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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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    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.



    • At 10:48 am, February 08, 2008, Blogger Witlessd said…

      Hi Matt

      I have another, earlier "Star of Bethlehem" for you:
      Released 19 March 1909 - produced by Edison - 8 scenes - about 900+ feet:

      "A beautiful, reverential picture, suitable for the coming Lenten season, showing the eventful period immediately preceding the birth of the gentlest of men.
      The life of the time is faithfully shown and the hardships attending the wanderings of Mary and Joseph. Their seeking shelter, being denied, and finally forced to find refuge in a stable. The arrival of the wise men called magi, gentle philosophers from Persian and India, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the child, whom they worship as a king. Herod, the king, sends for the wise men, questions them regarding the coming of Christ; where he is to be born, and the time - for he is very much troubled withal.
      The wise men are warned by an angel and depart from Judas, returning to their own country. Joseph and Mary are also warned and flee with the child into Egypt.
      Herod, exceedingly angry, sends forth his command to slay all the children in Bethlehem from two years and under - hoping to encompass the death of the one child whose coming he feared.
      Throughout, the action is beautifully sustained; enacted in a reverent spirit. Costumes and characters historically correct and stage settings as elaborate as ever used.
      The scenes wherein the shepherds watch by night - the bumble stable and lowly manger - the arrival of the wise men bearing gifts and the tender devotion shown, make this a fitting product of the coming season." (The Moving Picture World, 6 March 1909)

    • At 10:50 am, February 08, 2008, Blogger Witlessd said…

      But I now see that you actually already had this in your list... oops.

    • At 11:48 am, April 10, 2008, Blogger Kevin C. Neece said…

      I'm having some trouble locating this DVD. The one on Amazon says it's from Frederick A. Larson, but it's description is of a documentary. Any ideas? Or is this only available on the Thanhouser collection DVD?


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