• 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


    Monday, February 28, 2011

    The Guardian on "How Biblical Literalism Took Root"

    The Guardian has a good piece exploring the origins of Biblical Literalism today. In it Stephen Tomkins (Ship of Fools) looks of the roots of the phenomenon and at some of the problems it brings with it.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Bangladesh's Dancing Jesus

    Bangladeshi director Rafiq Mahmud has released a DVD exploring Jesus' teaching through music and dance. Mahmud, a muslim, debuted the film at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh Office earlier in the month to an audience of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. The production is actually an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's writings on Jesus. Tagore, was an Indian Bengali poet, author and playwright who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. His writings on Jesus tended to emphasise his humanity and his humanitarian message. The DVD went on sale at the start of the month. More information is available from CathNewsIndia.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    The Gathering

    A week or two back I went to see The Fighter. Our cinema quite often shows a short film before the main performance these days, although I often wonder why as the aspect ratio is often way out, as the projector is set for the main feature, and quite often, as was the case on this occasion, the audience just talked all over it. I did catch enough of it however to work out that it was some kind of modern take on Jesus coming. So after the film I had a word with the projectionist who very kindly dug out the name of the film and rang me later the same evening to let me know.

    It turns out the film was The Gathering by director James Cooper. Jesus is portrayed as a postman who advertises a public gathering. I won't say anymore, but point you instead to the film itself which you can watch for free on Vimeo.

    I must admit I'm quite taken by this little film, not least because it's kept me thinking about it for the last fortnight. It's also nicely shot, well acted, subtly made and gently humorous.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    More on Aronofsky's Noah

    Darren Aronofsky has been taking advantage of the publicity he's been getting from Black Swan, so there have been a couple of articles recently about his plans to make a new version of the story of Noah (see my previous posts). Last week SlashFilm confirmed that not only has Aronofsky decided to make a comic book as a step to filming Noah, but also that there is also some footage on YouTube (though it says it is "private").

    Movieweb are carrying a piece called "Noah Is Dirty and Not PG Says Darren Aronofsky". I couldn't get the actual page to work, but Google has it in its cache. Their article says that the project will actually be a mini-series and that it will be sci-fi adaptation of the graphic novel. Interestingly it also cites the 1976 Sunn Pictures documentary In Search of Noah's Ark as a source of inspiration, one that I've never seen, but that I know Peter Chattaway has fond memories of.

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    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Where is my Father: New Job Film

    I'm still ploughing through my inbox at the moment so if you are STILL awaiting reply I should get to you soon.

    One of the items in their was a message from the writer, producer and director of an ultra-independent film about Job based in Canada. Randy Hiebert was inspired to write a screenplay for Where is my Father after his "wife suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm during a Sunday worship service" and his "son suffered a concussion during a youth retreat". Whilst both have since made a full recovery it seems that this was a time when the book of Job struck a chord with him. 6 years later and the film is available to buy online. You can also watch the trailer at the Interlake Christian Films website. The website also gives details of a limited number of live screenings for anyone who is interested.


    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Reflections on 10 Days Bible-Filming

    ...not, I should say, making a film about the Bible, but just running a number of different group sessions on Bible films. As most of you are probably aware it's 400 years since the King James Bible was released and many organisations are marking the occasion with a campaign to encourage more people to read the Bible. As a result the last ten days have seen me preparing and delivering a number of projects/ sessions/ presentations on the Bible films, and so I thought I would share some of my reflections here.

    The first session I actually got to run three times, although the last time was slightly different. It was designed initially as part of an initiative run by the Loughborough Churches Partnership. People from the different congregations gathered and chose three out of six workshops looking at the Bible in a different way. Fearing that all six may end up using the gospels I decided to focus instead on Moses. I started getting everyone to read the story of the burning bush. Then I took clips from five film interpretations of Moses, and got those present to think through various questions relating to them. I'm planning to upload my slides for this talk so anyone who wants to can have a look at them.

    For various reasons I didn't want to talk very much in this session so I restricted myself to a one minute intro where I explained about how Bible films force us to look at the Bible through someone else's perspective; explained what we were going to do and then just set a timed PowerPoint presentation do the rest. That worked pretty effectively. I had previously put the clips into PowerPoint using the methods I discussed last year, and during the questions used a PowerPoint timer tool I built to let people know how long was left before the next clip (as well as a beep). What I didn't do was leave any time for discussion as I only had 30 minutes.

    The first two times around I used 5 clips and my work looking at portrayals of the burning bush last year came in very handy. In the end though I cheated a little bit. Wanting to include a silent clip, but knowing that DeMille's 1923 version of this story did not include this encounter I used a clip from Curtiz's Noah's Ark (1928) instead. Whilst this is a little cheeky, I would argue that Curtiz's scene of Noah hearing God's command atop a mountain with a bush bursting into flames as God speaks is an interpretation of the Moses story to some degree. I also used the scene from DeMille's later film in 1956, Moses the Lawgiver (1975), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and 2006's The Ten Commandments. This meant I left out the two films from 1996 - Testament and Moses. I didn't really feel they added a great deal and I didn't really have the time.

    The session seemed to go down reasonably well first time around. That said not having time for discussion afterwards meant that it was hard to ascertain exactly how people had found it other than the handful of encouraging comments I got at the end. The second time around I did it at lunchtime, the audience was significantly older and I only got feedback from one person (I didn't know as many) so I didn't feel that it went down as well, but I think that probably reflects more on my state of mind than anything else.

    The third time I opted to run this session was at church weekend away which I oversee (at least from an administration point of view). Here I had a longer slot - 45 minutes - which enabled me to reinstate the Moses (1996) clip and hold some discussion afterwards. Here the audience was entirely students which meant that almost all of them had seen The Prince of Egypt when they were around 6-7, and had, in effect grown up with this image of Moses. All of them stated that this was their favourite portrayal. There were also a couple of interesting observations that came out. One liked how the 1975 clip captured the fear of seeing a staff turn into a snake and a hand become leprous. Another commented on how it would take Moses a long time to adjust to God's call and how the 2006 clip bought that out for them. I enjoyed this session in particular. It's good to run it without human intervention but the feedback at the end can be pretty valuable, and brings further perspectives out for those who are there.

    The second presentation I was doing was running a similar session at our weekend away only using clips from different films covering different parts of the life of Jesus. The preparation for this session was rushed due to family concerns, and as a result there were a few technical issues, notably the last clip which hadn't converted properly, and an annoying blue line around the edge of the screen. I did like the effect though, having not really done something before. It was "quite intense" (in a good way) as someone said afterwards, and moving from one film to another with the marked changes in styles was quite jarring, preventing us from slipping into passivity. The clips I used were as follows:
    Gospel of John (2003) - John's prologue
    Mary the Mother of Jesus (1999) - Jesus' mandate
    Son of Man (1969) - Sermon on the Mount
    Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Sermon on the Plain
    Jesus of Montreal (1989) - Miracles montage in play
    Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Raising of Lazarus
    Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) - Dispute with the Pharisees
    Jesus of Montreal (1989) - Little Apocalypse
    The Passion (2008) - Crucifixion
    The Cross (2001) - Resurrection
    Having not actually sat through this session before I ran it (which would have eliminated the technical problems) I really enjoyed it and would be keen to run a tweaked version of it again.

    The final project was to compose 30 minutes of clips from the Bible as a whole that would be visual enough to work without sound. They also had to be child friendly. This kind of thing is always harder because the people there haven't necessarily wanted to see stuff like this this, (it was just on in the background during worship) and without the balance of other clips there's a higher demand for something that is roughly on a par with what they are used to seeing from films. The lack of sound also means the visuals have to be stronger than normal and, of course, many films on the Bible struggle here in particular. In the end I went for these five clips:
    The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) - Creation
    Testament: Abraham (1996) - Isaac on the altar
    Ten Ten Commandments (1923) - Parting of the Red Sea
    Miracles of Jesus (2007) - Widow of Nain's son
    From the Manger to the Cross (1912) - Crucifixion
    The Cross (2001) - Resurrection
    This went down quite well, particularly with the older children. I also got someone asking me about the 1923 film, and various people seemed to access it across the weekend.

    The nice thing about doing all of this is it gives me a few presentations (they were all done using PowerPoint) which I can access in future. I've also sorted out my laptop so I have more of a central area for this material from now on.


    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    More Films on the Star of Bethlehem

    Back in 2008 I posted an article about The Star of Bethlehem on DVD. Whilst most of the post was about the release of the 1912 silent nativity film, I also mentioned 4 other films with the same title: a 1956 British TV movie; a 2007 documentary about the star itself and its potential origins; and two German films from 1921 and 1954, which both had the original title Der Stern von Bethlehem. Most of these were listed in my 2006 survey of films about the nativity (which could really do with an update).

    Recently however I've become aware of a number of other films on the subject. The only one I have seen (and reviewed) is the 2008 BBC documentary, also called The Star of Bethlehem. This it turns out is an entirely different film from the 2007 one above. Whereas the BBC documentary took in a number of different perspectives, the 2007 film was a look at a specific theory about the star developed by legal professor Rick Larson. The film has an official website and Peter Chattaway reviewed its release on DVD in 2009, as did Christianity Today.

    The next film to add to the list is the Italian film La Stella dei Re (pictured) which was made in 2006, though IMDb lists it as 2007. It seems to have been made by/for Italy's RAI, who have made some significant Bible films in their time and it appears to have been released on DVD in Italy. I can find this DVD cover which contains numerous bits of useful information, but no links for where to buy it (though I only carried out a short search). It also played on broadcast TV over Christmas. I should point out however that the title's literal translation is "The Star of Kings".

    There are also a couple of Spanish films that a helpful reader passed on to me (as well as the above title): La Estrella de Belen (Star of Bethlehem) from 1998, and Los Reyes Magos (The Magi-Kings) from 2003.


    Monday, February 07, 2011

    Good Morning Eve (1934)

    Last Year I catalogued a fairly full list of films about Adam and Eve. One film I mentioned, but knew almost nothing about was Good Morning Eve from (1934). A while back Peter Chattaway emailed me this link which contained the following information:
    Ralph Staub's "Good Morning Eve'' (1934), which by Leonard Maltin's reckoning beat "La Cucaracha'' into theaters as the first three-strip, live-action Techicolor short, is an especially racy Leon Errol musical about Adam and Eve traveling through history.
    From a bit more research it seems that the film is available in two parts on YouTube. I've not seen it yet so you might like to take note of the use of the phrase "especially racy" above and that it was released in the pre-production code era. The IMDB also has a few reviews which mention that "Adam (Leon Errol) and Eve (June MacCloy) leave the Garden of Eden and stroll through history, stopping for production numbers in Rome with Nero and in England with King Arthur", and that the film was only the "second three-strip Technicolor film in history". It also ends with an early 20th century beach sequence. There are some nice photos of this scene (including the above) on Flickr courtesy of Kay Wrad.


    Scene Guide for Friends and Heroes

    Back in 2007 I wrote quite a bit about the animated TV series Friends and Heroes. I'm going to post some thoughts on series two and three shortly, but for now I wanted to relay a couple of useful resources I've been sent:
    Story Order
    Bible Order
    Episode Order
    Churches and Schools Lesson material
    Stills from the series
    I'm wishing I'd discovered these a little earlier. In particular, the story order one and the Bible order one are particularly useful when trying to find a clip to illustrate a given passage. The former lists incidents covered in the Bible alphabetically (giving details of the relevant episode) whereas the latter does the same only by the biblical order.

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    Friday, February 04, 2011

    More Apologies for Lack of Replies

    If you are one of the many people who have recently emailed me or commented on one of my posts, thank you and sorry. Things have been very hectic recently and once I get behind it gets harder and harder to catch up. On top of this I'm reliably informed that the way I handle my email is very last century, such that I only have most of my messages at work.

    So if you're still waiting for an answer, apologies and hopefully next week I'll get something to you. Unless you left spam, in which case I might be a little longer.