• 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


    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Articles on Last Temptation of Christ

    I've been searching for the picture above to complement an article I'm writing for ReJesus on the Gospel of Philip, and in doing so I cam across a couple of articles on Last Temptation of Christ that I thought might be of interest (or at least that I might want to find easily at some point in the future!).

    The first, which I actually thought I had already linked to was the review by Matthew Dessem of the Criterion Contraption. There are a number of interesting reviews on that site, and they are usually pretty image rich as well.

    Then there's the review is from the Images Journal, and it was here I found the above. Going to their, more attractive, homepage it seems that they have a special love for the other great cinematic passion of mine - the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

    Lastly, The Screengrab features author Phil Nugent recalling his visit to the set in Morocco.


    Is There a Remake of Jesus Christ, Superstar in the Works?

    The Hollywood Reporter says so.
    Universal sang from the mountaintops after the $600 million global success of the Abba musical "Mama Mia" last year. Now the studio could be belting them out about a very different figure: Jesus.

    The studio and producer Marc Platt are in active development on a remake of "Jesus Christ Superstar." And there's a director -- at first surprising, but not without its logic -- that Platt and the studio have been talking to: Marc Webb.
    If this project really does come to fruition with Universal it will be the first Jesus film to be made by a major studio since Universal's Last Temptation of Christ over 20 years ago.

    Of course Jesus Christ, Superstar has been updated more recently than that. There was a fairly awful filmed version of the stage production made at the time of the millennium. If potential director Marc Webb does make a noughties hipster update of the musical hopefully he'll steer well clear of that version of the story with its pouting Jesus and its Nazi-style Pontius Pilate.

    Thanks to Peter Chattaway for the tip off.

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    More Information About Him

    Sorry it's been a bit of a lean week this week, and some of you may consider this a poor taste piece to start up with so apologies if so, but for a long time I've been curious about the Jesus porn film Him (no, not curious in that way). I first heard of this film about ten years ago in Pete Aitken's Adult Christianity Jesus Filmography (if that link doesn't work try this one). It's also mentioned in both Campebell and Pitts' "The Bible on Film" and Kinnard and Davis' "Divine Images".

    Then I heard from Peter Chattaway that although it was mentioned in Michael Medved's book "The Golden Turkey Awards" it was suspected of being a hoax. A while later I had a conversation with Michael Pitts and he said that it was one of the films in his book that he hadn't seen. But then, the above poster for the film resurfaced and there was some evidence that the hoax in Medved's book was in fact The Dog of Norway.

    Recently I've come across two further pieces in the puzzle. The first was a comment from the other author of "The Bible on Film", Richard Campbell who confirmed that "HIM is a real movie; the hoax film in Medved's book was DOG OF NORWAY ...the photo from the movie is really just a pic of Medved's own dog!" And then today I happened to encounter a blog post from The Screengrab which includes a few snippets from a review of Him in the April 29th 1974 issue of "Screw". Anyone interested in the details of the movie read on, anyone likely to be offended by this, please don't. Oh and that article goes on to talk about the fictional Gay Jesus movie that I blogged about in March, and the snopes.com article which also links the two films.

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Release Date for The God Complex

    Almost a year ago to the day I talked about a comic indie film about the Bible called The God Complex, and shortly afterwards interviewed director Mark Pirro.

    Well the film is now set to première on the 29th August, and there's quite a bit more new about the production on the news section of the official website. Elsewhere on the site, there's also a couple of trailers and a host of photos. When I checked the site last week, there were some comments about Year One a subject which Pirro and I talked about last year, but, for now, they seem to have been taken down. Hopefully I'll be able to review the film which appears to be the most comprehensive sweep of stories from the Bible yet covered in a single film.

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    Friday, July 24, 2009

    Samson et Dalila

    Ferdinand Zecca, Pathé, France, 1902, 3 mins.
    The earliest film of those shown at the Ancient World in Cinema event was Samson et Dalila (Samson and Delilah) from 1902. Strangely it was also one of the few shown on the day for which I've been able to find any sort of production image.

    Given its age, it's no surprise that this is also one of the shortest of the films shown. Indeed the film starts when the story of Samson is almost over. Delilah has already extracted Samson's secret from him; all that now remains is for her to out it to the test. Putting aside from the other incidents in Samson's life, and looking solely at the Samson and Delilah story, it seems to me that the dramatic interest in the tale is about the conflict between the two, which climaxes when Samson finally reveals his secret. So it's strange that this film begins its version of events immediately after this point.

    Samson isn't really shaved here, in fact when he awakes he still has rather more hair and beard than is typical today, but I guess something more convincing may have been more difficult to pull off at such an early stage in proceedings (though an "O Brother Where Art Thou-type beard-on-a-string would probably have bee acceptable in 1902.

    There follows Samson's arrest and imprisonment tied to a millstone, but it's the temple scene that's really interesting. Firstly because Samson's appearance is preceeded by a troupe of dancing girls giving a fairly lengthy performance. Given the very short total running time of the film, this sequence takes a very large proportion of it. One wonders how this came to be. Of course, what's interesting is that such deviations would become a staple part of the biblical epic genre. You don't have to think for too long before numerous descendants of this sequence - scantily clad girls dancing for the benefit of the viewer, if not the plot - spring easily to mind. And introducing non-biblical episodes into the story, sometimes at the expense of great chunks of a film's runtime, has gone on to become the norm, rather than an exception as it was in the time of these films.

    The downside of this portracted sequence, at least from the point of view the story is meant to be understood from, is that it gives us a degree of sympathy for the girls whose performance is rewarded by being crushed by not-particularly heavy looking cinema stand-in stones. That contrasts with Samson who we've had little time to get acquainted with. The moments we do have do this quite well - his despair at finding his hair cut, the forlorn figure operating the mill and his thoughts (And prayers) moments before brining the roof down on the Philistine temple.

    The biggest surprise, however, is Samson's ascent to Heaven, portrayed in a style very familiar to those conversant with Zecca's The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. Given that that film was compiled over a number of years, it's hard to know which scene came first. There are plenty of other Pathé trademarks as well, such as the hand coloured film and the distinctive cotuming.

    The film is the first to be mentioned in "The Bible on Film" (as the Old Testament section comes before the New). Campbell and Pitts have this to say:
    1903, France, Pathé, 15 minutes B/W
    Director: Ferdinand Zecca

    Perhaps the first film version of the story of mighty Samson, from the Book of Judges, whose physical strength could not keep him from falling under the spell of the beautiful, but evil, Delilah.
    There's a slight discrepancy in the film's stated length which is somewhere between Campbell and Pitts's 15 minues and the BFI's 3. The BFI archive has little more to say although they may be behind this synopsis on the UCL website:
    Delilah cuts off Samson's locks. Bereft of his strength, he turns a millstone in prison. Brought back, the shackled Samson tears away the pillars of the temple where he has been publicly humiliated, causing it to crash down in pieces. Samson's triumphant spirit, accompanied by angels, rises out of the ruins.
    And there's also an entry (in French) from the Pathé database.

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    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    More on Kings from FaithArts

    Last week I mentioned that FaithArts had posted some thoughts on Kings. Brendan's continuing to work through the series and has published some thoughts on episode 2. He's also grouping together all his posts on Kings here.


    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Empire's Bible Poster Mash-Ups

    I don't subscribe to many film-news emails, but one I read every week is the one from Empire - as much because of its peripheral items as its main features. One such item is the weekly poster mash-up. Empire gives a theme, and then readers alter famous film posters to fit the theme. Empire themselves describe the mash-ups as follows:
    We asked our readers to mash up classic film posters and a given theme, and they answered in droves.
    See the best of the best here: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be appalled at the punning...
    Anyway, last week's competition was on the Bible, and there are a number of good entries including the one above. Personally I think some of the weaker entries are those at the start, so I'd recommend carrying on until the end. There are also a few more entries in the Empire forum including my personal favourite shown below. I should warn readers that some of you may be offended by some of these. Hopefully, though, most of you will enjoy them as much as I did.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Dayasagar Online

    More than any other film, people ask me how they can get to see Dayasagar (also known as Daya Sagar, Oceans of Mercy, Karunamoorthy, Karunamayudu ). For a while it was available to buy on DVD, but I'm told that this is no longer the case. So I was pleased to hear that the film is now available to view online at wlivetv. Thanks to whoever it was that gave me the tip off.


    Monday, July 20, 2009

    La Vie de Moïse & The Life of Moses

    La Vie de Moïse, Pathé, France, 1905.
    Interspersed with
    The Life of Moses, J. Stuart Blackton, Vitagraph, US, 1909-10, 13 mins.
    Perhaps the most unusual story behind the films being shown at last month's Ancient World in Silent Cinema event was these two films, which had been mixed together as if to form one film. The films on display at the event were all taken from one particular collection (the name of which I somehow failed to write down) which was apparently brought together by a teacher in a seminary in Switzerland. Those using Bible films to teach the Bible today can see the idea goes back a long way. Anyway, it appears that the original collector spliced these incidents together from two rather incomplete films, to give a fairly full account of Moses's life. I've listed the events below first with those episodes taken from the 1905 French film in the lighter text, and those from Blackton's 1909-10 US film in the darker text. I've also included biblical references.
    Baby Moses on the Nile - (Ex 2:1-9)
    Israelite Slaves - (Ex 1:11-14)
    Moses kills an Egyptian - (Ex 2:11-14)
    Moses flees - (Ex 2:15)
    Moses meets Jethro & his Daughters - (Ex 2:16-22)
    Burning Bush - (Ex 3:1-4:17)

    Burning Bush - (Ex 3:1-4:17)
    Return to Egypt - (Ex 4:18-23; 27-31)
    Before Pharaoh - (Ex 12:31-42)

    Parting of the Red Sea - (Ex 14)
    Manna from Heaven - (Ex 16)
    Water from the Rock - (Ex 17:1-7)
    Giving of the Ten Commandments - (Ex 20)
    Radiant Face of Moses - (Ex 34:29-35)
    Unfortunately, writing these films up has taken me longer than I anticipated (I still blame East Midlands trains), and so the details of these two films are beginning to fail me, but here are a few observations based on what I wrote at the time and the odd memory that is yet to desert me.

    When Moses is portrayed as a young man his complexion is surprisingly dark. There's little attempt to fill in his backstory - as opposed to the two or so hour DeMille devoted to this part of Moses' life not covered by the Hebrew Bible - we see some Israelite slaves in the pits making bricks, and of the three silent Moses films this is the one that goes into the most detail with different shots detailing different steps in the process. It's an almost documentary-esque sequence which we snap out of once Moses enters the frame. Two Israelites have been having a heated discussion when an Egyptian attempts to restore order. Moses kills the Egyptian but rather than thanking him, the two Israelites continue their quarrel pausing only to tell others what Moses has done.

    Moses fears the worst and not giving Pharaoh a chance to hear of it, he goes to the house of Miriam and Aaron and flees. Moses is clearly already familiar with the two of them, and they help him in his flight. Moses arrives in Midian in time to save Jethro's daughters, and then encounters the burning bush in the next scene. What's interesting about the sequence of events presented here is how closely it corresponds to the biblical account. The bulrushes scene is obviously from a different film from the rest of the Exodus 2 material, but it sticks fairly closely to the events as they are presented with little embellishment.

    Special effects were still fairly basic in this period, but it's interesting to see how quickly they develop. Some of the early Pathé films really did make the most of the medium here - consider, for instance, the walking on water and ascension scenes from Life and Passion of Jesus Christ. The only episode here to appear in both films is the burning bush and we see two contrasting special effect techniques. The later film here is shown first. The bush seems to have been actually set on fire, but before the scene ends the fire has gone out. The other scene, shot perhaps 5 years earlier in 1905 uses a less realistic technique - air blown streamers flying up from the vent they are ties to in the floor. The streamers technique feels more primitive, much more the kind of thing one would expect to see in a play in the theatre (at least before pyrotechnics were invented). It's quite a development in five years, though viewing it over a century later the streamers do give it an otherworldly feel that the realism of the Blackton film perhaps lacks.

    The plagues are largely omitted: there's two brief scenes back in Egypt (from the US film) before we return to the earlier movie to witness the parting of the Red Sea. Given this is such an early film, it's very cleverly done (although it emphasises just how impressive DeMille's efforts were less than 20 years later). My memory is a little sketchy at this point so perhaps anyone else who saw this film could confirm or deny what follows. There's a mid shot of Moses and some Hebrews, with some "sea" in the foreground. Moses prays/ commands and this water seems to move and drain away (it's perhaps shot on an actual beach as a wave goes out. There's then a cut to a body of water which jostles about and retreats. This looks like it could have been something shot in reverse.

    Special effects abound in the next scene as we see manna fall from heaven like snowflakes, followed swiftly by Moses striking a rock to bring forth water. At a guess I'd say this was the same set as the earlier burning bush scene, certainly the low-ish camera angles and the backdrop are very similar.

    The last scene, again from the earlier film, is of the giving of the Ten Commandments. Moses is met on Mount Sinai by some angels who give him the stone tablets. By this stage Moses's hair has turned white and he has a halo. Once he descends a little the halo is replaced by two rays from his head after Exodus 34:29-35. It's an interesting halfway house between the "horned" face of Jerome's Vulgate translation, and the now more widely accepted "radiant" face. The horned Moses, as portrayed in Michaelangelo's famous sculpture above, was usually thought to have two horns, and here he is given two rays that come out of his head initially as if they were horns.

    The BFI database doesn't include a synopsis for this film, but does list some alternative titles, one of which is Moses and the Exodus from Egypt for which Campbell and Pitts give the following summary:
    Moses and the Exodus from Egypt
    1907, France, Pathé, 478 feet B/W

    Another short film in Pathé's series of Biblical movies, this outing was perhaps the first flicker to tell the story of Moses. Included in this lost silent were the scenes of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and the falling of the manna from heaven.
    The later film actually appears to be a collection of shorter films released individually between 1909 and 1910. Again the BFI offers few details. Whilst they list each entry separately, the only details are the names of the company (Vitagraph) and director (J. Stuart Blackton). It lists the following four episodes:
    Campbell and Pitts give this a much more significant write up, naming five episodes and giving release dates. The titles match, and the final episode is called The Promised Land
    1909-1910, Vitagraph, 5 reels, B/W.

    Director: J. Stuart Blackton
    Screenplay: Rev. Madison C. Peters
    CAST: William Humphrey, Charles Kent, Julia Arthur, Earle Williams, Edith Story.
    Vitagraph released THE LIFE OF MOSES in five parts beginning December 11, 1909 and culminating February 19, 1910. The whole film told the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
    The portions of the film and their release dates are:
    Part One: "The Life of Moses" (December 11, 1909).
    Part Two: "Forty Years in the Land of Midian" (December 31, 1909).
    Part Three: "Plagues of Egypt and the Deliverance of the Hebrews" (February 5, 1910).
    Part Four: "The Victory of Israel" (February 12, 1910)
    Part Five: "The Promised Land" (February 19, 1910)
    The first of a supposed series of Biblical pictures from Vitagraph, THE LIFE OF MOSES
    Showed such happenings as the pillar of fire, the parting of the Red Sea and the giving of The Ten Commandments. The Moving Picture World called it "a picture that is deserving of the greatest praise and commendations as a whole"
    Incidentally, J. Stuart Blackton was also the director of a number of other Bible films including Salome (1908), Saul and David from 1909, and Jephthah's Daughter; A Biblical Tragedy (1909) which was one of those that was originally due to be shown at the UCL event, but had to be cut for reasons of time.

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    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema

    Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema
    Author: Joanna Page

    Paperback: 272 pages

    Publisher: Duke University Press
    Language: English

    ISBN-10: 0822344726
    ISBN-13: 978-0822344728

    My sister-in-law Joanna Page is a lecturer in Argentine literature and cinema at Cambridge University, and I just found out that her new book has just been published. "Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema" looks at New Argentine Cinema, highly experimental films and Argentinian genre movies. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
    There has been a significant boom in recent Argentine cinema, with an explosion in the number of films made in the country since the mid-1990s. Many of these productions have been highly acclaimed by critics in Argentina and internationally. What makes this boom all the more extraordinary is that it has coincided with a period of severe economic crisis and civil unrest in the nation. Offering the first in-depth English-language study of Argentine fiction films released since the mid-1990s, Joanna Page explains how these productions have registered Argentina's experience of capitalism, neo-liberalism, and economic crisis. In different ways, the films selected for discussion testify to the social consequences of growing unemployment, rising crime, marginalization, and the expansion of the informal economy. Page focuses particularly on films associated with New Argentine Cinema, but she also discusses highly experimental films and genre movies borrowing from the conventions of crime thrillers, Westerns, and film noir. She analyzes films that have received wide international recognition alongside others that have rarely been shown outside Argentina. What unites all the films she examines is their attention to shifts in subjectivity provoked by political or economic conditions and events. Page emphasizes the paradoxes arising from the circulation of Argentine films within the same global economy they so often critique, and she argues that while Argentine cinema has been intent on narrating the collapse of the nation-state, it has also contributed to the nation's reconstruction. She brings the films into dialogue with a broader range of issues in contemporary film criticism, including the role of national and transnational film studies, theories of subjectivity and spectatorship, and the relationship between private and public spheres.


    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    FaithArts on Kings

    Modernised King David drama Kings returned to screens in the US recentley, and has also started airing in Ireland. Brendan O'Regan of irish site FaithArts has shared a few of his thoughts. His posts aren't given individual URLs so you may have to scroll down to find them.

    There was a bit of a paucity of comment on this programme from those versed in biblical studies so it's good to read Brendan's comments, and I believe that there will be more to follow. Looking forward to it.

    Sadly, I've not managed to find any indication that Kings is to broadcast in the UK soon.

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    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    South Park's Margaritaville

    I've been meaning to post this for a while, but the third episode of the current series (series 13) somehow manages to cover both the credit crunch and a parody of the week leading up to Jesus's death. Margaritaville starts when Stan deposits his funds at a bank only for his money to be gone before he leaves his chair. The town goes into hysteria about the failing economy, but unites behind Stan's father Randy's campaign to stop spending except for essentials. Meanwhile Stan's outrage propels him on a journey to the heart of the economy in a quest to return a margarita making machine his family no longer needs. Kyle, however, fails to be convinced by the anti-spending movement, and instead spreads a message about faith (in the economy). As Kyle spreads his message it being clear that his message is being presented in the style of a biblical film. Randy's council starts to resemble the Jewish Sanhedrin, and one of their meetings is interrupted by the news that a young Jew is speaking blasphemy in the marketplace. Cut to a scene of Kyle preventing a "stoning" (with squirrels) of his teacher. There's a Sermon on the Mount scene, very reminiscent of King of Kings (1961), which leads to Randy's council discussing how to deal with Kyle. their meeting is interrupted by Cartman who is all too happy to betray his friend.

    We're then shown Kyle and his followers celebrating their final meal and a (only slightly) guilty Cartman rejoining them. Stan finally gets to the heart of the US treasury department, only to discover that decisions on the economy are made entirely at random. The final scene is of Kyle taking everyone's debts upon himself thus solving the economic crisis, only to see Barack Obama taking all the...um...credit.

    It's a very well worked parody combining scathing comments about the economy, taking shots not only only at the banks and politicians, but also the average person on the street. The parallel with Jesus is particularly so well worked that it makes me wonder whether had this scenario been used as an example of the penal substitution theory of atonement, I might still believe in it.

    US viewers can catch it on South Park's official website. The rest of us can catch it here. There's also a brief write up of it at Clique Clack

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Cut to the Chase 0.5
    Two More Chapters of Mine Published

    Cut to the Chase 0.5
    Authors: Lee and Baz and Friends

    Paperback: 287 pages (Paperback)

    Publisher: Authentic Media
    Language: English

    ISBN-10: 1860247323
    ISBN-13: 978-1860247323

    Edit: Please note that one of the chapters in this book that bears my name in it's heading - "Fantasy Island" is NOT by me, but by the book's co-author Baz Gascoyne. If you ever get hold of a copy and read that chapter you'll be aware of why I'm keen to clarify that.

    I'm just about to have two chapters published in Lee and Baz's "Cut to the Chase 0.5". Lee (Jackson) is a good friend of mine going back to when we were teenagers, and as he's always been keen that his books have included contributions from his friends he has always been keen to include the odd chapter from me. Unfortunately, he got so many contributions for his last book ("Cut to the Chase") - including four chapters from me - that he decided he could only use two of the ones that I submitted.

    But eventually his and Baz's first book "Dead Man Walking" went out of print, but continued to be in demand, so they decided to re-release it with extra material. And so "Cut to the Chase 0.5" was born. The two chapters of mine that didn't make the previous book have been included in the new volume. (I'm sure there's a less complicated way to describe that, but for the present it eludes me).

    Anyway, I must say I'm pleased that these two chapters have finally made it into print. Both volumes of "Cut to the Chase" are what I guess are called men's books - written for the average bloke in the street - so the punchiness of the first two chapters was what got them printed first. However, I always felt that of the four chapters I originally submitted, these two were the strongest, and the ones that better reflected my writing style.

    "Men in Movies" is as you'd expect a discussion of some great male role models in film. The church often moans that it is depicted negatively but here are some men (and a few women) of faith, who make a difference. The film covers a fairly broad range of films from On the Waterfront to Italian for Beginners,

    The other chapter, "Lost in Translation", looks at more interactive ways of reading / studying / understanding the Bible. Amongst the things I discuss are, of course, the use of Bible Films, as well as 'bloke art' and using the comic imagination.

    The books are not yet available at Amazon, or in book stores, but should arrive imminently. They can, however, also be purchased direct from Lee and Baz's website. Also available is a new, visual edition of "Cut to the Chase". I've had no part in this, so I can say with at least some objectivity that I think this is an excellent publication. There are still relatively few books out there for visual learners, but if we get a few more like this the idea will catch on fast. The graphics are really top notch, and do well to avoid being pretentious, managing instead to retain the earthy and humorous feel of the original. I'll post a link here to so samples of the artwork when it goes up, but for now I'll stop gushing.


    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    L'Exode (Exodus)

    Louise Feuillade, Gaumont, France, 1910, 13 mins. The image is, of course, from DeMille's 1923 The Ten Commandments, but of all the silent films about the Moses story, and a good deal of those since, L'Exode is easily the most daring. Whereas DeMille stacked the pack, making Pharaoh's son a brat so that none of us minded when the finger of God bumped him off, L'Exode portrays him far more sympathetically. The result is a thought provoking and challenging film which makes us question which side we are really rooting for. By the end we are glad that Moses and the Israelites have left Egypt, but for all the wrong reasons. Our sympathies lie with the Egyptians and we are relieved to see the children of Jacob ejected from the land.

    The film builds carefully towards this climax from its opening scene. Like DeMille's film the story starts between the ninth and ten plagues, In fact, one of the film's German titles was Zehnte Plage (Tenth Plague) - the other being Auszug Der Kinder Israels Aus Ägypten (The Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt). We open with an interior shot of a very elderly Moses consulting men who are presumably the elders of Israel. I say 'presumably' because not only are the intertitles are in German but the interior of the room (I was going to say palace) is sufficiently luxurious to leave the audience wondering which scene from the Bible they have just witnessed. The brilliant-white haired man whose matching beard almost reaches his waist could certainly be Moses, but the room is certainly not typical of a Hebrew slave. But if this is the palace then where is Pharaoh? Or even some in Egyptian dress?

    But all becomes clear when those present in the room disband to instruct the Israelites on how to mark their door posts with lambs blood. This scene is again deserves some discussion, not least because it is taken as one long shot which pans back and forth from door to door, focussing in on doors at different depths. This must have been a relatively unusual use of the camera in 1910, but thematically it unifies the individual households as the camera moves gracefully from one to the next.

    This panning shot is also fairly graphic, as the camera moves from door to door we see the throats of lambs being slit, their blood being drained off and sprinkled on the doorposts. On a single viewing it's difficult to work out whether or not these lambs were actually killed on set. Certainly movies in those says were not monitored by the American Humane Association and there were several instances of people being killed on set during a shoot. The blood is also flicked onto the doorpost using a hyssop branch rather than daubed as per The Ten Commandments (1956). Exodus 12:22 says only to "Strike" the door with the blood drenched hyssop, but elsewhere in the Torah (Lev. 14, Num. 19) it talks about using Hyssop to sprinkle blood as part of a ritual.
    Next we move to inside Moses's house, which is clearly a different building from the room he is shown in earlier. Here he and his family gather to share the passover meal. Exodus has God calling for this meal to be celebrated at night, yet light streams into the room from an upper window. This may have been a mistake, or a theological statement about new light or a new dawn or such like. Either way, the resulting shot is stunning. The Bioscope basks in its "Rembrandt lighting". Certainly it was the most memorable shot in the whole collection of films, and thankfully the director was sufficiently aware of his achievement to linger on the short for us to fully enjoy it.

    The scene is very much reminiscent of the same scene in DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments, only without Rembrandt's lighting: an unadorned room with only a plain table in the middle; various guests, including servants, joining in the meal; newcomers entering via the door in the wall on the right hand side of the camera. There is seemingly no other room in building and the camera stays largely at a distance with the length of the table crossing the width of the screen. Given that DeMille had always been a devout Christian, and his interest in films was such that he would make his first movie just four years later, it's more than possible that he saw this film and was, on some level, influenced by it, though perhaps only DeMille could take such a wonderfully composed shot and remove it's most striking element for the sake of biblical fidelity.

    It's at this point that the film's emphasis moves from Moses and the Israelites to the Egyptians. We're introduced to Pharaoh's son but, in contrast to the 1923 DeMille version, he is shown sympathetically. Here is a normal child that one cannot help but warm to - a sense of connection that is immediately overshadowed by the knowledge that we know his fate. Perhaps even more unusually, as he begins to display signs of illness we see Pharaoh's tenderness toward his son, and the concern of his carers.

    The son's death is followed fairly swiftly by a cut to the house of a miller where a similar scenario unfolds. The miller and his wife are concerned by their daughter's health, but having placed her on a chair he continues with his work. He's a big man pushing a huge millstone, yet the tension of the previous scene and the sickening sense that we know what is shortly to occur is heightened as the miller slowly grinds the millstone round one more revolution. At first he has is back to her, then his view of her is obstructed by the stone itself. By the time he returns to where he started the child has died. The grief is palpable, all the more on the day due to Stephen Horne's hauntingly evocative live piano accompaniment.

    There's a wealth of symbolism here. Whereas Pharaoh sits at the very top of this kingdom, the miller sits at the bottom. Pharaoh was at least responsible for what unfolds: the miller is entirely innocent. His back-breaking work almost indistinguishable from that of the Hebrew slaves. As the camera first cuts to the scene it seems almost unimportant - as if an important character is about to enter and make an announcement, perhaps announcing the death of Pharaoh's son, or of children all over the nation. In contrast to the scene with Pharaoh's son, here, it only gradually dawns on us that this is the scene we are waiting for, and that therefore the little girl is also doomed. There's no doubt that much could also be made of the symbolic nature of his profession, going round in circles, crushing the grain and so on.

    As if the emotional impact of these two scenes was not great enough, the next is a real sucker punch. In a courtyard, perhaps in Pharaoh's palace, two parents mourn their lost child. They are soon joined by two more, and then two more, and so on until the frame is crammed with parents mourning their lost children. It's the kind of scene that is utterly absent from both the Bible and from any other film version of this story, creating sympathy for the Egyptians, and causing believers to re-visit this story from the point of view of those on the other side. Horne accompaniment may have made it all the more poignant, but the sympathy for those on the losing side of this biblical narrative is certainly there amongst the visuals alone. The scene concludes with an intertitle that mentions the 430 years in Egypt and the 600,000 Hebrews that let Egypt during the Exodus.

    But given these three scenes, it is hardly surprising that when the Israelites leave, they are almost thrown out, rather than leaving joyously with gifts from the Egyptians. Indeed they are quite literally shown the door. The scene is on a much smaller scale than the one from The Ten Commandments (1923) shown above and is relatively short. The film's abrupt ending, just as the Exodus begins, seems to reinforce the Egyptian perspective - there's no concern for how the Hebrews will fare now. L'Exode (Exodus) is not so much about the birth of one people group so much as the death of another.

    The BFI synopsis suggests that either the start of this film was missing, or that I don't recall it and failed to write notes on it. Here is their entire summary:
    BIBLICAL DRAMA. Moses warns Pharaoh; marking the Israelites' doors; the Passover feast; the death of the firstborn; the Israelites leave the city. No main title or first intertitle. Pharaoh sits, surrounded by his court. Four women bring in his son whom he kisses affectionately. A black guard announces Moses, who is always led by Aaron and followed by a group of Israelites. Moses foretells the tenth plague and leaves. Pharaoh embraces the boy (133). " Die Vorbeerereitungen zum Osterfest..." (149). Moses, with long white forked beard, seated indoors while Aaron kneels besides him, instructs the Israelites about the Passover (246). Street: man takes a dead lamb indoors while a woman holds a bowl of blood and a man marks doorposts with blood. Pan to Moses sprinkling blood on another doorpost. By a third door a lamb's blood is being drained (380). "Das Erste Osterfest..." (395). Indoors: A couple lay a table. The Israelites enter. Moses celebrates the first passover: he preaches and prays. A roast lamb is put on the table. Moses hands out food (714). "Die Zehnte plage..." (730). Pharaoh's son sleeps surrounded by harpist, mandolin player and fanwaver. Pharaoh enters, kisses him and leaves. The boy starts up, gasps and flops dead, arms outstretched (823). A man pulls two huge vertical millstones round a central post on a horizontal six foot millstone while his wife cradles their son. She joins her husband's work. The child wakes, chokes and dies (912). The dead firstborn are brought into the street by their wailing parents. Moses and the Israelites enter. Pharaoh tells them to leave (1050). " Der Auszug..." (1063). Outside the city gates: Pharaoh sits on a dais among a crowd. The exodus: an excited child runs out of the gates, followed by Aaron leading Moses, crowds of Israelites, a herd of goats and two camels (1171). Incomplete (1476ft). Note: The four surviving German intertitles have the Gaumont logo: a G in a ring of stars. They are numbered AL B 2375 2 to AL B 2375 5. Note: Also held: A 690ft viewing copy in faded colour 205627A. It consists of: Moses instructing Israelites; marking doors; Passover feast (133-582); A one foot glimpse of the black guard from the first scene; The exodus (1063-1171ft) The order on the viewing copy is currently B A C D

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    Friday, July 03, 2009

    Gershon Verbona's 2nd Impressions
    Run From The Egyptians

    I'm in the middle of reviewing 3 silent films about Moses and, in trying to see the Passover scene from The Ten Commandments (1956), I came across this: Gershon Veroba's music video Run From The Egyptians.

    It's based on The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian". The words have been re-written and the video is a mix of still images and footage from ABC's 2006 film The Ten Commandments. There are so many Bible film bits and pieces on YouTube that I very rarely comment on them, but, for some reason, this was one I particularly appreciated. Check it out.


    Biblical Studies Carnival 43

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Pat McCullough of kata ta biblia has posted the 43rd Biblical Studies carnival in the style of a recently found apocalyptic text. Those who read some of the other biblioblogs out there will enjoy trying to decipher McCullough's apocalyptic literature-style names.

    June's list of Top 50 Bibliobloggers has also been posted and yet again Jim West is at number 1. Jim will be compiling next month's Biblical Studies carnival.

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


    Thursday, July 02, 2009

    Moïse Sauvé des Eaux (Moses saved from the River)

    Henri Andréani, Pathé, France, 1910, 8 mins
    Moïse Sauvé des Eaux was the first of three silent Bible films shown at the Ancient World in Silent Cinema event last week. Despite the similarity of subject and proximity of production, it was noticeable how different all three films were.

    As much as anything, this film stood out for its use of colour. Contrary to popular belief colour was fairly popular in silent films: the earliest films use colour filters or hand-tinted the prints to bring in colour, whilst two- and three-strip technicolour was in use during the 1920s. Given that this film was made in 1910 it was too early to be even two-strip technicolor. That said, the films in which I had seen hand-colouring used had done so fairly primitvely. Lots of colouring outside the lines and so on. By contrast, the colouring in was so impressive that I'm still not entirely convinced that this was a hand-tinted film, but so far no other explanation suffices.

    The film itself starts with Amram working with his fellow Israelites when a messenger brings the edict from Pharaoh that male, Hebrew babies are to be executed. We see the message courtesy of an intertitle styled like a scroll which contrasts with Pathé's usual red text on a black background style. As his son will later do, Amram steps in to stop a fellow slave getting beaten and then makes his way home to warn his family.

    Inside the house, Amram and his wife (who is identified as Jochebed) decide to hide Moses whilst Miriam and Aaron look on. Rather unusually they wrap him up in straw and hang him from a hook above head height. The Egyptian soldiers are soon upon them and proceed to stick a sword into anything that looks like it might contain a baby, even the bundle of straw on the hook next to Moses's. The scene is actually rather tense, all the more impressive given the audience already knows that Moses will survive.

    An intertitle card quotes Hebrews 11:23 and we revert to the exterior shot outside Amram and Jochebed's house. Shortly afterwards we see Jochebed gather Moses and a basket and head to the river with Miriam. There basket and baby are placed in the reeds, where they remain (rather than being floated down the river as in most other Moses films) which is actually in keeping with Exodus 2:3. Miriam hides - rather poorly it must be added - to keep an eye on her little brother, and when Pharaoh's daughter and her entourage come along she is quick to offer her mother's services as a wet nurse. So little time has elapsed that Jochebed has not gone far and baby and mother are reunited. There's a brief introduction to the Pharaoh.

    The portrayal of Amram is also interesting, as although he is usually portrayed as rather a passive figure, he is depicted here as more of a heroic character.

    Campbell and Pitts make no mention of this film and even the BFI database gives it a mere paragraph.
    DRAMA. Biblical. The story of Moses. No main title. Credit (2). The father of Moses is seen at work with the Israelites. An edict is read by Pharaoh's messenger announcing that all newborn male sons of the Israelites must be put to death. The Israelites are angered and return to their homes. Moses' father tells the family of the edict. Pharaoh's soldiers arrive to collect the newborn boys. Moses is hidden in a basket hanging from the roof. The soldiers enter but fail to find the child. The mother takes Moses and his sister takes a basket, they bid farewell to the distraught father and take the child to the Nile. There they set Moses adrift in the rushes. Pharaoh's daughter and her entourage arrive at the river to bathe. They discover the baby and Pharaoh's daughter adopts him. Moses' mother imposes herself on Pharaoh's daughter and offers her services as a wet nurse. Pharaoh's daughter agrees. On their return to court Pharaoh's daughter presents Moses to her father (707ft). Note: German titles.
    Painting is Nicolas Poussin's "The Finding of Moses" from 1638.

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