• 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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