• 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, October 30, 2009

    Rising India to Fund Noah's Ark

    There are so many films about Noah rumoured to be on the way that news about any one of them sends me scurrying thorugh my previous posts on Noah films to try and work out which is the one that is being discusses. Anyway, the latest ark story to emerge on the pages of Variety concerns the Bob Funk / Unified pictures film Noah's Ark. The story simply says that US based company Rising India will be funding it to the tune of $40 million. Whether this is on top of or instead of previous financiers remains to be seen. In the current financial climate though it's encouraging to see companies still financing these movies as I suspect that many of the films I have previously mentioned as being in production will never get made as a result of it.

    Here's the latest list anyway:
  • Not the End of the World - Illuminated Films
  • Unnamed Noah Film - Darren Aronofsky
  • Sold Out! - Uri Paster
  • Aardvark Art's Ark - Warner Bros. / Casey Affleck (above)
  • The Flood - Promenade Pictures' sequel to The Ten Commandments (2007)
  • Rock the Boat - French animation (Gaumont)
  • Noah's Ark - Unified Pictures / Bob Funk
  • El Arca - Patagonik (Argentina)
  • The Missing Lynx - Kandor Graphics
  • Thanks to Peter Chattway for the latest addition.

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    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Gospel of Thomas on Film

    Over at NT Weblog, Mark Goodacre has been writing quite a lot about the Gospel of Thomas recently. His latest post in the series is looking at clips from the 1987 Channel 4 documentary The Gnostics and in particular he discusses it's dramatisation of the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas. The most blatant observation is just how blond haired and blue-eyed this Jesus is. There are a couple of interesting points on that issue alone.

    Firstly, this is quite the most Arian Jesus I have ever seen in film aside from Robert Elfstrom's portrayal in the Johnny Cash film The Gospel Road. When I saw this film back in 2006 I made a number of posts about it, one of which was a comparison between the gospels of Cash and Thomas. I should point out that I don't necessarily stand by everything I wrote in that post. I've learnt a fair bit about Thomas since then.

    The other point on the blond Jesus of The Gnostics is that many commentators are at pains out that Thomas presents a significantly less Jewish Jesus than the canonical gospels and so it's interesting that both these films, linked as they are with Gospel of Thomas, present the most non-Jewish looking Jesus.

    I may post more on these clips when I've had a chance to view them properly. Incidentally, I have been writing a series of posts about the Gnostic gospels for the rejesus blog including one on the Gospel of Thomas. I should point out that these articles have a word limit of 500, and are intended for an audience that has very little knowledge about Jesus and the gospels.


    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie

    Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years has got as far as Jonah now, so I thought it was time for a long overdue review of 2002's Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie. Incidentally, I'm still deciding whether or not to use a clip from this film, but I think I will probably show a different short film version which I'm linking to here so I can find it easily in future.


    For some reason Jonah has always been a popular children's story (despite being about a man-eating fish), and as a result there have been various cartoon versions over the years including an entry in the Testament: The Bible in Animation series.Yet, it's one that's been largely avoided by filmmakers. In the early days the technical challenges of the pivotal scene were far beyond the film's likely profitability. More recently, however, I suspect it's been the length of the story that has put off potential adapters. At just 4 short chapters there's not a huge amount to go on (although the majority of Hollywood blockbusters could have their plots scribed on the back of a postage stamp, so that's hardly critical).

    Jonah circumnavigates this problem by telling Jonah's tale as a story within a story. The biblical tale is framed by a modern day story of a group en route to a gig, who get lost when their car breaks down. They stumble into a restaurant and meet three pirates who observing the animosity amongst the group, decide to tell them the story as a means to getting them to resolve their differences.

    The story is presented as an account of events that actually happened to the pirates, but chronologically this wouldn't work at all, particularly when you consider that these pirates are not humans but harvested vegetables. So the link to the material is slightly detached: there's something vaguely reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz here in the way that the people in the framing device are inextricably linked to those in the story, but also somewhat detached.

    All of which forms a rather interesting interpretative context in which to place the book of Jonah. Many scholars consider the book to be a kind of parable rather than an account of actual historical events, and so presenting the tale of Jonah as a story within a story fits this dynamic. Furthermore, since the book of Kings briefly mentions the prophet Jonah, there is that kind of link between him and the parable's anti-hero.

    One of the things the film gets right is its portrayal of Jonah as an absurd figure. True to the biblical text Jonah is grumpy and proud, and his cartoonish characterisation fits the spirit of the original's portrayal rather well. It also includes the often overlooked final chapter of the book, and grasps that this is this, rather than the fishier elements of the story, that forms the book's interpretative key.

    The film does tweak some of the other details however: Nineveh's primary sin is slapping each other with fish, which rather leaves the story run stranded in shallow waters; Jonah manages to get the king's attention when he is arrested because of his pirate friends; and his message grabs the attention of the fish-venerating Ninevites sole-ly because he happens to refer to his time inside the big fish. I'm curious to know whether that final point reflects an older tradition in any way, or some kind of historical knowledge. If so I've not yet encountered it in commentaries I've read.The biggest set piece in the story is obviously Jonah getting swallowed by the big fish. The book devotes a whole chapter to Jonah's prayer, which, from a dramatic point of view, works in the same way as a musical's biggest song and dance number. What's more the whole incident is shrouded in supernatural events (not only the fish but the storm, Jonah being highlighted by the casting of lots and the subsequent calming of the storm when his is ejected overboard).

    The film, also gives plenty of attention to this incident, saving its most ambitious CGI for what is it's longest scene (the modern day equivalent of a miracle?). And once Jonah has been swallowed up, his prayer is indeed replaced with the film's biggest song and dance number - a black gospel number performed by a choir of singing vegetable angels. All of which is possible because Jonah has been swallowed by a whale rather than a big fish. I suspect that the Hebrew mind would have classified whales along with fish rather than with mammals, so this distinction is rather minor. What is interesting is that in the film's closing number - a summary of the story and its message - Jonah's story is illustrated using a fish. So the film backs both theories, deftly representing the ancient classifications.

    The one character I've not yet discussed is Jonah's eternally optimistic sidekick, Khalil, a half worm, half caterpillar business man worm-pillar - the 'Donkey' to Jonah's Shrek, if you like. But his role gains far greater prominence in the books final act, for it is he who becomes the worm who eats the plant Jonah is using for shade. When Jonah confronts him Khalil then utters the words that God speaks at the end of the book.

    What this highlights is the direct absence of God in the film. God speaks directly four times in the book, at the start, after the fish has spat Jonah out, when the Ninevites repent, and when the plant dies. Here we never hear him speak, though we witness Jonah hearing God when he prays at the beginning of the story, the middle too occurrences are skipped over, and at the end it is Khalil that speaks for God. This secularises the text somewhat. God is held at a distance so that even the miraculous elements of the story could be down to coincidence. It's not a major problem, but it is yet another example of VeggieTales sanitising the text.

    Visually the film is rather poor. It always feels like an extended episode of a TV show rather than anything cinematic and the colour scheme often clashes. There are bright blue backgrounds, but dull yellow foregrounds, shiny green vegetables, but a lot of dirty yellow and grimy clothes. The whale sports a particularly repulsive olive green and yellow look and even Jonah looks off colour for much of the film.

    The songs are fairly good though, echoing various musicals from down the ages, and the soundtrack includes a nice nod to Jaws as the whale closes in on the barely floating prophet. And so what I'm left with is "Jonah was a prophet" going round and round in my head. I'm told that the Germans call this an 'ear worm', which in the context a film which uses a worm not only to act for, but also to speak for God is certainly an intriguing metaphor.

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    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Ferdy on Films on King of Kings

    Just a quick post to link to an article by Ferdy on Films about King of Kings (1961). As I've mentioned before, its one of my Top Ten Jesus Films, though I recognise it's one of least defensible movies on the list. Anyway, one of Ferdy' more interesting observations is the comparison netween this film's Jesus / Barabbas, and Martin Luther King / Malcolm X. It's a very apt comparison. Incidentally I also stumbled across a photo collection for this film which includes the one above and the screenshot where we see Jesus' shaven armpits.


    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Saint Mary and Jesus the Spirit of God on Google Video

    Peter Chattaway's blog has been quiet recently whilst he's been at VIFF, but he has popped up at Arts and Faith with a few interesting bits and pieces. Two items that caught my eye in particular were regarding two 'Islamic' Jesus films coming up on Google Video. I've had a copy of Saint Mary, for a while, but it's nice that there's a subtitled version available to view for free. There's also Mesih/Massiah/Jesus the Spirit of God. I couldn't find the video Peter refers to, but it looks like the whole film is available on YouTube. No subtitles for that one unfortunately. Hopefully I'll get a chance to watch these soon.

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    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Reflections on OH Workshop

    On Friday, I mentioned my plans to run a Jesus Films workshop at Open Heaven yesterday, so I thought I'd offer a few reflections. I was a somewhat beset by technical difficulties. Not the major kind like not being able to watch any of the clips, just very minor things, but on each clip. It's all DVD's fault. In the old days you just had a pile of pre-cued videos which you slotted in and then ejected out. DVD offers more possibilities and, in theory, better picture quality but it's harder to pull it off 100% right.

    I was trying a new approach, ripping the clips using some free software called Handbrake and then burning them onto a DVD using Cyberlink Power Director and then just flicking through them as if I was using a conventional DVD. Unfortunately, there was no sound facilities in the room (as I'd thought there would be) and using the projector's speakers, which had been the back up plan, produced a feeble sound. This meant I ended up playing the DVD on my laptop, using VLC. It's a great piece of software normally, but it wasn't to happy with skipping tracks, DVD menus etc. and so it lead to a lot of those awkward wait an see moments. There were a couple of faults on the disk anyway (no subtitles for the Pasolini clip for example), so it was a bit of a struggle, and meant I didn't fully relax so I could really enjoy the session.

    Other than that I think it went OK. I had a good group, nearly all of whom chipped in something, and every film had a reasonable amount of discussion with some interesting perspectives coming through. It's always nice to hear a new perspective or observation and there were a few of these - the use of wedding bells used at the end of Last Temptation.

    I also noticed how the ending of Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo links the response to the resurrection to the Great Commission. The joy that erupts as the door flies off the tomb (pictured above) carries through to the end of the film. When we see the disciples running with the same sense of joy, our first impression is that this is in response to the resurrection. Yet it turns out that this is actually the precursor to the ascension. Having watched this again last night, I think this ambiguity is a deliberate way of linking the two scenes. It's significant that this sequence has the same song throughout even though the text implies that there is a reasonably significant gap here.

    From a Christian perspective (which was not the director's own) it's a useful reminder that it's the good news about Jesus defeating death which should be the motivating factor in us going out to tell people about him. Quite what Pasolini intended this sequence to convey I'm not entirely sure.

    One of the things that was interesting in running this session was just how much of a new area this was for the majority that were there. A large proportion of Open Heaven are students, and of the 20 or so that came along, only 2 were older than me, 1 was a couple of years younger than me and the rest were in the 18-23 age bracket. So many of them were born after the release of Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, and most of them were under 18 when The Passion of the Christ was released five and a half years ago (has it really been so long). There was also relatively low awareness about last year's BBC mini-series The Passion. I was aware that Last Temptation would probably be largely unknown, but I was surprised about those other two. I suppose I'm not only showing my age, but forgetting that most people don't have anything like the level of interest in this subject that I do. (That said, there was at least one other Jesus Christ, Superstar fan in attendance).

    On the other hand, it was encouraging to see how switched on many of the group were to the way the variety of methods these films use to communicate. This, I imagine, is also due in part to the age of the majority of participants most of whom have grown up in a world saturated with visual media.

    So whilst I wish I'd brought a set of powered speakers so that I could run the session from the DVD player rather than the laptop, I did, ultimately, enjoy it and hopefully those that came all got something from it. I think some did at least.

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    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Open Heaven Jesus Films Workshop

    This Sunday I'm going to be running a 45 minute session with Jesus films at my church Open Heaven. I don't often get a chance to play to the home crowd, so to speak, so it's something I'm looking forward to. (Actually, I like it this way. It means that when they do ask me to do something it's because it's really want it, rather than because they feel they have to).

    Anyway, I'm going to be looking at how different films portray the end of the story of Jesus. It's an exercise I've run before as part of the Jesus Films course I ran a few years back (download notes), and it worked fairly well as I recall.

    I'm going to show clips from the following seven films (chapters and timings included incase anyone wants to play along at home):
    The King of Kings (1927 cut) - ch.26; start- 2:22:55; end- 2:25:50
    Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo(1964) - ch.16; start- 2:06:36; end- 2:11:00
    Son of Man (1969) - ch.10; start- 1:26:50; end- 1:28:55
    Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) - ch.23; start- 1:36:39; end- 1:41:20
    Last Temptation (1988) - ch.29; start- 2:39:28; end- 2:41:05
    Passion of the Christ (2004) - ch.15; start- 1:53:10; end- 1:55:45
    The Passion (2008) ep.4 - ch.1; start- 19:42; end- 22:42
    There's a nice mix there of how the different films end the story, focussing on the different elements. Even the films that don't portray the resurrection bring out different aspects of the significance of Jesus' death. Son of Man is very depressing, whereas Last Temptation ends on a victorious note, even though it doesn't explore a bodily resurrection.

    It's also nice to have the BBC's The Passion to add into the mix. It's one of the more controversial endings, and has been read in widely different ways. For some it suggests Jesus' followers were hallucinating, for others it nicely brought out the apparently changed nature of Jesus' physical body.

    One of the things we will look at is the different biblical accounts of Jesus' resurrection which I've summarised below:
    Women at the TombWomen at the Tomb
    Empty TombEmpty Tomb
    Jesus appears(Res'n appearances)
    Soldiers Bribed

    Women at the TombMary at the Tomb
    Empty TombPete & Jon at Tomb
    Road to EmmausMary sees Jesus
    Appearance to 11Appearance to 11
    2nd appearance to 11
    Fish for breakfast
    What I find interesting is how the films that are more popular amongst more conservative Christians (The King of Kings, Passion of the Christtend to use the most artistic licence on this part of the story, whereas those that are more criticised by those groups (Last Temptation, The Passion) actually stick more closely to the text. It's also interesting that ending a Jesus film without showing the resurrection is often considered the product of modern scepticism even though it is actually continuing the traditions of the Easter passion plays.

    Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what they all make of the different films. I'll report back next week.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Intolerance Script Online

    I'm doing some teaching on French church history, so naturally my mind thought of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), and in trying to find some more information on it I came a cross a couple of useful sites. Firstly, this site has the entire 'script' (wording on the title cards essentially), and you can also watch the film online and see thumbnails of screenshots taken once every minute at Internet Archive. You can also view it on a larger screen at YouTube.


    The Original Fireseed Jesus Remix

    My friend Joel Wilson has been working on a project taking clips of the same scene from different Jesus films and editing them together. He's made six overall, and the first three are now on YouTube:

    Episode 1 - Temple Clearing
    Episode 2 - Meditation
    Episode 3 - God is With Us

    My favourite is the third I think. I'm encouraging Joel to post the others as well as I think it's an interesting concept. In particular I like the way it demonstrates how you can always spot which bearded male is Jesus even though face, build, clothers and hair etc. all vary from film to film. It shows just how important the composition of a shot is.

    Nina and the Children's Bible Synoptic Problem

    So my 3 year old, Nina, and I were reading the nativity story from one of her children's Bibles the other day. As I was reading out the closing words "Joseph made a bed for him to lie on and..." she interrupts me. "No Daddy, it was Mary who made Jesus' bed". Nina has a good memory for these types of things, so I suspected she was reclling the story from one of her other children's Bibles. So I checked her Candle Bible for Todddlers, and sure enough, it climaxes the scene with "and Mary made him a bed from the straw". I must admit I felt a little gush of pride at my three year old spotting the small differences in the broadly similar accounts of the same story. She's a smart kid.


    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Capitalism, Jesus of Nazareth and Michael Moore's Love Story

    Last week was a bit of a crazy week, such that I didn't manage to blog a single thing. Apologies to all those who stopped by only to be disappointed. Almost as annoying as not having the time to blog was finding that there was so much to blog. So hopefully the next few days will yield various small tid bits of information, which, with a bit of luck, will pave the way for me to do more of the type of blogging I really like - doing reviews, making observations and so on.

    For now, though, I'm going to have to content myself with talking about Michael Moore's latest film Capitalism: A Love Story/.

    I only caught onto the film a few weeks ago when I saw that Moore had talked about Jesus being anti-capitalist. I wrote a brief piece on this for rejesus.co.uk a week or two back. I must admit that I'm one of those evil people who is suspicious of capitalism, largely, I guess because, as Moore says, it seems so out of touch with Jesus and the new community he founded.

    Nevertheless, my interest peaked last week on discovering a write up in The New Yorker which includes the following excerpt:
    He (Moore) uses old films, like Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, for sarcastic fun: Jesus, dubbed, recommends not care for the poor but deregulating the banking industry as the way to salvation.
    Given that Moore has been quite open that this film is inspired by his religious views and his appeciation of Jesus's teaching in particular, I'm not sure on what basis this is pigeonholed as "sarcastic fun", but then David Denby has seen the film and I have not (yet). It does sound a little cheesy though. I can't, at all, see how this could be done well. Even so it's interesting that it's this Jesus film that is used instead of one of the others, particularly given that General Motors were originally going to sponsor the film until religious groups pressurised them into changing their minds. Both this film and Moore's earlier Roger and Me cover GM in some detail.


    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Fox to Make 300-Style Moses Movie

    Both Empire and Variety are reporting that Fox are planning to make a new film about Moses in the style of 2007's 300. The new film will be produced by Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark from Adam Cooper and Bill Collage's script. There's no definite news on who the director will be but the current favourite is Timur Bekmambetov who is working on a similarly styled film version of "Moby Dick".

    Here's a little bit more from Variety:
    20th Century Fox has made a preemptive acquisition of a pitch to tell the story of Moses in "300" style. The tale will start with his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharoah and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement.


    The Moses story will be told using the same green screen strategy as "300," so it will feel more like that pic or "Braveheart" than "The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film.

    The popular mythical and magical elements inherent in the Book of Exodus will be there--including the plagues visited upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea--but the Cooper & Collage version will also include new elements of Moses’ life that the writers culled from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources.
    That last line is imilar to the kind of thing Cecil B. DeMille said about his second version of The Ten Commandments. In reality, though, his film contained relatively little midrashic material and mainly used modern novelisations of the Moses story.

    I'm not sure I'm hugely optimistic about this film. Whilst I appreciated the style of Sin City and 300, I also found both films to be depressingly misogynistic. I'm not sure I'm too keen for a hyper-violent misogynistic take on a patriarchal story, even if it also looks fantastic. But who knows, perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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    Friday, October 02, 2009

    Biblical Studies Carnival 46

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Daniel and Tonya of the Hebrew and Greek Reader have posted Biblical Studies Carnival XLVI. The latest Biblioblogs chart is also up. I've just crept back into the top 100.