• 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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    Thursday, October 07, 2010

    Comparison: The Burning Bush

    As I mentioned last week my church is looking at Exodus at the moment, and having been tasked with finding some suitable video clips to portray Moses' early life for last Sunday's meeting, I've now been asked to hunt out the best portrayals of the Burning Bush episode for this coming week.

    As with last week, I'm going to exclude the more obscure films such as Demille's 1923 The Ten Commandments (as it omits this episode anyway) and Moses und Aron as they are a bit too complex. I am however going to include DeMille's 1956 version of these events as his depiction is significantly shorter than his portrayal of Moses' early life, which lasts for roughly half the film.

    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    Ten Commandments (1956) 50th Anniversary Collection – Region 2
    Disc 1, Chapter 29 - 2:05:00 to 2:07:50 [2:50 minutes]
    Moses played by Charlton Heston

    Given the length of the overall movie it's strange that this pivotal scene is so short. The special effects here are weaker than I remembered them and Moses is given no signs with which to convince the Israelites of his encounter with God. The identity of the voice of God was hushed up at the time and, no doubt due to DeMille's death shortly after, it's never been something that has been cleared up entirely satisfactorily to my mind. Strangely, given the importance of head covering in Judaism, Moses begins this incident with his head covered up, but by the end of it his head is uncovered. His hair hair has not only become more grey, but it has also changed it's style, marking his transition from desert shepherd to God's chosen leader.

    Moses the Lawgiver (1975)
    Network/Granada Ventures – Region 2
    Disc 1, episode 2, chapter 2 – 9:45 to 14:45 [5 minutes]
    Moses played by Burt Lancaster

    This production consistently seeks to demythologise the events which is depicting, and this scene is no exception. This time there is no secret about the identity of the actor who provides God's voice: it is Lancaster himself. Whilst this can be explained as simply the voice we are most likely to hear God speak with (DeMille used Heston's voice in such a manner in the latter part of his film) it also leaves open the possibility that Moses is simply imagining the encounter. In a similar fashion, the two signs that God gives Moses are shot using an unusual effect which could be read as a hallucination, though it also does not rule out a more traditional interpretation. The two things that are unexplained are 1 - why the bush and the surrounding fires all go out at once, and 2 - why this encounter changes Moses to the extent that it does.

    Testament: The Bible in Animation: Moses (1996)
    Bible Society; Nine Film Set – Region 2
    Disc 1, title 3, chapter 2 - 7:18 to 9:46 [2:28 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Martin Jarvis

    For some reason the Testament interpretation of these events has already given Moses white hair (tradition does suggest he was 80 by this point) that stretches down his back, making Moses look rather odd. God is again voiced by the actor playing Moses, although here it seems less sceptical. The signs are mentioned but not shown, and everything is over rather quickly.

    Moses (1996)
    Time Life Box Set – Region 2
    Part 1, chapter 3 - 29:10 to 34:20 [5:10 minutes]
    Moses played by Sir Ben Kingsley

    This is one of the better portrayals. Ben Kingsley's acting is good here, even stuttering as he tries to convince God that he is not a good public speaker. It also uses some early CGI to turn the snake into a stick, which holds up reasonably well fourteen years later.

    The Prince of Egypt (1998)
    Dreamworks 2006 Single Disc version – Region 2
    Chapter 15 - 41:41 to 45:45 [4:04 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Val Kilmer

    This quite a creative portrayal of Moses first encounter with God. Firstly it uses two actors for the voice of God, the more dominant is male, but a woman's voice also whispers the words along at the same time, and with greater sustain. We also hear echoes of the past and the future as the implications of this moment strike Moses. Moses perhaps pushes things further here than in the other films (in line with the text) resulting in God's final outburst being an angry sounding one. The one false note is when God tells Moses he will smite Egypt only for the background music to swell up into an uplifting crescendo.

    Ten Commandments (2006)
    Disc 1; 30:00 to 31:50 [1:50 minutes]
    Moses played by Dougray Scott

    This might be one of the clips I use, whilst I dislike Moses' hair at this point, it is quite short, and has the most convincing effects. Scott argues with God quite well, again stuttering like Kingsley in the earlier mini-series. The scene is preceded by Moses disobeying his father-in-law's command to pay no attention to the holy mountain.

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    • At 9:10 am, October 07, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      Thanks for this Mr. Matt!
      For the record, I did try to do a comparison between five films of the parting of the Red Sea, but I've never gotten around to completing it (http://sacrificium-laudis.blogspot.com/2009/10/lord-pushed-back-sea-with-strong-east.html).


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