• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Visual Bible's Matthew:Ch.3-4

    (From a series of posts working through the Visual Bible's Matthew).
    Chapter 3 of Matthew's Gospel opens not on Jesus but on John the Baptist. Like many Jesus films, the Baptist's appearance (see above) is significantly more alien to modern western eyes than the other characters. Here John has wild unkempt hairas well as the camel skin clothes that the gospels attribute to him.

    The first shot of Jesus is usually a moment of some significance in Jesus films. The King of Kings (1927), for example, introduces him through the eyes of a blind girl as she gains her sight. The majority of films about Jesus tend to use his baptism as the moment he is first revealed and, given the nature of the project, this film is no exception. The sequence is actually very artfully put together. John's teaching seems to have finished, and we see children playing in the water. Then we see the feet of a man walking through the mud at the side of the river. The symbolism is fairly rich here. God has come down in human form and his getting his hands feet dirty. God is standing, quite literally on the earth. Next we get the image of a man reflected in the water. The Jewish Messiah seen only as a pale reflection is about to be revealed.

    Jesus' baptism is by immersion rather than sprinkling, and as he emerges from the water the shot is slowed down as a jubilant Jesus looks to heaven. Matthew then narrates the arrival of the dove, but we are denied a shot of the dove itself. Instead we get shots of John's reaction. In a similar fashion, rather than representing God's voice (such as a detached, echoing voice) it is the narrator who delivers God's encouragement. This may simply be because the filmmakers have learned from other Jesus films where their star is left to stand in cold water for hours at a time whilst they try and get a dove to land on his shoulder. Brian Deacon, star of VB Matthew's close relation Jesus (1979) still recalls just such an incident in that film somewhat painfully. But it's also possible that this is a nod to the fact that in Matthew's Gospel (1:10) the dove is only a simile. Luke makes the simile more concrete by stressing the Spirit is descending "in bodily form". We are also never told whether or not the voice from Heaven is audible. Either way the scene is handled very well, leaving intact the ambiguity of the text.

    Just as "Matthew" speaks God's part, he also delivers the devil's lines as well. I wonder whether, as we progress through the film the narrator will always deliver the lines that are more subjective, in a similar fashion to how The Miracle Maker switches to 2D animation at similar points. That said I seem to recall that in the opening chapter an angel speaks with an echoey voice at one stage. he director uses several cuts during this scene to emphasise the passing of time, in marked contrast to other Jesus film (such as 1999's Jesus) which show all 3 temptations as part of the same event. Here you get a sense that these three temptations are representative of many over the 40 days, rather than depicting the entire temptation incident.

    There's a brief scene of Jesus calling his first four disciples. There's no discussion Jesus just waves his hand and the two pairs just follow him. It actually suggests though that these men are not strangers, and thus that Jesus' signal is more of an "it's time" than a call out-of-the-blue.

    The chapter ends with a round up of Jesus' miracles realised on screen by showing a lame woman being healed. She hugs Peter (as well as Jesus) which raises the question as to whether this is his mother. I'll have to remember to look out for that when we reach chapter 8. We then cut to a very large and rather inaccessible rocky outcrop. Peter even slips as he ascends the mountain. A certain sermon is clearly about to begin (start of chapter 5), but strangely it seems doubtful that any of the infirm will be able to get there.

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