• 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


    Monday, March 31, 2008

    Egan, McShane Head Kings Cast

    I mentioned back in November that NBC were producing a modern day version of the life of David called Kings. Well Variety has just announced a couple of pieces of casting: Christopher Egan (Home and Away) will play David whilst Ian McShane (Lovejoy, Deadwood) will play the role of "the monarch". I'm guessing McShane's role will be akin to that of Saul, but it's also possible his role is the modern day equivalent of Achish or Maoch. Come to think of it he could also be playing David later in life. Time will tell I guess. McShane is, of course, no stranger to the Biblical TV drama having played Judas in 1977's Jesus of Nazareth and 1985's A.D. Anno Domini.

    The Variety piece also clears up one other thing: This is not the David production that J. Michael Straczynski is writing. Michael Green (Heroes) is cited as the writer for this one.

    Thanks to Peter Chattaway for spotting the story.

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    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Decent Films Reviews The Greatest Story Ever Told

    Over at Decent Films, my friend Steven D. Greydanus has just posted a great review of Greatest Story Ever Told. It's actually one film I've not posted a written review for yet, although I did record a podcast review for the film last year. I've heard Steven talk many times about the unintentionally hilarious baptism scene, but it's nice to hear him extolling some of the film's other virtues.

    In trying to source some photos for this blog entry I also came across a review at thecinemalaser.com . I also just discovered that there was a 2001 documentary about the making of this film called He Walks in Beauty: The George Stevens Production 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'.


    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    Easter 2008 TV Offerings

    Usually, I like to highlight in advance some of the TV offerings that will be shown over Christmas (2006, 2007) and Easter (2007). Unfortunately this year I didn't quite have time, which is a shame as there was really quite a lot. Had I run a piece like this a few years ago I would have had almost nothing to report. This year, however, there was almost an unprecedented amount, including a number of Jesus films.

    Obviously, top billing went to BBC1's The Passion, but there were at least 3 other major Jesus films shown over the Easter period. ITV got the ball rolling showing Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) on Good Friday, and Channels 4 and 5 followed suit with Easter Monday broadcasts of The Passion of the Christ and Ben Hur respectively (pictured). I also happened to noticed Huston's The Bible crop up on one of the cable channels as well.

    But there was also more in the documentary department, with Robert Beckford back on Channel 4 with his look at the Secrets of the 12 Disciples and BBC2's festive offering re-examined the Shroud of Turin. Both programmes are currently available to view online, and I should be writing some thoughts on Secrets of the 12 Disciples in the next few days. Incidentally the shroud has it's own blog. Who knew?

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    FaithArts on The Passion

    See all posts on this film.
    As I've been trying to keep my ear to the ground ('scuse the pun) for reviews and comments on The Passion I've been kicking myself for failing to mention Brendan O'Regan's coverage of this production over at FaithArts. Regular readers may recall that I mentioned Brendan's site last year and added it to my blogroll, so it's a little embarrassing to have forgotten, especially as he was so good as to drop me a reminder a few days ago.

    As far as I can see there's no permanent link (yet) to the individual posts on the film, so for now you just have to visit the main blog page.

    Meanwhile, The Guardian is reporting the series' viewing figures as follows:
    BBC1's Easter drama The Passion finished with the highest audience of its four-part run, 4.9 million viewers, a 21% share at 7.30pm.

    The series, which starred Joseph Mawle as Jesus and James Nesbitt as Pontius Pilate, began with 4.1 million viewers last Sunday before dipping to 3.2 million for its second part and 3.7 million for its third instalment on Good Friday.
    There's also a review of this film from the Sunday Times that I'd missed before.

    Incidentally, the latest issue of the C of E's Reader Magazine has just been published including a brief piece I wrote about The Passion.


    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    The Passion - Part 4 Scene Guide

    See all posts on this film.
    The Passion has just reached its conclusion so it's time for me to blog my thoughts on the final episode. As with the previous three episodes I'm giving biblical references in my usual scene guide format (citation guide). Passages in square brackets are extra-biblical episodes. My overall review of this programme is here, though I hope to add some additional points now I have seen the whole series.
    Joseph Asks for Jesus's Body - Mark 15:42-45
    [EBE - Disciples Discuss Jesus's Death]
    [EBE - Caiaphas Criticises Joseph's Decision]
    Burial - Mark 15:46-47
    [EBE - Holy Saturday - The Two Marys]
    [EBE - Holy Saturday - Disciples Worry About What to do]
    [EBE - Caiaphas's Wife Reassures him]
    Soldiers at the Tomb - Matt 27:62-66
    [EBE - Marys and the Disciples]
    Magdalene at The Tomb - John 20:1
    Caiaphas Told of the Empty Tomb - Matt 28:11
    Mary, John and Peter Go to the Tomb - John 20:3-10
    Jesus Appears to Mary - John 20:11-17
    Mary Tells the Disciples - John 20:18
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Joseph Argue]
    Road to Emmaus - Luke 24:13-33
    Jesus Appears in the Upper Room - Luke 24:36-49
    [EBE - Pilate and his Wife Return Home]
    [EBE - Caiaphas's Son is Born]
    Jesus and Peter - John 21:15-19
    I Will be with you Always - Matt 28:20

    Spoilers follow:
    I'd like to start by talking about the post-resurrection appearances, mainly because I've known about them for some time. I'd heard a good while back that this film was going to do something interesting with the resurrection, and I wondered then if it was going to use a different actor for the resurrected Jesus. My suspicions were confirmed at the première when Nigel Stafford-Clark accidentally let it slip that my hunch was correct. Fortunately, I managed to keep this all to myself, and settled for just giving it a passing mention in my review. But, suffice to say, I've been positively bursting to talk about it ever since.

    What they did so well is keep the facts largely as they are. The gospels are nowhere more divergent than they are on the subject of Easter morning. Mark mentions some women, an angel and an empty tomb and precious little else (later additions aside). Matthew elaborates by having Jesus meet the woman and having a guard placed at the tomb. Luke omits Matthew's story about the seal, but adds the story about the Road to Emmaus, and an appearance to Peter, before bringing things to a climax with the resurrected Jesus appearing to all the disciples. Finally John gives an almost totally different account with Mary Magdalene alone finding the empty tomb, not seeing an angel, returning to tell Peter and John before she meets the risen Jesus for herself. We then two appearances to a room full of disciples and doubting Thomas, breakfast on the beach, restoration of Peter and a cryptic comment about John.

    Of course many previous Jesus films omit the resurrection altogether, or give it a more spiritual interpretation, and even many of those that do include it skip by fairly quickly. Among those that do include it, a surprising number actually go on to show the one thing the gospels don't talk about - Jesus leaving the tomb. What we have here is the story as it is presented - albeit based on a harmonisation of the story - and not only that but it's one that seeks to offer not one, but several possible interpretations of what actually happened and leave the viewer to decide for themselves.The first such interpretation will be the one that pleases scholars such as Tom Wright. Wright holds that the failure to recognise the risen Jesus was because his resurrection body is a physical body, but one that is significantly different from his pre-resurrection body. This is the interpretation that I had been wondering if ever anyone would try.

    But the other interpretation, that the filmmakers were keen to leave as a possibility was that actually Jesus wasn't resurrected. This is dealt with far more visually. Firstly the empty tomb, far from being somewhere that might require a gardener (John 20:16) is in the middle of the desert, and, at the crucial moment the soldiers leave their post. (Incidentally Matthew's account has the soldiers told to say that the body was stolen when they were asleep whereas here it occurs whilst they go off to buy food - a move that, in itself is open to various interpretations). Then we have the two appearances using the different actors which could be read to be fairly damning, and whilst Joseph Mawle eventually resumes the role these appearances are all shot from a particular character's point of view, rather than in a more objective setting.

    A further interpretation is that the use of different actors is just to show the confusion in the disciples' minds and once they realise that Jesus has risen we see Joe Mawle back in more corporate settings. So there are at least three interpretations and I look forward to unearthing more over the next few days. Either way, it will be a talking point. Incidentally the two actors who appear here are listed in the credits as "Man at Tomb" and "Man on Road to Emmaus".There are a few other points to make. The final scenes are also very interesting, in particular the birth of a son to Caiaphas, and his evident relief and prayer of thanks. The point here is that Caiaphas, at least, seems to interpret this as confirmation of God's approval. He has done the right thing, his wife and child are safe and his line will continue. But other possibilities are possible. Perhaps it's just chance, or perhaps it is a reward from God for being a pawn in his master plan. What's interesting is the correlation between Caiaphas interpretation and those of viewers interpreting the rest of the story in accordance with their own beliefs. This also happens to a far lesser degree with Pilate whose house is beginning to take shape once more.

    I also noticed a nice touch in one of the scenes between James and John. The portrayal of these two disciples has been one of the series' minor delights. John has for so long been played as a wet blanket, that it was great to see him acting more like he could be one of the sons of thunder. If I ever write up my Jesus Film Dream Team, Jamie Sives will be on it. Anyway, there's a nice irony at the point where a sceptical James tells warns his brother that if he carries on he's "going to get himself killed". Tradition has it that John was the only one of the disciples not to be martyred whereas James was one of the first to be killed..Following on from that, at the start of the episode John reports back on Jesus's death. It's interesting that this could be taken as the start of his traditional role as the disciple who wrote the fourth gospel. There's further intrigue, though, because John recalls Jesus's last words as "Your will is done" (variation on "it is accomplished" which appears only in John) whereas his last words were actually shown as being "I've loved you with all my heart". Whether this is intended to show John deliberately altering Jesus's words, or just that he didn't recall these things perfectly, or whether it was just a glitch in the production is, like much of this final episode, open very much to interpretation.


    As with previous episodes a few others have blogged the final episode. Doug Chaplin at MetaCatholic continues his generally excellent coverage and Gerard O'Collins is the fourth author for Thinking Faith. I also came across Stephen Barton's Reformed Christian UK site which has also posted a few thoughts on all four parts (1, 2, 3 and 4). The BBC has also added an article on their portrayal of the crucifixion.

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    Friday, March 21, 2008

    The Passion - Part 3 Scene Guide

    See all posts on this film.
    The Good Friday Episode of The Passion was also going to be the most critical. Moreover, this was the first episode I hadn't had the chance to watch in advance, which means I've not really had the chance to reflect on it before writing the comments below.

    As with the previous two episodes I'm giving biblical references in my usual scene guide format (citation guide). Passages in square brackets are extra-biblical episodes. My overall review of this programme is here.

    Last Supper - Mark 14:17
    Washing Disciples' Feet - John 13:1-8
    Love One Another - John 13:34-35
    Peter's Denial Predicted - Mark 14:26-31
    Judas's Betrayal Predicted - Mark 14:18:21
    Teaching at the Last Supper - John 13:33,36; 14:15-20; 16:21-22; 17:7-9
    A New Sacrament - Mark 14:22-25
    Gethsemane I - Mark 14:32-34
    [EBE - Judas and the Temple Guards]
    [EBE - Caiaphas and his Wife]
    [EBE - Pilate and his Wife]
    Gethsemane II - Mark 14:35-42
    Arrest - Mark 14:43-50
    Pilate's Wife's Dream - Matt 27:19
    Trial Before Caiaphas - Mark 14:53-64
    Peter's Denial - Mark 14:66-73
    [EBE - Jesus Put in a Cell]
    Trial Before Pilate - Mark 15:1-5
    [EBE - Pilate's Wife Pleads with him]
    Barabbas Freed, - Mark 15:6-15a
    Jesus is Condemned and Scourged - Mark 15:15b
    [EBE - Disciples in Hiding I]
    [EBE - Judas and Barabbas]
    Via Dolorosa - Mark 15:20-22
    Crown of Thorns - Mark 15:17
    Judas Hangs Himself - Matt 27:1-5
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Joseph]
    Crucifixion - Mark 15:22-27
    Priests Try to Change Jesus's Sign - John 19:20-22
    The Two Thieves - Luke 23:39-42
    Mary and John - John 19:26-27
    Jesus's Death - Mark 15:34-37
    Originally this show was to be stripped throughout Holy Week in 6 half hour episodes, and it was obvious that tonight's episode was originally intended to play on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The dividing point was obviously just as Jesus was put in his cell. It'll be interesting to see how HBO broadcast this next Easter, as the natural scheduling dates, were it to be shown in 6 half hour episodes, would be:
    Ep.1 - Palm Sunday - Triumphal Entry (1st half of our part 1)
    Ep.2 - Holy Monday - Clearing of the Temple (2nd half of our part 1)
    Ep.3 - Tue/Wed - More Teaching (Our part 2)
    Ep.4 - Maundy Thursday - Last Supper / Gethsemane (1st half of our part3)
    Ep.5 - Good Friday - Crucifixion (2nd half of our part 3)
    Ep.6 - Easter Sunday - Resurrection (Our part 4)
    Following on from that it's interesting to see how the different episodes can switch their emphases between the various gospels. Overall this production harmonises the gospel with the greatest emphasis on Mark and John. In tonight's two-parter it was interesting to see that the first half could have been taken almost entirely from John, but that the second part felt more like Mark, though unique elements from all three gospels were included.There were far fewer extra-biblical episodes tonight (only a quarter) and most of these were fairly brief. However, the ones which were given more time this evening were very impressive. The most interesting one was where Judas and a newly freed Barabbas end up in the same tavern but for very different reasons. It was quite unlike anything I've seen before in a Jesus Film. That's actually quite strange though because scenes where two characters who are unknowingly related to one another happen to be in the same place are very common in film in general. I guess this just shows how keen the film makers are to make this film more down to earth.

    The other extra-biblical scene that was good was the one between Caiaphas and Joseph of Arimathea. I'd seen Joseph's lines in several places, but Caiaphas's retort was new to me and carried a real punch.

    I also liked the scene with Judas and the Temple Guard. There's been a small amount in the press (mainly the Daily Mail) about how this film seeks to be more sympathetic to Judas. I have to say though that having now seen all of Judas' involvement, I don't think film has done much in that way that other Jesus films haven't done already. The idea of him being caught between two father figures was newish, and there was an interesting explanation as to why Judas took the money (the Temple Guard forced it on him to clear their own consciences clean), but there was no more sympathising with him than there was in King of Kings, Jesus Christ Superstar or Jesus of Nazareth. There was something in this scene that was reminiscent of Edmund and the White Witch's in 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe'.Likewise there was some talk about this version of Mary being less serene than previous incarnations. There was a scene in episode one between her and Jesus where this was in evidence, but I'd been expecting something more tonight. It never really materialise, although full credit to Penelope Wilton for here performance at the crucifixion. It was outstanding.

    The other thing that has been in the papers was, of course, the position that Jesus was crucified in (as picked up by The Daily Telegraph). Having seen it, I didn't find it anything to get worked up about, but it did make me think about crucifixion in a new way. That said, it seemed strangely out of keeping with this production that Jesus got to hang onto his loincloth.

    There was also some interesting camera shots. Michael Offer had described the way they were going to shoot the moment the cross was erected, but I couldn't quite see how it was going to be any different to King of Kings. It was.I should also mention Joe Mawle's performance here as Jesus. Both the crucifixion and the scene in Gethsemane were incredibly moving, and the subtler, arguably more difficult, scenes such as his two trials were played very well too. Likewise James Nesbitt really showed his pedigree in this episode as well getting the historical Pilate's petulance off to a tee.

    Finally, there were various comments made about the shot of women showering Jesus with petals in Episode 1, and this scene is recalled by Jesus as he walks along those same streets in this episode in very different circumstances. I've been meaning to say that I think the petals shot is a reference to Last Temptation of Christ and the idea of Jesus flashing back to his triumphal entry on his way to the cross was, no doubt, commenting on a similar idea in The Passion of the Christ.


    There are also comments on this episode by Doug Chaplin at MetaCatholic, and Gemma Simmonds at Thinking Faith (how do they get them up so quickly?). I expect one from Michael Bird at Euangelion shortly.

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    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    The Final Inquiry (L'Inchiesta)

    For many people, Ridley Scott's Gladiator is the film responsible for the recent resurgence in epic films. Grand battle scenes, larger than life characters, yet at the heart of it, it's about one man's solitary quest. Others point to the influence of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Braveheart may have been the film that really set the epic wheels in motion, but it was The Passion which inspired a legion of movies that were linked to the Bible.

    There are elements of both films in The Final Inquiry starring Dolph Lundgren and Monica Cruz - two actors who, for very different reasons, it's best not to cross in case you ever met them in person. Like Gladiator the action starts in Germania as a noble Roman soldier (Titus Valerius Taurus) leads his troops into victory against the local scraggy-blond Barbarians. There's a dying and noble emperor, double dealing enemies, and a muscular sidekick all crammed in to a whistle-stop tour of the Roman Empire.The film's link to The Passion is more direct. Set just a few months after the death of Jesus, Emperor Tiberius sends Titus to get to the bottom of what exactly happened on the day when, all over the empire, the sky clouded over. So Titus heads to Jerusalem where he talks with various characters who crop up in the gospels.

    The continuity with The Passion is further enhanced by Hristo Shopov reprising his role as Pontius Pilate. Much has changed for Pilate over the last few months - he's gained a few pounds, slipped into something more comfortable and learnt to speak English. But there's also some discontinuity as well. Christo Jivkov played John in The Passion, but here he appears as St. Stephen.

    Titus is joined on his mission by an enslaved German called Brixos, played by Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren largely sticks to what he does best - roaring and swinging his axe around as he watches Titus's back. Meanwhile Titus also sparks up a friendship with Tabitha, a beautiful Jewish Christian.If all that sounds rather cliché-ridden, then, this is probably isn't the film for you. From the opening title sequence when a group of galloping Roman soldiers come to a halt just to hear Titus say "Forwards" and ride on; through to Tiberius's informant just managing to squeeze out the last vital bit of information before he dies; through to the slave who stays on as his master's friend even though he has just been freed, there are clichés aplenty.

    However, clichés aside, the film is actually fairly watchable. There's enough interest in the first half of the film as Titus turns detective and tries to get to the bottom of the story, and there's sufficient chemistry between him and Tabitha (Cruz) to make the love story believable. And the film's use of flashbacks to tell the story of Jesus through Titus's eyes is an interesting approach to the material. It reflects the situation we find ourselves in today unable to meet Jesus face to face we have to put together the facts about him from the various pieces of evidence.

    It's also interesting to see a pre-conversion Saul of Tarsus unashamedly played as the bad guy. Usually films that deal with Paul at this stage of his life portray him as a sort of hero in waiting. He may be misguided, and a little hotheaded, but generally he's noble in his own sort of way. Here, however, he lays into the already prostrate Stephen with such relish that it's easy to see why it required nothing less than a vision of the risen Jesus to cause him to convert. The portrayal of Peter (below) is also unconventional, although in this case it's less satisfying as Peter is shown as still living in Galilee.Overall though, the history's not too bad. There's no reason to believe that the sky turned black as far away as Capri, of course, or that if it did Tiberius would somehow link it to the death of Jesus. But otherwise it is true that Tiberius retired to Capri, where he did become somewhat reclusive, and that, as a result, his people held him in fairly low regard. The film does view him through somewhat rose-tinted spectacles though. It's no surprise when it turns out that the reasonably unhistorical reason for his final voyage to Rome is in order to convert the empire to Christianity. Unsurprisingly when his heir (Caligula) finds out about his uncle's plans, the film reverts back to more widely accepted historical territory.

    By then, the elements that made the earlier parts of Final Inquiry work have long since been suffocated by the film's underlying agenda. Attempting to demonstrate the rationality of Christian belief, the second half of the film resorts to far fetched storylines. For example, at one point Caiaphas, Saul and Pilate attempt to persuade Titus that the resurrections of both Lazarus and Jesus were faked by poisoning him.

    So overall, Final Inquiry is a mixed bag. Whilst it's never quite as bad as it could have been, a relatively promising start deteriorates rapidly as the story heads towards it's conclusion. The evidence Titus Valerius Taurus may have been enough to convince him, but it's unlikely to cause many people to seriously reconsider their previous conclusions.

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    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    The Passion - Part 2 Scene Guide

    See all posts on this film.
    Following on from yesterday's post on episode 1, I'll begin my thoughts on part 2 with my scene guide. Again, I'm giving biblical references in my usual scene guide format (citation guide). Passages in square brackets are extra-biblical episodes, those in normal brackets are where the characters themselves are citing other biblical passages, and I've used quotation marks for direct quotations from the script. It's proved quite hard to do as Frank Deasy rephrases familiar passages andMy overall review of this programme is here.
    [EBE - Jesus and Magdalene]
    [EBE - Caiaphas Questions Judas]
    [EBE - Pilate Prepares for Guests]
    [EBE - Pilate Sentences Barabbas]
    Woes Against Pharisees - Matt 23:1-12
    Teaching on Riches - Mark 10:23-25
    Prediction of Fall of Temple - Mark 13:2
    [EBE - Caiaphas Hears of Jesus' comment]
    [EBE - The Syrian Prefect]
    Jesus Predicts His Death - Mark 10:32-34
    lost around 13 mins
    (Is. 53:4-5)
    Teaching on Discipleship - Mark 8:34-36
    [EBE - Pilate and Claudia]
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Wife]
    [EBE - Jesus and Judas]
    Plot to Kill Jesus - Mark 14:1-2
    Jesus Anointed at Bethany - Mark 14:3-9
    Sanhedrin Plots Against Jesus - John 11:45-53
    Preparation for the Passover - Mark 14:12-16
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Judas]

    I'd heard someone say that each episode of The Passion was more gripping than the one before, and this is definitely so far. I'm not sure whether it's because episode 2 is only half an hour (rather than 60 minutes like part 1), but it seemed to fly by and there was definitely that sense of mild disappointment / frustration that we'll have to wait until Friday to see the next episode.

    Whereas episode one sketched out the story's broader historical context, here the show starts to really develop it's major characters. So we see how threatened Pilate is by the the Syrian prefect en route to Rome; a bad report to Caesar is the last thing Pilate needs. Likewise we see Caiaphases predicament weighing on his mind as he constantly turns to his wife for reassurance. In fact both men's wives are given an important role in this production - arguably another plus point for it

    On the downside, I did find Caiaphas's modernish scepticism a little suspect ("What look like miracles yes"). As far as I recall (and someone will no doubt pick me up on this) Caiaphas never really says anything like this. Everyone in the story seems to acknowledge that Jesus is doing some unusual things; those who reject him simply question whether his power comes from God or Satan. However, it's refreshing to hear Caiaphas specifically say that "Jesus isn't a bad man" he's just misguided.

    Again there were some great lines, although the cryptic way which they reference scripture makes tying them down to a particular reference quite hard. So when Jesus says "all of you will be spared, I will be sacrificed", iut's hard to find a passage to link it to even though it evokes various passages. Likewise the line that has been with me all week (and that starts off the trailer) - "You'll witness a miracle, but not the one you expect" - sums up several little snippets even though we have no record of them being said together.

    In yesterday's Times, Andrew Billen noted how The Passion "looks historically real but not historic: no one knows... that this will be the week that changes the West for ever". It's a great little summary and there were a couple of good examples of it yesterday. Not only the very offhand way in which Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem, but also the scene where Jesus predicts his death. Omitting the "get behind me Satan" line really allows the scene to open up, and focus on the reactions of the disciples. This is made all the more poignant by the way the scene starts with a wide shot which emphasises the seeming insignificance of this bunch of scruffy Galilleans.

    Doug Chaplin (Metacatholic), Michael Kirwan (Thinking Faith) and Michael Bird (Euangelion) have also posted reviews on last night's episode - all of them beating me off the mark. Mark Goodacre also links to Simon Mayo's discussion of the programme, and is disappointed by viewing figures of 4.1 million for part one - a third of the audience for Dancing on Ice. Whilst it is disappointing that so many people would rather watch yet another celebrity dance programme than a quality historical, not to mention educational, drama I don't think that really reflects on The Passion in particular so much as the general state of audience viewing habits. Sad but true.

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    Monday, March 17, 2008

    The Passion - Part 1 Scene Guide

    See all posts on this film.
    Having already written my review of this programme, I'm going to try and track each episode as it goes, giving biblical references in my usual scene guide format (citation guide). Passages in square brackets are extra-biblical episodes, those in normal brackets are where the characters themselves are citing other biblical passages, and I've used quotation marks for direct quotations from the script.
    Disciples Find a Colt - Mark 11:1-6
    [EBE - Murder in the Lower City]
    (Zech. 9:9)
    (Isaiah 43:2-4)
    Follow me - Mark 1:15-17
    [EBE - Pilate arrives in Jerusalem]
    [EBE - A Dead Body in the Lower City]
    Anything Good From Nazareth - John 1:46
    "You'll Know God Like Never Before" - Matt 13:35
    Triumphal Entry - Mark 11:7-10
    [EBE - Caiaphas hears of Jesus]
    Don't Worry About Tomorrow - Matt 6:31-34
    Trust like a child - Mark 10:14-15
    Jesus Visits the Temple - Mark 11:11
    [EBE - Pilate and Claudia]
    [EBE - Jesus and the Prostitutes]
    [EBE - Jesus by the Pool]
    Kingdom of God in our Hearts - Luke 17:21
    [EBE - Pilate and Caiaphas]
    The Law - Matt 5:17
    Barabbas Murders - Mark 15:7
    Clearing the Temple - Mark 11:15-18
    [EBE - Caiaphas Hears of Jesus' Actions]
    [EBE - Romans Go After Barabbas]
    Question About Taxes - Mark 12:13-18
    [EBE - Barabbas Arrested]
    Good Shepherd - Matt 18:10-14
    Question on Authority - Mark 11:27-28
    Joy in Heaven Over Repentance - Luke 15:7,10
    Not Come to Overthrow the Law - Matt 5:17
    Greatest Commandment - Mark 12:28-34
    Not to Judge but to Save - John 12:47
    Children's Undestanding - Matt 11:25
    Parable of the Wicked Tenants - Mark 12:1-12
    [EBE - Caiaphas Told of Barabbas' Arrest]
    Greatest Disciples - Mark 10:35-45, John 13:34-35
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Joseph discuss Jesus]
    Mary Questions Jesus - Mark 3:21
    [EBE - Caiaphas Weighs his Options]
    [EBE - Pilate Told of Barabbas' Arrest]
    [EBE - The Two Marys]
    [EBE - Jesus and Judas]
    The thing that is immediately obvious from looking at the above, is just how much of the script is establishing the back story, even events such as Barabbas committing murder extrapolates a whole story from just a single remark. Much of this happens in order to fill in the blanks that would have been well known to the people at the time, but most viewers won't be aware of (including those in churches).

    This film really is keen to improve Caiaphas's reputation. So the first time we see him he is being affectionate with his wife and children. Caiaphas is first and foremost a family man, whose closest confidant turns out to be his wife.It's also interesting how there are no miracles as of yet. In fact, in one added scene we see Jesus visit a pool in Jerusalem surrounded by the sick and dying. It suggest the pool that Jesus visits in John 5 to heal a lame man (Bethesda), but despite the multitude of people who Jesus could heal he opts to alleviate their suffering by way of reassurance, moping their brows and instructing the disciples to do likewise. The show's primary concern is to look at the story from an historical angle, so it's neither surprising nor controversial that there are no healings. However, the way that this scene evokes Bethesda is interesting. Jesus seems to only heal one person in John's account (despite the presence of many), here, instead of an impressive, yet isolated, healing we see a more widespread demonstration of compassion, but one that is seemingly not as powerful (for want of a better word).

    Finally, the scene that caused most discussion at the première was from the scene between Jesus and his mother. Riazat Butt noted this when she covered the première for The Guardian. It was the line where Mary says to Jesus "You were in my belly before I knew it" that proved controversial, as it seems to suggest Mary didn't have a choice when in fact she did. At the time I was stunned by the criticism: it was a dramatic line, uttered amidst a tense confrontation not a carefully thought out statement about the incarnation. Having seen it twice since, I still don't really get it and, like those who answered the question, would not have thought of the line in those terms before it was raised by one of the audience members.Just wanted to add one unrelated point on The Passion that does contain something of a spoiler, so some of you might want to look away. Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph ran a piece of how this show will show Jesus crucified in an different pose from the traditional position. This is nothing new for Jesus films of course. Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Jesus of Montreal (1989) both showed Jesus crucified in a foetal position (and naked to boot. Mawle has discussed wearing a loin cloth so I suspect this might not be the case in this film), and The Gospel of John (2003), showed Jesus with his legs nailed either side of the cross with his body hanging low. Jesus of Montreal (1989) even included some discussion and sketches on the issue. However, it does explain my earlier observation that there don't appear to be any photos of the crucifixion. The Telegraph's writer, Jonathan Wynne-Jones, did attempt to contact me on Friday, but after 6 phone calls and various emails we somehow failed to hook up. He did, however, speak to Mark Goodacre, who, it turns out was not hugely impressed with Wynne-Jones's final article. Now the Daily Mail has also run a piece on the story, although it seems to largely be a rehash of the Telegraph one.

    The Telegraph does offer a positive review, however, along with The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Herald, Thinking Faith and The Scotsman.

    Mark has also offered a quick round up of various bloggers including Michael Bird in Euangelion and Doug Chaplin from Metacatholic.

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    Jesus Flickfest 3

    Jesus FlickFest starts in Winnipeg tonight, and brings together what is, as far as I know, the largest number of Jesus film screenings in one place. It's run by Bill Millarworks with Knox United Church, Winnipeg, (Canada) and comes off the back of two successful festivals in recent years.

    The schedule is mouthwatering. I would dearly love to be there. If only it wasn't on the other side of the world!
    Monday, March 17 University of Winnipeg
    Jesus' Friends?
    Judas 6:30 UW1
    Gil Amici di Gesù – Giuda [Close to Jesus]. 8:30 UW1

    Je vous salu, Marie [Hail Mary] 6:30 UW2. NC.
    Jesus of Montreal. 8:30 UW2.

    Tuesday, March 18 University of Winnpeg
    Quo Vadis 6:30 UW1
    The Last Temptation of Christ. 6:30 UW2

    Wednesday, March 19 University of Winnipeg
    Silents of the Lamb 1
    Intolerance: Love's Struggle through the Ages 6:30 UW1

    Super Duo
    Jesus Christ Superstar. 6:30 UW2
    Jesus Christ Superstar 2000 [UK] 8:15 UW2

    Thursday, March 20 University of Winnipeg
    Festival Première.
    Son of Man 6:30 & 8:00 UW: Convocation Hall

    Friday, March 21. Knox Centre [400 Edmonton]
    Jesus & [non?]violence
    Jesus Camp 1:00 K1
    Hill Number One 2:30 K1
    Color of the Cross 3:45 K1
    Seduto all sua destra [Black Jesus] 6:30 K1
    Johnny Got his Gun 8:15 K1. NC

    Silents of the Lamb 2

    From the Manger to the Cross F 1:00 K2
    The life and passion of Jesus Christ]. 2:30 K2
    The King of Kings. 3:45 K2
    Ben Hur: A tale of the Christ 6:30 K2

    Il Messia [The Messiah]. 1:00 K3
    Il Vangelo secondo Matteo [The Gospel according to St. Matthew]. 3:45 K3

    Feature Film
    Son of Man 7:30 K3

    Saturday, March 22 Knox Centre [400 Edmonton]

    Tunes & Tunes
    The Miracle Maker. 1:00 K1
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 4:00 K1
    Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus. 6:30 K1
    Godspell. 8:15 K1

    A to Z
    The Nativity Story 1:00 K2
    The Passion of the Christ 3:00 K2. NC

    The Book of Life. 6:00 K2
    Life of Brian 8:15 K2

    Diverse Images
    Jesus. 1:00 K3
    Color of the Cross S3:30 K
    The Last Temptation of Christ. 5:30 K3. NC

    Feature Film
    Son of Man S 8:30 K3

    Admission is by donation. All welcome. Please note that not all films are family friendly - NC indicates not suitable for children.
    I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of details. ALl I know is what is posted at Bill's blog The Old Bill (in particular the final schedule page). But for anyone who might be considering travelling to this then Bill does have a link for emailing him.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    The Passion - My Review

    Just a quick one this morning as I'm meant to be looking after my daughter. My review of The Passion has gone online at rejesus. I've actually only seen half of it so far so I'd like to reserve the right to change my mind come Easter Monday!

    Giles Fraser has also posted his thoughts on the film. The line "Nick Clegg with a beard" (which I imagine is totally meaningless to anyone outside of the UK and most of us in it) was one he'd already come up with half an hour after the première. Suffice to say it took me a heck of a lot longer just to get my opening line.


    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Broadcast Times for The Passion

    See all posts on this film.
    OK. Apologies for those readers who are not in the UK to witness the opening two episodes of The Passion this weekend. More varied service will resume soon I promise. Meanwhile Radio Times has finally released the schedule for the final two episodes that I wasn't able to detail earlier. It also seems that during Easter Sunday there is an afternoon omnibus of the first three episodes. So the broadcast times are...
    Episode 1: Sun. 16 Mar. 8-9pm, BBC1
    Episode 2: Mon. 17 Mar. 8.30-9pm, BBC1
    Episode 3: Fri. 21 Mar. 9-10pm, BBC1

    Episodes 1-3 omnibus: Sun. 23, 2.15-4.40pm, BBC1

    Episode 4: Sun. 23 Mar. 7.30-8.00pm, BBC1
    Meanwhile, Mark Goodacre has also pointed out that there are new features on the BBC's Passion sub-site including a timeline, and several new videos.


    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Rejesus on The Passion

    See all posts on this film.
    Rejesus' sub-site on The Passion went live over night, and includes a piece by me on other films about Jesus. I look at King of Kings (1961), Gospel According to St. Matthew(1964), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Jesus (1979), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Jesus (1999) and The Passion of the Christ (2004), and mention a handful of others such as The Greatest Story Ever Told and Godspell along the way.

    There's also some new interviews, some background on the original story and more stills from the programme. Interestingly enough, I've perhaps seen about 30-40 images from this film now, but haven't seen a single one of what is arguably the most iconic moment in the story - Jesus on the cross.

    Over the weekend my review of the film, and perhaps one or two other pieces will be added to the site as well.


    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    More Photos for The Passion

    See all posts on this film.
    The BBC have released some new images ahead of Sunday's opening episode of The Passion. There are 18 photos now available on flickr. Whilst some of these are the same as those available on the official website most of them are new.


    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    The Passion Update
    Trailer, Radio Times, Broadcast Times, etc.

    See all posts on this film.
    The BBC publicity machine is cranking up for The Passion. The trailer is now online at the BBC's sub-site, and, I assume, is also doing the rounds on TV. It's only 42 seconds, but it gives a nice taster of what's to come, and will hopefully get people's attention.

    It also reminded me of one piece of casting news I've been meaning to share ever since the première: the role of Annas, often one of the least sympathetic characters, is to be played by Denis Lawson best known for his role as John Jarndyce in the BBC's recent Bleak House. It's another piece of casting that demonstrates how an actor's previous roles affect their other work. Jarndyce is the epitome of good in Bleak House, and casting him to play someone who has, perhaps, had a bad reputation in the past will probably go a great deal to rehabilitating him.

    Strangely, though, there's no news of when the final episode will start. Both Radio Times online and the website's episode guide are giving the time of the final episode as TBA. I'd been hoping to leave announcing these times until there was a complete set of data, but for those who like to plan ahead here's the information as it currently stands:
    Episode 1: Sun. 16 Mar. 8pm, BBC1 (60 mins)
    Episode 2: Mon. 17 Mar. 8.30pm, BBC1 (30 mins)
    Episode 3: Fri. 21 Mar. 9.00pm, BBC1 (30 mins)
    Episode 4: Sun. 23 Mar. TBA, BBC1 (60 mins)
    (Update: Final broadcast times are here.)
    Elsewhere, however, things are progressing nicely. This week's Radio Times has it as its cover story, with a good article on the inside, and a nice shot of the cast. There's also a brief sidebar where Mark Goodacre talks briefly about some of the earlier Jesus Films; Gospel According to St. Matthew, Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Nazareth, Life of Brian, Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ.

    Speaking of Mark Goodacre he's also highlighted this week's edition of Start the Week which featured writer Frank Deasy. It's still available to listen to online. The section relevant to The Passion starts at around the 24 minute mark.


    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Jesus' Son

    Jesus' Son is not, as it might sound, the latest daVinci code-esque conspiracy theory, but a film about drug use and rehabilitation. An adaptation of Denis Johnson's book, which took it's title from the Lou Reed song Heroin.

    Having neither read the book, nor been particularly familiar with the song, it's hard to know how they and their religious elements compare to those of the film. Reed's son uses the describes how heroin makes him feel "just like Jesus' son" to "convey the power, the feeling of pleasant self-aggrandizement, that overwhelms him when he is high".1 The book apparently has redemption at it's core in such a way as to link it to the influence of "the Savior". Yet the most overtly religious moment in the film is a visual clue, and it's certainly possible that the film alters the original work in some respect.

    The shot shown below appears about half way through the film, is the key to unlocking a deeper level of meaning. In combination with the film's title and various minor visual indicators, such as crosses in the background and so on, it invites some kind of religious interpretation.In addition to the religious imagery there is also his encounters with people of faith - in particular the "Mennonite" couple he encounters towards the end of the film. FH finds the wife's singing eerily compelling, and visits the house frequently. When one day he is drawn inside he is discovered by her husband. His response - "Take what you want" - may be one of the classic responses to a household intruder, but the manner in which it is spoken suggests a genuinely free invitation from someone who holds his belongings lightly. Since we know that FH has also, in some sense, "wanted" both his own freedom from his drug problem and this man's wife, it only makes the ambiguity of the statement all the more intriguing.

    But Jesus' Son is neither a conventional film about Jesus, nor even one which contains a Christ figure. The lead character, unnamed and credited only as FH, is occasionally helpful to people, but it's nothing particularly noteworthy. All too often his vague good intentions are thwarted because he is incapacitated, and, as he is nearly always high, he often makes things worse for those around him instead. It's only in the third and final act, when he begins to get rehabilitated, that he is able to genuinely help people, Even then it's something he has to learn, rather than something that comes naturally.

    Instead the film takes an unconventional approach linking its story to Jesus' death and resurrection. FH's relationship with Michelle is his journey to the cross - before they meet he doesn't appear to be a heavy drugs user, and only once she dies is he mysteriously able to free himself from their power. The transition between the death section of the film and the resurrection / ascension parts of the film is marked by a kind of burial scene. It evokes memories of Christ's death for reasons that are, at this stage, unclear to me, but I suspect it's some kind of visual reference to a piece of Christian Art. This is followed by FH overdosing on a huge pill that's "like an Easter thing".Then there is, of course, the soundtrack which ends on Wilco imploring his listeners to "turn your eyes to the Lord of the skies" (from 'Airline To Heaven'). Various other sings add to the film's meaning, but what is perhaps most surprising, and no doubt significant, is the absence of Reed's'Heroin'. Perhaps this is because the book / film is something of a riposte to Reed's more pessimistic take on the allure of drugs.

    It would, no doubt, be possible to revisit the film and speculate as to a host more specific allegories. Is the hand-gliding, naked woman meant to represent an angel etc. etc.? I suspect, however, that this would be to push things too far.

    Ultimately, though, the film's major theme - like that of the book, is redemption, but not a redemption that comes from within. The 'crown of thorns' that we see on his forehead through the café window has been superimposed onto him without his knowledge. Whilst it's likely that FH recognises the religious nature of the Mennonite woman's singing, he is drawn to more that just the music. Furthermore, Reed's phrase "Jesus' son" is used here somewhat ironically. The film / book turn Reed's use on it's head - FH is Jesus's son because in the midst of all that is going on someone is looking out for him. Aside from the film's religious elements, this is an impressive piece of filmmaking which seeks to epitomise the life of regular drug users. Avoiding the clichés of living in squalor and the onset of cold turkey, Jesus' Son shows us a life totally absorbed by drugs of any and every kind. When an alcoholic friend of FH offers him the chance to earn some quick money, he finds himself pulling out the copper wiring from his friend's house: it's scrap value will give them enough for another night being drunk and high.

    The episodic nature of Jesus' Son is, in part, due to the book which is described as a collection of stories rather than a single novel. But it also conveys the sense of passing in and out of real life, episodes that are vivid and memorable and others that are at best hazy, and at worst forgotten. Indeed, the jumping timeline, and the strangeness and incompleteness of many episodes leaves the viewer feeling a little hazy. But like FH's own journey, we begin to see things with more clarity as we enter the film's final act and see a man that was lost, become found.

    1 - Tim Parrish, "Jesus on the Mainline: Lou Reed and Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture - Vol VII. Summer '04

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    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Biblical Studies Carnival XXVII

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    I almost forgot to post about the 27th Biblical Studies Carnival which Kevin Wilson has posted a number of days ago at his Blue Cord blog. Next month's carnival will be at the collaborative blog Thoughts on Antiquity so please nominate any posts you think are worthy of inclusion.


    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Magdalena Available Online

    Mike Leary (who has recently moved his web presence to the nice looking film-think.com) has noted at Arts and Faith that Magdalena: Released From Shame is now available (legitimately) on YouTube.

    Ever since I saw this back in October, I've been meaning to write a piece about how this film compares to the later gospels, taking an established (and authoritative?) evangelistic text, and adding fresh material that addresses the concerns of the target audience more directly etc. I was going to use colours and everything! But I never quite got around to it and was beginning to think I never would. This might just be what I need to get it finished. Watch this space...

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    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Faith and Film Critics Circle
    Best of 2007 Awards

    The Faith and Film Critics Circle, of which I am a part, has just announced its awards for films released in 2007*. The most important award, in our eyes at least, is the award for the "Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Issues", which was won this year by Into Great Silence which also won best documentary. The big winner was Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be Blood which won 4 awards (including best narrative film, best director and best actor). Juno took three awards whilst No Country for Old Men and Atonement also did well, claiming two awards each.

    The full list of winners is as follows (with links to my reviews):
    Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Themes:
    Into Great Silence

    Best Narrative Film:
    There Will Be Blood

    Best Documentary:
    Into Great Silence

    Best Film for the Whole Family:

    Best Director:
    Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood

    Best Performance by an Actor:
    Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood

    Best Performance by an Actress:
    Ellen Page – Juno

    Best Performance by a Child:
    Saoirse Ronan – Atonement

    Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (tie):
    Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James
    Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men

    Best Supporting Performance by an Actress (tie):
    Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
    Jennifer Garner – Juno

    Best Ensemble Cast:
    Lars and the Real Girl

    Best Cinematography:
    Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood

    Best Original Screenplay:
    Diablo Cody – Juno

    Best Adapted Screenplay:
    Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men

    Best Original Score:
    Dario Marianelli – Atonement
    The only real disappointment for me is that Thomas Turgoose didn't win best child actor for his outstanding performance in This Is England, but I'm not sure how widely it was seen.

    I'm going to be joining the admin team for the FFCC sometime after Easter, and one of the things on the new team's agenda for then will be assessing potential new members, so if anyone is interested in joining us, then please let me know.

    * Based on release dates for North America since that is where most of the the circle are from


    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    The Passion Première

    See all posts on this film.
    I've been pretty busy over the last few days, so much so, in fact that I've not had the chance to blog about my trip to London to attend the première for The Passion. I don't actually get to London that often - perhaps only once or twice a year on average and only once before have I gone there specifically to view a film (Atti Degli Apostoli back in June).

    This trip was one of those very rare occasions in life when everything seems to go properly, from the little things like the fantastic sandwich I had on the way down (!) or seeing the revamped St. Pancras for the first time, (which does look incredible, at least, for a train station). On arrival I rushed straight down to the Brixton Ritzy Cinema which instantly won a place in my heart for it's lo-fi atmosphere and it's range of fairtrade refreshments. I was there to see There Will be Blood as it was the first, and quite possibly last chance to do so. It's a great film, although I still prefer Anderson's Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love. After that I returned to my cheap, and (mercifully) cheerful guest house, and quickly got changed before dashing off to the event itself.

    The first order of business was meeting up with Mark Goodacre. I've been in email contact with Mark for around 6 years now, though we've never had the chance to meet. I must admit I was a bit nervous about the whole affair but thankfully the warmth of his online persona is a reflection of his true character, and we headed off to find a pub to have a quick pint before the event began.I'd not really known what to expect from the première itself, part of me feared that it was just going to be a viewing for church leaders dressed up as something far grander. But it was definitely more than that. For a start the director, producer, writer, BBC heads of fiction and religion were there as well as a number of the cast. And there were also a few celebs including Robert Powell. As Mark has already revealed he and I sidled over towards him and had an entertaining chat - at least from our point of view.

    The other main highlight was getting to talk to this production's Jesus - Joe Mawle. I'd heard from various sources what a nice guy Joe is, and was pleased that he more than lived up to that particular billing. He was incredibly down to earth and even made some nice comments about this blog. It's probably the first time I've met an actor so soon after watching their performance on screen and it really emphasised how good a performance he has turned in.

    After it was all over I waited on the street whilst Mark said some goodbyes, and it was nice to observe the warmth between a handful of the other cast members who were still hanging out together. Entirely coincidentally, Mark and I were staying just a couple of streets apart and so we wandered back together. We got quite lost at one point, but it was one of those conversations that was so enjoyable that I actually appreciated the extra time together.

    My train didn't leave until midday so I spent a couple of hours working on my contribution to the rejesus.co.uk site for The Passion, popped into the British Museum and headed off home. I had started watching The Final Inquiry on the way down and I watched the second part on the way back so I'll be reviewing that in the next week or so.

    Edit: Garry Jenkinsof The Times did a piece on the film in Saturday's edition. He, unlike me, was able to visit the cast and crew during filming.