• 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.

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    Friday, August 06, 2010

    Visual Bible's Matthew: Prologue

    The "Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years" course has reached the New Testament, which is being re-branded "Rough Guide to the New Testament". Matthew is obviously up first, so I'm taking the opportunity to visit the two films that are specifically based on that gospel rather than harmonising all four. I've written about Pasolini's Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo several times over the years, but I've not written a great deal about the 1995 word for word adaptation Matthew by "Visual Bible", so I'm going to do this as I work through it.

    Visual Bible have claimed that their word for word adaptations were free of interpretation. "No scriptwriter's liberties. No interpretations. No dramatic license." Yet as soon as the movie starts it becomes clear that this is not the case. The opening words of the film are not from Matthew's gospel, but a prologue introducing the narrator.
    Many years ago when I was a young man I lived on the shores of Lake Galilee in the town of Capernaum. At that time the Roman Empire controlled all of Palestine. Although I am a Jew I worked as a tax collector for King Herod of Galilee, who paid tribute to the Roman government. My co-operation with Rome made me an outcast in my own community. However, when Jesus the Christ looked at me and said "follow me" I left everything and became one of his disciples. My name is Matthew. I am writing this gospel to show through the writings of the law, the prophets and the psalms that Jesus of Nazareth is the long awaited Messiah.

    The following is a word for word account of the Gospel according to Matthew.
    Now this is a major piece of interpretation. The authorship of the first gospel is disputed. It's true that the traditional view is that it was written by the apostle of the same name, but it's also true that the text itself makes no such claim.

    What I like about it, however, is the way it emphasises Matthew's use of the Hebrew Bible, and his agenda in doing so. It's not unlike the final verse in John 20(v31) which states that "...these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah".

    Another nice touch is the way Matthew's talk of having been an outcast is contrasted with a shot of him walking along with several others (pictured above). Formerly rejected, in Christ he has found acceptance and community. That said, the execution lets it down a bit. The end product feels a little bit like a soft-focus promo shot from a 80s Christian holiday advert.

    We then see Matthew sit down with what I assume is his grandchild and two scribes. As it will turn out, the grandchild has already learnt parts of the gospel, such as the genealogy, yet the formal aspects at play suggest that Matthew is about to dictate the gospel for the first time.

    Next time I'll start at chapter 1 of the gospel, where the film's adaptation begins in earnest.

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