• 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


    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    La Sacra Bibbia (The Sacred Bible)
    The Story of Joseph in Egypt

    Piero Antonio Garazzo, Vay-Film/Weiss Brothers, Italy, 1920, 9 mins.
    The most recent of the films on display last Monday was La Bibbia: The Story of Joseph in Egypt, and it quickly became apparent that this was the case. The story starts with Pharaoh's dream and a primitive masking technique is used to show roaming cattle in a bubble above his head. A similar technique is also employed when Phraoh dreams about the fat and thin stalks of wheat.

    Yet it's not just the special effects that chart the advance of cinema as an artisitic medium. We also see some point of view shots, or, at least, switching the angles back and forth during conversations with Pharaoh. Rather than the static stalls-view camera of the earlier films there are wide angle shots and close ups. The wide shots also illustrate another way in which the medium has changed. They are full with people. It's 4 years since D.W.Griffith's Intolerance and historical epics will henceforth boast about their casts of thousands. The various camera angles also reveal a lack of continuity. The number of Pharaoh's cohorts differs from shot to shot and so on.

    But the most interesting shot is revserved for when Joseph is liberated from jail. The intertitles (which in this film never cite scripture) explain that Joseph will be shaved, and we cut to a scene of this happening. But as Joseph leaves his cell, one camera stays there and follows him upstairs, deftly anticipating his sudden rise to power. Indedd this is not the only time that a low camera looks up at a powerful figure - several shots of Pharaoh also employ this technique implying some form of deference to the ruler of Egypt. This is partly because Pharaoh sits atop a number of steps. In keeping with a number of painting produced prior to this film's release, Peter von Cornelius' picture (shown at the top of this post) features just two steps, but the film inflates this to somewhere between five and ten.

    It's tempting to infer a great deal from the fact that that stroy starts with Pharaoh's dream and ends with Joseph overseeing the Egyptian grain (before the arrival of his family). But in reality, La Sacra Bibbia was a series of one-reel films of which Joseph was but one. Campbell and Pitts have this to say about ther series:
    The Bible
    Sacreed FIlms, Inc.
    1 reel series B/W
    Most of the stories from the |Old Testament are included in this series such as the story of Creation, Cain and Abel, and Noah's Ark. The one reelers, which came to a halt just before the start of the story of Moses, were produced by the Weiss Brothers, producers noted for cheap dramas and westerns whose careers spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s.

    In addition to the above films, in 1928 Major Herbert M. Dawley directed a group of one- and two- reelers based on the life of Jesus Christ, but it is not known if they were released theatrically. Among the titles were "The Unwelcome Guest," "Forgive Us Our Debts," "The Rich Young Ruler" and "Christ Confronts His Critics."
    The BFI Film and TV Database offers this:
    DRAMA. Stories from The Bible. Three sections only. (202662A). The story of Joseph in Egypt. No main title. Pharoah's wise elders are unable to interpret his dreams of the cows and ears of grain. On the butler's advice, Pharoah summons Joseph from his prison cell. Joseph interprets Pharoah's dreams correctly as portending seven good harvests followed by seven lean ones. A grateful Pharoah appoints Joseph to oversee the collection and storage of grain during the years of plenty (808).
    Note: The intertitles carry the production company name Vay.

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    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Year One (2009)

    With his beard and his stout figure Jack Black has often seemed a littel prehistoric compared to his liposuctionned, bodywaxed, Hollywood cohorts. So it was perhaps only a matter of time until someone offered him a role playing a caveman. Black plays the role of Zed alongside Michael Cerra's Oh in Year One, the latest film from producer Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up, Anchorman) and writer / director Harold Ramis (Analyze This, Groundhog Day).

    Yes, this is gross-out comedy version of ancient history set largely in the Old Testament. There are characters eating poo, strange things happening at orgies and jokes about sex aplenty. The Carry On team never did the Bible, but if they had have done, it would probably look something like this. (And those films do appear to have been somewhat influential on Year One). Certainly Ramis’ loose approach to history has more in common with those films and Mel Brookes’ History of the World Part 1 than the relatively meticulous Life of Brian.

    Yet in other ways, the film has much in common with Life of Brian - the benchmark for any historical/religious comedy. Both films feature a leading man who may or may not be the chosen one (in fact 'Messiah' simply means anointed or chosen one). Both films use the Bible, but in neither is it the primary focus of the story, and both films are keen to put across the idea that religious figures are unnecessary because we can make our own destiny. Yet whereas Life of Brian managed to make that point fairly effectively whilst still being funny, Year One puts the comedy on hold and brings in the crescendoing orchestra.

    That said, as a comedy, Year One does manage to be reasonably amusing, and manages to find a good deal of original material from a subject that has been done many times before. Perhaps part of that is due to its structure. After Zed and Oh are thrown out of their tribe for eating the forbidden fruit, the first half of the film turns into a historical road movie, with the pair meeting a number of Jesus’ ancestors  (Cain and Abel, Adam and then Abraham and Isaac). But as they wander they discover their tribe has become enslaved and taken to Sodom. The second half of the movie is set in Sodom itself. It’s the quest to free the women they love, Maya and Eema, in the hope that such heroics will make the girls love them back.

    Zed and Oh reject Adam’s family, with their murderous brother and their bizarre sleeping arrangements, and the tribe of the circumcision-obsessed Abraham, as well as the God that both families follow, but when they reach Sodom things become a bit more inconsistent. The idea of there being gods who require human sacrifice is rightly rejected, and at times any idea of god also seems to be disregarded. Yet eventually Zed prays and ultimately what he prays for does come to pass, in a way that at least suggests God’s approval of Zed’s new message. Some would call it providential timing, others pure coincidence, but at the very least, Zed’s “make your own destiny” message seems to rely on that coincidence in order to gain wider acceptance.

    Jesus only mentioned Sodom a couple of times, but interestingly, he also suggests that had miracles occurred there, the city would have seen the errors of its ways. “If the miracles that were performed in you (Capernaum) had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” (Matthew’s Gospel, 11:23). It’s perhaps not the message Black and co. were seeking to send, but it’s interesting that they can’t quite get away from the fact that there’s more to life to sex and fart jokes.

    This article was originally published at rejesus.co.uk

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    Year One at ReJesus

    My first review of Year One is now up at rejesus. I'll discuss the Biblical elements of the film in more detail here shortly.

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    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Caïn et Abel (Cain and Abel)

    Henri Andréani, Pathé, France, 1911, 5 mins
    I'm not going to be able to find stills for many of these silent films, so I'll use images from the Renaissance paintings instead. This is not entirely without merit. As I mentioned on Tuesday Judith Buchanan pointd out how these early Bible films will have been influenced, to some degree at least, by the paintings of the events they were portrying. This is Il Tintoretto from 1550-53. Thanks to Art and the Bible and Loving God Center for these.

    The opening scene of Caïn et Abel is a cramped shot of Cain and Abel arguing and almost coming to blows but for the intervention of Adam and Eve. It's a shot that's significant in a number of ways. Firstly, because much of this film is shot in a closer proximity than was standard for the time. The film is heavily marked with Pathé touches. Both its general 'look' and the style of the angels and the manner of their appearance etc. are all very familiar from The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. But whereas those films stood at a distance as if the viewer were sat watching the production in a theatre, here there are a number of mid-shots.

    The claustrophobia nature of these shots, which may have been shockingly groundbreaking at the time, not only adds to the tension but expresses it in spatial terms. There's a real sense of cabin fever - these four people are the only humans in the world and they are starting to get on each other's nerves. The composition is interesting elsewhere as well, using foregrounding and backgrounding quite effectively.

    The opening shot is also significant because it introduces Adam and Eve into a story from the Bible in which they are not really involved. They are, of course, present in the narrative's prologue and epilogue, but their absence during the story itself has caused some scholars to suggest that the story itself has been incorporated, into the "J" source. It's notable, for example, that Adam's line grows from Seth rather than Cain.

    The third point of significance here is that all four memberd of the family are portrayed as cavemen, wearing animal skins - Eve looks like an archetype for Raquel Welch's One Million BC role for example - but also later we see Cain's murder weapon is a flint axe. For obvious reasons these four characters cannot really be located at a specific point in the accepted chronology, but [edit] Gen 3:20 describes God using animal skins to make clothes for Adam and Eve as they leave the Garden of Eden. (Thanks to Timothy D. Lee for reminding me of that one - see comments below). [/edit]

    What's striking, though, is the contrast with the Bible's early descriptions of Adam and Eve's attire - "and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." (Gen 3:7). Here, however, dead animal has usurped dead fruit leaves, as Abel's animal sacrifice will prove superior to Cain's fruits of the ground.

    Similarly, Cain is depicted as brutish, which is perhaps only to be expected, but also of low intelligence. Indeed, this is often used as a humourous device. And of course the timing is interesting given that the Cain and Abel story is currently doing the rounds in cinemas in Year One which is also a comedy.

    So all in all, it's interesting to watch how the narrative unfolds from this opening. The intertitles for this print were in German: there are so few copies of films of this age that you have to make do with what you have. Some of them followed the practice of citing actual scriptures. Gen 4:4-5, Gen 4:10 and Gen 4:14 are all cited. There's a brief scene guide at the bottom.

    God's rejection of Cain's sacrifice is shown by his sacrifice fire going out, whereas Abel's keeps on burning. IN contrast to the text of Genesis the murder takes place not in the field, but in the rock outcrop where the (attempted) sacrifices have just taken place. Cain goes and finds a flint axe and strikes Abel neither completely spontaneous, nor entirely premeditated.

    As soon as Abel dies Cain is wracked with guilt. He covers the the body with stones, as if making an altar or a monument. There was something very Girardian about this. Girard's theory about sacrifice, which approach the subject via anthropology, talks about mimetic desire (the mechanism by which someone else having something makes another person want it), which is present to a degree here here in that the two sacrifices take place at the same time and in the same shot, though Cain wanted to make the sacrifice anyway. But more significantly it talks about how human sacrifice used to happen to heal discord within the community, and, crucially, how the graves (or the memory) of the murdered / sacrificed individual becomes sacred, and revered. I'm not sure I've explained that very well, but the manner in which the body was covered - far more elaborately than was stricly required to cover the body, grabbed my attention.

    Of course God is not fooled, and an angel appears (accompanied by cardboard rays of light as in other Pathé films of the period, the line about Abel's blood crying out from the ground is given via intertitle and the body is revealed. Cain runs off, but then sees a vision of Abel's body, and then of the angel once more.

    What's interesting about this is that Abel's appearance seems to be a demonstration of Cain's inner torment. I don't think Abel's body is meant to be physically present anymore than the dagger is physically present in Macbeth. This is the first time I have seen such psychologising in an early film - aside from that expressed in the faces of the actors. Does it also suggest that the angel he sees is also in his mind?

    Lastly, there's quite a long shot at the end of the film of Cain dragging himself along the floor, through the narrow, muddy passageway between two rocks. It's fairly open to interpretation, but for me it symbolises both the journey he will undertake to Nod, and his now lowly status (he is dragging himself through the mud).

    The scenes are as follows:
    [Extra-biblical Episode - Cain and Abel argue]
    Cain and Abel's sacrifices - (Gen 4:3-4)
    Murder of Abel - (Gen 4:8b)
    God confronts Cain - (Gen 4:9-14)
    Cain flees to Nod - (Gen 4:15)
    Campbell and Pitts only mention this film is passing (p.5) as part of their discussion of the 1910 film Cain and Abel by Gaumon. They also mention a third film on this story, also called Cain and Abel made in the US the same year (1911) by Vitagraph. The summary from the BFI archive, which formerly cited the film as 1909 is this:
    The story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel and their parents, all dressed in skins, are standing around the camp fire. Cain argues with Abel but their mother, Eve, separates them and Adam sends him off (55). Cain and Abel both prepare to make sacrifices upon two stone altars. Abel sacrifices a lamb, which burns properly, but Cain's sacrifice of farm produce does not, and he throws it to the ground in disgust and envy. He makes threatening gestures towards Abel, who is praying at his sacrifice (129). Cain retreats a short distance and thinks about killing Abel, demonstrating how he will use his stone axe. Abel says a few words to him but when he turns his back Cain fells him with the axe, and covers his body with stone slabs (237). Cain is struck by lightning several times, and a shining ray appears from which an angel carrying a sword emerges. Cain cowers before the angel, who asks him what he has done. The angel points his sword at Cain, then causes the stones to fall from Abel's body. Cain rises and stumbles away (303). [Short section 297-298ft showing Cain rising to his feet, is repeated twice]. Cain clambers and stumbles over the rocks until he is stopped by a vision of Abel's body, which turns into the angel. The angel strikes Cain on the shoulder with his sword, and curses him, before disappearing (388). Cain crawls amongst the rocks, struggles through a wood, and falls to the ground (463). Blank. The end. (467ft. 35mm).

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    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Year One Opening Weekend: $20M

    Box Office Mojo is reporting that Year One made just under $20 million at the US Box office on it's opening weekend and around $1.5 million internationally (though it has still to open in many countries such as the UK). Here's a snippet from the Box Office Mojo report:
    Considering that audiences would have to be clubbed and dragged to similar movies of yore, Year One fared decently in its debut, plucking a $19.6 million debut on around 3,600 screens at 3,022 sites, though its status as a high profile summer release featuring Jack Black and Michael Cera would dampen its performance rating. Making more in a few hours than the combined totals of Being Human and Idiocracy, Year One's opening was better attended than The Love Guru and Meet the Spartans among recent titles and Wholly Moses and Caveman among older ones, though History of the World, Part I should ultimately remain the modern benchmark with the total gross equivalent of around $82 million adjusted for ticket price inflation. Year One's audience composition was 57 percent male and 47 percent under 21 years old, according to distributor Sony Pictures.


    Book Review: "The Religious Film"

    The Religious Film
    (New Approaches to Film Genre)
    Author: Pamela Grace

    Paperback: 192 pages (Paperback)
    Publisher: WileyBlackwell
    Language English

    ISBN-10: 1405160268
    ISBN-13: 978-1405160261

    There's an ever growing library of books examining religious films in general and works on Bible movies in particular. The last two years alone have seen the release of books such as Melanie Wright's “Religion and Film” and Flesher and Torry's “Film and Religion". Add to that list Pamela Grace's “The Religious Film” and it begins to become clear that there is an increasing need for books on this subject to offer fresh analysis and content that sets them apart from the field.

    Grace's fresh contribution lies with her introduction of the Hagiopic - “films that represent the life, or part of the life, of a recognised religious hero”.1

    The book falls into two main parts. Section 1 is essentially Grace introducing the Hagiopic genre. Chapter one offers some definitions combined with with pertinent examples. The essential aspects are the subject matter (stories of a revered individual's encounter with God), the reverent manner in which such encounters take place, suffering and sacrifice“ of the hero which is ultimately justified by the last major characteristic “wish-fulfillment” (i.e. these films “depict a world” where God always intervenes2). Obviously, not all aspects need necessarily be present for the film to be classified within the genre.

    Chapter 2 then offers an overview of the history of religious films, touching not only on Bible films and films about saints but also films from the more transcendental style (Bresson, etc.) leaning on the work of Paul Schrader.3. It's interesting to see discussion of the first two of these categories intermingled, which perhaps seems a little more artificial to those from inside Protestantism than others. That said, Grace makes a strong case here, and the thought occurs that whilst for many viewers the Bible films genre would stand apart from the Hagiopic, from Hollywood's point of view the Hagiopic is the more robust category.

    Having discussed some of the most significant examples of the Hagiopic, Grace moves on to examine the literature on the subject. There's a solid overview of the majority of books on the subject including Stephen Humphries-Brookes' “Cinematic Savior: Hollywood Making of the American Christ” (2006) which had , thus far, escaped my attention. Books on transcendental films, films about saints, Jesus Movies, and Biblical Epics are all discussed before a final look at books about Christ figures.

    Whilst the review of the printed material on the subject is rigorous, There is, surprisingly, no discussion of any online publications. Whilst objecting to this could, arguably, be a case of sour grapes on my part, I don't think it's an unreasonable expectation in this day and age. Film is, after all, an artistic medium that relies heavily on modern technology, and it's hard to fathom the reluctance to even mention the internet which extends to the entire book. Surely, periodicals such as the Journal of Religion and Film have something of relevance to say?

    Grace's conclusion demonstrates the paucity of literature solely looking at the Hagiopic genre as a whole, and so she proceeds in the second half of the book to look at some key examples from the genre. Grace applies her model to King of Kings (1961) [Chapter 4], The Song of Bernadette (1943) [Ch. 5], both filmed versions of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973 and 2000) [Ch.6], The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) and Jesus of Montreal (1989) [Ch.7], The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and 1999's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc [Ch. 8] and finally The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Passion of the Christ (2004) [Ch. 9].

    Grace's selection allows her to explore the contours of her genre, with each chapter honing in on different subtleties within the genre. For example, one of the key features of Hagiopics is their reliance on spectacle, but the King of Kings chapter demonstrates how the film moves it away from the places it would normally be expected (in the miracles of Jesus) and relies instead on making a spectacle from battle scenes etc. instead.

    Of the films explored only The Song of Bernadette (1943) seems to fit all the criteria, which makes it a strange decision, given that the chapters loosely follow some kind of chronological or developmental order. This was actually the last chapter I read. Having not seen the film prior to reading the book I waited until I had read the rest of the book so as to enjoy the film in the light of Grace's model, and then read the Bernadette chapter to see how well I'd been paying attention.

    The fact that this exercise greatly enhanced my appreciation of the film is perhaps testimony to the clarity of Grace's model. If in leaving the Bernadette chapter until last I was still able to grasp her argument then she is certainly justified in not also including a full analysis of a film such as DeMille's The King of Kings to make the point more forcefully.

    It is surprising that no film based on the Old Testament is covered in depth. The book is a little unclear as to whether this is because pictures based on stories from the Hebrew Bible do not really qualify as hagiopics, or because they fit so squarely into the conventions of the genre that they are of little interest to the scholar.

    Overall the analysis is fairly insightful. Having read numerous books on this subject now I am always impressed when I read something that no-one else has ever mentioned, and, in reading this, there were a number of times here where that was the case. The analysis of The King of Kings and Jesus of Montreal was particularly strong. I also enjoyed Grace's comments on the 2000 version of Jesus Christ Superstar as there has, hitherto, been very little written about it.

    Aside from the above comments about internet sources, in places the theological overviews offered by the book occasionally go awry (Veronica's veil has nothing to do with The Turin Shroud for example4), but that rarely has much impact on the discussion. There are also a few typographical errors that the publishers might wish to amend if the book is to be republished5. Given the quantity of other works on the subject that would seem unlikely. Whilst the analysis is interesting enough and the hagiopic genre approach offers some new possibilities, Grace's book is neither groundbreaking enough nor in-depth enough to suggest it will usurp more established favourites.
    1 – Grace p.1
    2 – Grace p.5
    3 - Schrader, P. “The Transcendental Style in Film
    4 – Grace p.75
    5 – E.g.year of Jesus of Montreal given as 1969 on p.154


    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Report on Yesterday's "The Ancient World in Silent Cinema II" Event

    Whilst I'll be posting a few individual comments on each of the silent Bible films over the next fortnight, I wanted to post some reflections on the day as a whole. The journey down was a dream giving me just enough time to write my review for Pamela Grace's new book "The Religious Film" (also to be posted shortly). Bloomsbury Theatre is just a short walk from St. Pancras station, so I was able to grab a sandwich in the hugely impressive Quaker HQ Friends House before getting back to the theatre in time for the opening session.

    UCL's Maria Wyke is one of the two people behind this series of events (the other being Bristol's Pantelis Michelakis) and she gave a helpful introduction to the day's proceedings. I must admit I hadn't fully appreciated quite how complex projecting century old film on modern equipment is, so it was useful to be given a brief overview. There were apologies for the quality of the films, but, in actual fact they were far superior in quality to that which I had imagined. The detail was so much more apparent than on DVD (even when viewed with a projector). That said, in some cases such clarity highlighted the cheapness of the sets. I suppose that the earliest film makers may not have anticipated their films being shown on a large screen (and of course did not have a century of set-craft and location shooting to compare themselves against).

    The first session started with A.E. Coleby's comedy Wanted - A Mummy. Whilst only part of the film was available it was very entertaining, and notable that the essence of the double act (tension between a strait-laced individual and his more outgoing relaxed partner; and the man with a plan leading his partner into calamity) was very much in place. I can't help but wondering if Laurel and Hardy might have been influenced by this film.

    Next up was La Sposa del Nilo (Bride of the Nile - Italy 1911 - pictured above). Essentially this is a tragedy where a woman is thrown into the Nile to appease the Goddess Isis, much to the dismay of her fiancé. What surprised many of those present was that the man didn't manage to somehow save the day despite his best efforts. I did overhear one woman in the audience point out that if the heroine hadn't fainted so pathetically she could just have swum off! The contrast with the films that were to follow, though, was striking. Here was an angry God who needed appeasing with human sacrifice, and whose followers were so devoted that the hero is unable to save her. It's notable that the film concludes with a statement to the effect that the waters of the Nile returned. Our modern minds rightly ascribe this to coincidence, as would those of the original audience, but it's interesting that viewers would not be quite so unanimous in offering similar explanations for the cause and effect of the events in many biblical films. And of course the tragic ending makes an eloquent argument from silence for a benevolent, interventionist God - the 'true hero' of the rest of the biblical films.

    The last of the non-biblical films was no less interesting. La Vergine di Babilonia (The Virgin of Babylon - Italy, 1910) featured the fictional Babylonian monarch Ninia who, like Isis in the previous film, desired a woman who is betrothed. But in contrast to the leading lady of that film, this picture's heroine, Esther, is feisty, determined, strong willed and not afraid to refuse the kings advances. What was of most interest to me about this film was the various way it evoked several stories from the Bible in order to add layers of meaning. Whilst the Bible is clear that Esther was, originally at least, a Babylonian name, one cannot hear it today without thinking of the Jewish girl who became queen of Babylon. The film's plot - where a king desiring a queen uses his men's force before requiring her to audition in some way, but with the end result being the queen gaining power and saving her own, previously threatened, life - bears a great deal of similarity. Likewise Esther's dress is in strong contrast to the other Babylonian woman: it is much more in line with the costumes worn by Jewish women from the Bible films of the period.

    The other Bible story that this film calls upon is that of Daniel. Like Daniel Esther sticks to her moral code and is thrown into a den of lions as a result. The Lions refuse their lunch (the intertitle calls it a "miracle of miracles") and the people overthrow Ninia and proclaim Esther their queen, and she returns to her lover Joseph. The closing scenes also see Esther striking Christ-like poses.

    Three Bible films followed (Cain et Abel, La Sacra Bibbia, Moïse sauvé des eaux) before a short comfort break. I was dying to ask if I could attempt to take some stills, but didn't quite find the courage / bare-faced cheek. When we returned we were told that we were over-running and that some films were going to be cut, including the two Jephthah's Daughter films. The reason? The projectionist had managed to work out how to show the films at the correct speed (something of a feat given that originally projectors and cameras would have been hand-wound). Whilst in many ways this was a shame, I think it was the correct decision. The chance to see these films as they were meant to be seen was a major benefit, and while I'll have to wait a bit longer to see a film about Jephthah, these films are available to view in the British National Film and Television Archives.

    The remainder of the session saw the other two Moses films L'Exode and La vie de Moïse interspersed with The Life of Moses. All of the films on display were given an improvised accompaniment by pianist Stephen Horne, but it was the first of these where his work was at its very best. Improvised accompaniment is an interesting art form. When, as here, it is truly improvised - i.e. the musician has not seen the movie before at all - then the artist is simultaneously both part of the team of filmmakers, and part of the audience. The former is obvious: their work enhances the mood, entertainment and meaning of the film. But it's also true that they are (first time) viewers of the film. Whilst, aside from the odd gasp, chuckle or round of applause) convention dictates that the majority of the audience offer no immediate reaction, the musician acts as our spokesperson, reacting to what they see and swiftly working it into their accompaniment. I suspect that the reason I appreciated his work most - in L'Exode - is because this was also the film I found most startling, but I'll come to that in a day or two. The accompanist also plays another role interpreting the film for us. Music is so evocative (as superbly demonstrated by Christina Ricci's narration in The Opposite of Sex) that the accompanist has the power to change the meaning or mood of the film as well as simply enhancing it. Hence whilst they are part of the film-making team they also stand alone. The other filmmakers are no longer with us: the accompanist has the final word.

    Anyway, Horne was excellent throughout, and deserved his many rounds of applause. He mainly used the piano, but also used an electric piano (replete with synth, harp and other sounds) as well as a flute, a piccolo and the unhammered strings of the piano. I can't help wondering if my brother Geoff Page (an Oxford Uni. music graduate) would love to give this kind of thing a try. I might have to try and rig it up next time we meet up.

    The afternoon featured two, rather than the advertised three, lectures as Margaret Malamud had been taken ill. In actual fact two was all there was really time for. Indeed Judith Buchanan had to curtail her paper before she had a chance to talk about the Jesus films. Personally, I found her talk the more fascinating of the two. Much of it traced the development of Judith's portrayal in art which, as the wife of an artist, was right up my street. But her relaxed presentation style made her paper all the more enjoyable. It felt like we were being talked to rather than read to.

    David Mayer's paper was also very interesting, talking about how architecture and dance in early ancient silent film owed a huge debt to the theatrical plays of the late 19th century, and traced the development of choreography in some of D.W.Griffith's films, including the 1914 Judith of Bethuliah and, of course, Intolerance. Mayer's knowledge was clearly immense, and it was a privilege to hear him speak, though he was hampered somewhat by his PowerPoint presentation. His book Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W.Griffith and the American Theatre which explores these themes is due for release shortly (contrary to the Amazon site Mayer said it was still awaiting final publication).

    After a brief break for tea we were treated to Samson et Dalila, La Reine de Saba, Giuditta e Oloferne, Judith, L'Aveugle de Jérusalem, and Vie De Jesus. The cuts to the advertised programme, as before, enabled the films to be shown at the correct speed and the event to finish on time, which was great news for those of us dashing off to catch trains. Somewhat annoyingly, my train home had been dredged up from the eighties, and didn't include any power points for me to plug my laptop into. Somehow I have to find time to write up my notes on the films before I forget it all.

    Anyway, all in all it was a wonderful day out, and I'd like to offer my profound thanks to Maria Wyke, Pantelis Michelakis and everyone who worked to make yesterday happen. It was a fantastic event and I'm sure that the 150-200 in attendance enjoyed it just as much as I did.

    Edit: The Bioscope has a great write up of the day's events as well.

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    Monday, June 22, 2009

    First Reviews for Year One

    Year One doesn't open here until Friday (so say the posters on the buses in London), and I've not been sent a review copy, so my own review of this film will have to wait until the weekend (in what is the busiest couple of weeks ever). Meanwhile, Peter Chattaway's review is up at Christianity Today, as well as a brief piece on other films about Genesis (I wrote a longer article similar to this back in 2005). And on his blog Peter offers some points he "considered making in my review but, for whatever reason, didn't". Here's a snippet of Peter's review:
    Along the way, people talk about God every now and then, but his role in the story is rather diminished; indeed, where the Bible ascribes certain actions to God, the film consistently ascribes them to regular people (except for one lightning bolt, the timing of which may point to a higher cause). It is not God but Zed's fellow villagers who expel him for eating the forbidden fruit; it is not God but Adam (Ramis) whose questions prompt Cain to complain that he isn't Abel's "keeper"; and it is not God who saves Isaac from being sacrificed at the last minute but Zed and Oh, who stumble onto the scene just as Abraham is raising his knife.
    On a certain level, comedies like these can serve a valid purpose, inasmuch as they highlight the vast gulf in sensibilities between ancient cultures and our own; it is not a bad thing to realize just how "strange" the ancient world was, or how "strange" we would seem to them.
    Occasionally amusing but not very funny, and far too coarse and stupid to be all that enlightening, Year One has to rank as the most disappointing Bible-themed movie by a major studio in decades
    Peter's not alone in disliking this one. It's currently only got 5.5 at IMDb, 37% at Metacritic, and just 20% at Rotten Tomatoes. That said both Variety and The New York Times liked it, though the usually generous Roger Ebert is not a fan.

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    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Spartacus (1960) UK Re-release

    It looks like I missed my chance to see Spartacus on the big screen. Kubrick's 1960 sword and sandal epic was recently released for one day only (9th June) as part of Orange's Cinema Classics season

    The release prompted brief reviews from Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian and Philip French of sister paper The Observer, as well as James CHristopher at The Times and Derek Malcolm at the London Evening Standard.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Juliette Harrisson-Pop Classics Blog

    I could have sworn that I posted this before I went on hiatus, but apprently not. Anyway, Juliette Harrisson - a PhD student from just down the road in Birmingham - has started a new blog called Pop Classics. You'd be forgiven for thinking Juliette's topic is songs from the 60s or 70s, but thankfully not. Instead she's writing about places where classical history appears in popular culture, particularly, it seems, in film and TV. Obviously this means her topic is a little broader than mine, but it's probably still the closest to mine in subject area, at least of all those I've come across thus far. It's nice to have some company. There's already a post on Life of Brian (my posts on this film), and whilst I've read a lot of comments on this film, this is the first time I've heard anyone correct them on their Latin (OK, now I am sure I have written this before! I wonder what happened?) I've added Pop Classics to my blogroll in the right hand menu.

    I've also added a link to Henry Nguyen's Punctuated Life blog. It's fairly new and does sometimes contain Jesus film related possts (e.g. The Miracle Maker on Hulu).


    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Noah's Ark Goes 3D

    There are numerous films about Noah rumoured to be in production, though I suspect not many of them will make it through the credit crunch. One of the more likely looking contenders is the prequel to 2007's animated The Ten Commandments, part of the Epic Stories of the Bible series from Promenade Pictures.

    Anyway, Variety has just announced that the film will be a "stereoscopic 3-D toon" to be made by Magic Lantern. Thanks to Peter Chattaway for that piece of news. No news on a release date on this on any of these sites. Last year Promenade CEO Cindy Bond announced that it would be Easter 2009 (!) so things have obviously been somewhat delayed.

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    Biblical Studies Carnival 42

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Whilst I was off line, Jim Getz published the 42nd Biblical Studies Carnival and gave it an appropriately "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" theme. It's briefer than most, but I have to say that's probably a good thing. It's not that I don't appreciate the hours of work some of the recent carnival hosts must have put in to produce their summaries: I very much do. It's just that I think that there are probably only a handful of the biblioblogging community who are quite that committed, and those few seem to be doing it more and more frequently, which may not be that sustainable. So good on you Jim. Hopefully a few more of us will volunteer to take on a shorter carnival.

    May's list of Top 50 Bibliobloggers has also been posted (and I'm up to number 32).

    For more information on these carnivals, including where to submit pieces visit the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.


    Normal Service To Resume

    Apologies to regular readers that almost nothing has happened here since the 20th May. The last two weeks I've been on holiday, and a combination of the lack of broadband at our accommodation and holidaying with 2 under 3s meant 2 whole weeks without the internet (which nearly killed me). Prior to that I was just busy getting everything done that I needed to do before I went away on holiday, so I was a bit patchy for the two weeks before hand as well.

    So I'm planning to get things back to normal again, hopefully posting something most work days. I've got quite a backlog to catch up on, and plan to post my responses to the various films showing at next Monday's Ancient World in Silent Cinema event in London, so stay tuned.