• 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


    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Visual Bible's Matthew:Ch.5-7

    (From a series of posts working through the Visual Bible's Matthew).
    Filming the Sermon on the Mount was possibly one of the greatest challenges in making this film. How do you take an acclaimed text, most likely composed of several pieces of teaching joined together rather than a transcript of an actual sermon, and make it interesting to a film audience? It's possibly the place where this production feels least like a film and more like what it calls itself, a visual Bible.

    As Mark Goodacre has noted in his defence of the Farrer theory, most filmmakers tend to break up the sermon and distribute segments of it throughout their movies, just as Farrer theory proponents imagine Luke did. Not doing so makes this section rather tedious. The filmmakers introduce a number of measures to enliven the scene, and Marchiano enthusiastically delivers his words with heart, passion and humour, but they are only partially successful.

    Indeed whilst Marchiano's smiling delivery hits the right note on numerous occasions, it's when Jesus, or Matthew, resort to something more goofy that things come off as false and somewhat corny. So for example, to illustrate "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing", Jesus ours water over Peter's head. (This Peter takes it in good humour. Brian Blessed would probably have smacked him one). Later on Matthew almost sits on a child and Jesus holds a huge staff to his eye to demonstrate the speck vs plank passage.

    The other technique that's used to aide the attention deficient is by swapping between Jesus delivering the sermon and Matthew recalling it. The Matthew sections don't work quite as well, partly because he's addressing only a handful of family members - a setting that isn't so well matched to delivering a grand sermon. That said one of the most impressive moments is when Marchiano's words ring out through Matthew's (?) house.

    Covering the Sermon on the Mount also runs the filmmakers into another quandary, how do they resolve the places where their value of wanting to reproduce the book word for word clashes with the positive friendly image of Jesus they wish to portray. Whilst the sermon is rightly celebrated for view of a better humanity, it also talks about people being thrown into hell, somewhat at odds with the smiling Jesus the film wants to portray. The problems are resolved somewhat unsatisfactorily. At times Jesus or Matthew smile extra hard when delivering those passages. At others they wearily acknowledge them as unfortunate truths. This was never a problem that Pasolini's angry Jesus ran into.

    Speaking of which, one of the things that is most often pointed about that film is the way in which is films Jesus speaking against different backdrops and weather conditions to draw attention to its composite nature. At first glance this film appears to be the polar opposite - Jesus delivers the sermon to the same crowd, in the same location, wearing the same clothes. But the weather changes quite significantly. Early on, Jesus is speaking under a azure blue sky, strongly reminiscent of Ray's King of Kings (1961). But by the end of the sermon three chapters later, things have clouded over and the ending of the sermon is rather lost in a thunderstorm. It helpfully illustrates the rain coming down on the foolish man's house, but is perhaps a little distracting. But crucially it suggests, perhaps unintentionally, that the sermon was in fact somewhat longer and that this is merely only edited highlights.

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