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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, April 16, 2009

    Movieguide Report: Jesus Christ in the Movies

    Ted Baehr of Movieguide has published online a 32 page guide to Jesus Christ in the Movies. It's available to download as either a high or low quality PDF from the Movieguide website. I've not had a chance to read it yet, but in essence there is a 5 page introduction followed by brief comments on 50 Jesus films, ranging from 1897 to the present day. I'm certainly looking forward to reading it. Baehr and I have quite different opinions on theology, but, when it come to Jesus films, he certainly knows his stuff.

    There's also a video hosted on YouTube which, I assume, is by way of publicising the project. It's well worth a look and nicely put together managing to cram a good number clips from a diverse bunch of films into a little over three minutes.

    I'll hopefully get the chance to read the main publication over the next few days and will report back shortly.


    • At 11:22 pm, April 16, 2009, Blogger vhtnguyen.com said…

      Thanks for the link!

      I was disappointed to see that he does not include The Miracle Maker. I am showing the film tonight in my class, Jesus in Gospel and Film, and was hoping to see his comments on it.

      Also interesting is how he includes the TV documentary From Jesus to Christ (1998) and devotes more of his comments to this documentary than any other film.

    • At 10:29 am, April 17, 2009, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Yes, I was very surprised by that omission, particularly given the inclusion of a number of very obscure films and the fact that Miracle Maker is very much from an evangelical perspective.

      Perhaps Baehr needs to read my blog more...

    • At 8:22 am, April 25, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      By coincidence I wrote a comment on this topic on an old thread here.

      I need to correct this guide urgently. Because the other thread is so old, I'll repeat everything here, (with more details). Ok?

      1) The serial film was progressive. "Sortie Des Usines Lumière" was already 3 short scenes in 1895. "Rip Van Winkle" by William Dickson was about 6 scenes in 1896. Around the same time, a famoux box match had up to 10 scenes. So the first Passion movie was up to 11 in 1897 (perhaps the best film of that year is one of the 2 or 3 versions of the Passion). I wouldn't say the Passion pushed the feature more than any other serial.

      2) Klaw and Erlanger only bought the rights to the 1897 "La Passion Du Christ" by Léar (Albert Kichner), who previously was the first pornographer (or erotic filmaker) for the theatre of Eugène Pirou. First biblical film ever, this was actually the filming of a play that was already
      traditionally played for many years in East Europa. So you could say it was also a documentary. It was presented in the USA by a touring pastor named Thomas Dixon, and I'm not sure if Klaw And Erlanger actually present it themselves or just bought the rights to do their version. See below.

      3) The "French Passion" was never shot for the Eden Musée in New York (?!). It is cited in the Lumière catalogue (let me check again...), yes it was released in 1897 (same year) and made by George Hatot (some say Louis Lumière himself also directed). They just did a theatre shoot because the Léar version was a hit. Full title is "La Vie Et La Passion De Jésus-Christ", and frames of each 13 scenes can be seen in the Lumière book "Les 1000 Premiers Films". Also the same year both Méliès and Charles Pathé did films on Saint-Antoine De Padoue, which was another popular early religious subject.

      4) The next entry in the article is totally mixed-up and actually refers to the 4th Passion (see below). Klaw And Erlanger asked Charles Webster to produce "The Horitz Passion Play", a copycat of the Léar film that they couldn't get to distribute. Charles Webster directed and Walter W. Freeman probably took care of the art direction. This is where mr. Hurd from France enters: either he is the one who brought the original Léar film to USA or he was the cinematographer on this production. Charles Webster had strong connections with Europa. His company was International Film Company and he was a great importer of early cinema. This version was either published in 1897 or 1898. As I said elsewhere, it was accompanying a larger theatre show, like Léar's version was accompanying a lecture in USA.

      5) Hollaman was director of the Eden Musée in New York. He and Eaves produced and released "The Passion Play Of Oberammergau" (or "The Oberammergau Passion Play") in 1898. It was directed on the roofs in New york by a certain Henry C. Vincent with William Paley as cinematographer. It is not faithful to the original, and borrows heavily from some play written by Salmi Morse (it is often referred as the Salmi Morse's Passion). I am not sure if it is a spoof, but it was a hit.
      It was also the longest, at 20 minutes, and so Edison company ended up publishing and distributing it (which means it should be available somewhere, as both Edison and Lumière companies were good at keeping their archives).

      6) The article forgets "La Vie Du Christ (The Life Of Christ)" by Alice Guy in 1899, made for Gaumont. In the old thread someone was comparing a scene to Méliès, and Alice Guy borrowed a lot of trick from Méliès.

      7) Pathé: The Ferdinand Zecca "La Vie Et La Passion Du Christ" was an ambitious film released in 1906. Alice Guy re-directed "La Vie Du Christ" (The Life Of Christ) in 1906 (NOT 1908). Around 1900 she was taking part of the
      Photo-Cinéma-Théatre experiments with sounds, colors and other things (the group and events was started by Clément Maurice). After that she did a couple of remakes of known films including special effects. Err...Or maybe that describes her whole career after "La Fée Aux Choux" (1896).

      8) It is probable that a longer version of the Alice Guy film, with new scenes, was released in 1914 by Pathé (oh, but they had enough money to just reshoot an entire new version...), but by this time, we are certainly bypassing much other tentatives, like one discovered recently and shot by two pastors in Palestinia in the early 1900's. Probably that's who the article refers to when mentioning "Bonne Famille".

      This comment is excessive because I thought it's fun that a whole blog is dedicated to biblical films. I'm not perticulary religious, but a great fan of cinema.



    • At 8:33 am, April 25, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      I'm confused about Klaw and Erlanger because I wonder if they first started to exhibit the Léar film, and then probably were stopped by new legal rules emitted by Edison that literally extradited any Lumière or other foreign representants in USA. Then, it might have occured to Klaw + Erlanger to publish their own version. Or perhaps the pastor Thomas Dixon had exclusive rights? I know that Charles Webster had a lot of problems with legality for importing films. Edison for a while really attempted to kiil everyone out of the face of cinema (even including fellow americans). If you ask me, he was a demon ;-).

      I would assume both the Léar and Charles Webster films to be lost.
      All others survived.


    • At 8:43 am, April 25, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      Oh no...Wait!. I looked in my sources. Apparently, Siegmund Lubin also directed a "The Passion Play Of Oberammergau" in 1898! If you don't know Lubin, he was making cheap copies of every popular hits, often featuring himself and his family as actors, and selling them low. You could describe him as the first kitsch cineast. His films are now often tagged in the title with "Reproduction". As in "Reproduction Of The Passion Play Of Oberammergau", to not confuse historians, or maybe it was imposed at the times to Lubin's company for copyrights reasons.


    • At 9:31 am, April 25, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      ARRRGHHH....I induced you in error!!

      The first and ever Passion film, by Léar....was shot in Paris!!
      The people playing were imitating the Horitz play from East Europa. It was shot on the streets, because the actors were already doing this Passion on the street (like the original).

      It is Webster and Freeman who went to film the original, in east europa, because they couldn't get the Léar version. Hurd is definitely linked to this version. It was He that first visited East Europa, and suggested Klaw And Erlanger to produce a film over there. He probably presented the Hatot version as he was working for Lumière in the USA? Why did they want to buy the Léar version in the first place? I notice
      2 mentions of films shot of the Passion Play in Bohemia in the Klaw And Erlanger catalog, one is said to be directed by Hurd, the other Freeman (with Charles Webster as cinematographer). Obviously there is only one film, and Hurd probably did not a have a great part in it. In some article I read that he negociated the rights to film with the theatre group, and that Klaw + Erlanger then sent Freeman and Webster to shoot.

      Everything else is ok.


    • At 9:46 am, April 25, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      Oh no...Oh no..and to think that I was done.....No way.... I mistakenly wrote the Zecca film as being from 1906. It is from 1903 (as mentioned in the old thread comment).

      If people don't read all the comments they'll get everything wrong again, and my attempt to rectify history is vain. Sheesh.


    • At 10:47 am, April 28, 2009, Blogger Matt Page said…


      Many thanks for the time you've put into passing this info on. Much appreciated.

      I've still not had the chance to read all of the original article yet, though I obviously hope to soon. I'm a bit sketchy on the early details, and the secondary sources don't always seem to match up.

      I'd love to know more on your sources. You mentioned the 1000 Pathe films book on the other post, but I wondered if there was other sources you were relying on.

      Thanks again


    • At 10:32 am, April 29, 2009, Anonymous Cedric C said…

      The first 1000 Lumière films is a book...There is another with a book and a cd-rom cataloguing all films with images. All major companies have catalogues if you dig them in film archives centres.

      A good intro book on early cinema (up to 1900) is Who's Who Of Victorian Cinema, and they have a good bibliography and also now a website.

      Léar's film was best described by colleague Michel Coissac in an old french book "Histoire Du Cinématographe" (1925).

      George Hatot is best described in "Les Frères Lumières Et Leurs Opérateurs", but actually, most book about Lumière (and I'm pretty sure the Institute Lumière still have the film).

      I don't have the article near me at the moment about The Horitz Play, copied from some journal on religious cinema (the author was spanish). It was grosso modo saying that the Hatot film and the Hurd-Webster-Freeman one had often been intermixed (people were buying scenes and mixing them and you ended up with bizarre films of 45 scenes). But books like Divine Images by Kinnard and Davis and Imaging The Divine by Lloyd Baugh should be enough, this with some research in the New York Times and other period papers about the reception of the 2 american films (I think the Eden Musée one survives? Yes, confirmed by PSFL database (google it). It's in the George Eastman House. ).

      Charles Musser "the american screen to 1907" will provide other details, and then..oh well, there is just a bunch.

      The PSFL site says the Lubin film is in unknown status (usually means lost). But who bothers?

      The Pathé ones are easy because they are books about Alice Guy or Ferdinand Zecca alone. All the Gaumont-Pathé films are in their own archives (fully catalogued if you dig french cinémathèques).

      I can't seem to find info for certain that The Horitz Passion Play is lost. I know at some points some thought they had discovered the Léar film, and finally it was something shot in the early 1900's by some french pastors. This was on some early cinema website news, forgot which.

      Good luck!


    • At 10:48 am, April 29, 2009, Anonymous Cedric said…

      Err..this is what I mean by "PSFL":


      It's a good place to know if a print exists.

      Oh...They list "The Horitz Passion Play" as "The Passion Play"


      They don't seem to have entries for the Hatot and Léar films, and they confused the dates for the Alice Guy and Zecca films.

      The who's who's of pre-1900 cinema is here:



    • At 1:27 pm, April 29, 2009, Blogger Matt Page said…

      That's priceless Cedric - thank you.


    • At 6:14 am, December 12, 2010, Blogger lucien hardy said…

      Just a note on Hurd and Freeman. Hurd had been the original Lumière concessionnaire in the US but had, according to Lumière operator Félix Mesguich, "disappeared" by November 1896 when he was replaced by William Freeman. It seems possible that Klaw and Erlanger had originally intended that Lumière operators make their version of the Passion Play (especially as the Lumières were active in East Europe)and that it may well have been intended to perform it at the Musée Eden which was used by the Lumières. (Hurd had presumably reappeared and he and Freeman were contesting the now fairly meaningless concession). Because by 1897 the whole Lumière empire was unravelling and they had been effectively chased out of the US by the poisonous Edison. Hence I assume the task of filming entrusted to Webster and the International Company. Freeman remained the impressario and oversaw the first performance on Nov 23rd at the Academy of music in Philadelphia (and is so credited by newspaper reports at the time).

    • At 8:08 am, December 12, 2010, Blogger lucien hardy said…

      A couple of corrections and additions. It does not seem that Freeman Passion Play was in any sense a copycat version of Léar's French film as has been suggested. Hurd seems to have first had the idea in 1896 when he personally visited Horice and saw the play there. He appears to have made arrangements on the spot with the locals. As he was the Lumière concessionaire, it was presumably intended to make the film with their operator and to use the Musée Eden. Certainly Hollaman at the Musée felt betrayed by Hurd when the latter made his arrangements with Klaw and Erlanger (leading to his own decision to make a second version with Edison, based on the Salmi Morse play but claiming quite falsely to be a reconstitution of the Obergammergau Passion). By 1897 however Hurd was out of the picture, replaced by Walter Freeman (again suggesting that Hurd's negotiations in 1896 had been made in the name of the Lumière company). So it was Freeman who was in charge of operations with Webster and the International Company doing the filming. Date of première should be 22nd not 23rd. Arguably, since the notion for the Hurd-Freeman-Klaw and Erlanger Passion Play goes back to 1896 and involved the Lumière Company, it may well have been this notion of Hurd's that influenced Léar (Pirou, for whom he directed his erotic films at this time, was an old friend of Antoine Lumière) and Lumière's own subsequent version.

    • At 11:30 am, December 17, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for the extra info Lucien. Much appreciated.



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