet); surviving portion one real (1,000 feet).
    Print source: British Film Institute National Film Archive, 15 minutes, 13 seconds.

    CAST: Florence LaBadie (Mary), James Cruze (Micah, Joseph), William Russell (Herod), Harry Benham (Angel Gabriel), Justus D. Barnes (Gaspar, one of the Magi), Charles Horan (Melchior, one of the Magi), Riley Chamberlin (Balthasar, one of the Magi), Harry Marks (scribe), N. S. Woods (scribe), Lawrence Merton (scribe), David H. Thompson (Pharisee, rabbi), Lew Woods (Pharisee, scribe), Joseph Graybill (Roman messenger), Carl LeViness (shepherd), Frank Grimmer (shepherd), Ethyle Cooke; total cast of 200 persons.

    Thanhouser’s ambitious Star of Bethlehem was one of the first steps toward true feature-length films (more than two reels long). It appeared the year before the Italian epic Quo Vadis? was viewed in the U. S., and two years before the first Hollywood feature, The Squaw Man. The original negatives were destroyed in the Thanhouser studio fire just three weeks after its first release, and no full print is known to survive.

    Preparation of this epic was one of the last duties of Edwin Thanhouser before leaving the studio that bore his name. He had sold it to Mutual in April of 1912 and continued to work as studio manager until he "retired" in November 1912, only to return in 1915. Thanhouser’s biggest production up to that point in time, the film required a one-month shooting schedule, employed a cast of 200 (including forty principals), and cost a hefty $8,000. Special effects alone took a full week’s work.

    Thanhouser studio’s flair for sumptuous costumes, crowds of actors, and rich staging is evident in this epic. Some of the larger scenes reportedly were filmed with two or even three cameras shooting from different angles. The ratio of two-and-a-half feet of film exposed per foot of film used is modest by today’s standards, but was extravagant for 1912.
    Incidentally, there have been at least 4 other films with the title The Star of Bethlehem. There was a 1956 British TV movie; an entry from last year which was a documentary about the star itself and its potential origins; and two German film from 1921 and 1954, which both had the original title Der Stern von Bethlehem. Most of these were listed in my 2006 survey of films about the nativity.


    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Gospel According to John-a-thon

    Bruce Marchiano and his team are still attempting to get sufficient funding to get The Gospel According to John off the ground, so today their holding a John-a-thon.

    The idea is to have a day of publicising the film to friends and family via email with a view to raising funds for it. For various reasons I haven't /won't be giving to this film (plus I'm a little concerned about the potential for it to turn into a spam-thon), but I would like to see the film get made. So I thought I'd post about it here instead in case it would be of interest to any of those who visit this site. If that's you then I'm sure the folks at the official website would be only too happy to help.

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    Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    The twenty-sixth Biblical Studies Carnival has been up for a few days now at Kevin Edgecomb's Biblicalia blog. Amongst the discussion is the Talpiot Tomb and the question as to what is a Biblioblog.

    Biblical Studies Carnival XXVII will be hosted by Kevin Wilson's Blue Cord blog. You can read more details about these carnivals, at the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.


    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    New Look Website for Rowan Williams

    I've been meaning to post this for a few days now: the official website(s) of the Archbishop of Canterbury have been significantly revamped along with those of John Sentamu the Archbishop of York. Rowan Williams' site is now split into two. The main part of the site focuses on the historic role and function of the office of Archbishop, whilst a smaller section is more personal to Dr. Williams.

    I had a small amount of input into the rebuilding of this site, so I've been awaiting the finished product for some time. Certainly it's now a great resource for catching up on his latest news, articles, interviews, speeches and sermons. Credit to Claire Chin-Sue who has brought the project to completion and will be tasked with keeping it up to date from here on in.

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Podcast:Gospel of John

    The fourteenth entry in my Jesus film podcast is up, and this month I'm talking about The Gospel of John (2003). Apologies that it's a bit late to those who listen to it. The other thirteen talks are still available to download.

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    Friday, February 01, 2008

    January Podcast Delayed

    Apologies to listeners of my Jesus Films Podcast: January's entry is late. Life is just very hectic at the moment. I'm in the middle of doing one house up whilst trying to sell another; I've started an extra job to earn a bit more cash; My other job is going through it's busiest period of the year; and I'm trying to be a husband, father, friend and blogger as well. On top of all of that, this afternoon we're off to Cambridge for the weekend to watch a performance of the musical my brother has written Academy of Death (based on the story of notorious 19th century doctor Robert Knox.

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