• 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


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    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Make Your Own Jesus Film

    It's been a horrible fortnight for graphics here at Bible Films Blog, for which I utterly apologise. I'm tempted to put it to some kind of vote, but sadly I don't quite know how.

    Anyway to bring the last two weeks to a fitting conclusion I decided to post this image from a film I just "made" online. The idea came from watching an hilarious video on xtranormal.com. It was only on watching it for the third time that I realised that it was being hosted on a site that allows you to make your own films using only a script, a few pre-defined scenarios and the odd choice with camera placing, gestures etc. (which, if anything, only enhances the genius of the above film).

    So I thought it might be an interesting experiment to see how it worked with a bit of script from the New Testament. I should stress at this point that neither now, nor at any point, have I been under the illusion that I would craft a great movie. Please don't think that I could ever consider what I am about to link to as in any way "good". But I thought it would be a laugh, and might even be a bit interesting.

    Two disappointments hit me early on. Firstly they didn't have an ancient Palestine scenario - no real surprise, but obviously this meant that this had to be some form of modernisation. Secondly, I could only convert a scene with one or two characters. This cut down my options a lot, but I decided to try and "film" the conversation between Jesus and Pilate from John 18:33-39. The result is pretty horrendous - and that's being generous.

    The process however was actually very interesting and I'd strongly encourage others to give it a try. For starters the text is read entirely dead pan which kicks against not only our natural sense of drama, but also against the particular ways we, as individuals, envisage a given text. In theory, this passage has some particularly momentous lines, but in the hands of these "actors" they lose any impact whatsoever. "What is truth?" asks Pilate like the cheap cyberspacian construct he is. Gary Oldman's faux-rabid interrogation from Jesus (1999) leaps to mind as if summoned from the deep by such a fundamentally opposite rendering.

    But it's also interesting to have to think through the many, many decisions that are there to be made. Even in a minute-long film such as this, limited in so many ways, there were a whole host of decisions I still had to make. Which of the available camera angles do I chose? What expressions should I use and when? Which accent should the "actors" speak with? And then there are a few limited techniques available for breaking up the speech, pauses etc. How do I best employ them?

    And in fact, with all of these choices, another question came hot on their heels, why am I making these particular choices given that all I have is a flat, unadorned text. Something like "what is truth?" can be played so many ways in our time, language and culture. What basis do I have for choosing that over all of the other possibilities?

    There's also something about the fact that the options are so limited that gets me thinking. Almost all creativity in the process has been replaced by an arbitrary choice from a very limited selection of options. In contrast, proper filmmakers on low budgets may also have to make do with limited options, but they have the freedom to harness their creativity to bring about something close to, and even occasionally greater than, their original vision.

    Anyway, I'd love to see some other takes on the biblical material, so feel free to post links in the comments or email them to me directly.


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