• 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


    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Jane Paine (1954-2011)

    My wife's mum died on Tuesday after a long, long battle with cancer. I've often heard people described as bravely fighting cancer, and often wondered if it was just something people said. But Jane left me in no doubt. It was about 4-5 years ago when she discovered that she had had cancer and throughout the last half-decade she utterly refused to let her illness take over her life. She continued to always look on the bright side, being as active as she could, never making a fuss and continuing to pour out her love to those around her. Even a short time before her death, as she drifted in and out of consciousness and fought for every breath she pulled herself up to give a comforting touch to my wife as she cried.

    Jane was also a very encouraging person. The first time her death really hit me was as I drew up to the house after being away in London. I was dressed in a suit - rare for me - and I began to imagine going in to the house and the reaction being smartly dressed might bring. "You look nice Matt" I heard her say in my head. And then it hit me.

    Then there was her sense of compassion, always looking after people. My wife has often spoken of Jane comforting her frequently when she grew up. There are various stories of her supporting people she didn't really even know, and standing with them through their difficult times.

    It was no doubt these qualities that led her into Art Therapy. She studied for her BA and her MA in the subject, but the cancer meant that she never got to go into practise. She would have been brilliant. So much of my wife's artistic talent was nurtured by Jane (and came through her genes no doubt) and she leaves behind a vast array of painting and drawings.

    And on top of all of this, she also had an incredible gift with children. All four of her grandchildren adored her, and she always seemed to know what to say and how to interest and engage them. And numerous other children have been blessed by her presence in their life.

    She leaves behind her husband Dave - her true love of forty years, who has looked after her over the last few weeks, months and years like you wouldn't think possible - four adult children - who live out so many of her best qualities in all that they do - and four grandchildren. It was a privilege knowing her and she will be most sorely missed.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Scene Guide: The Passover Plot

    Having reviewed The Passover Plot a couple of Mondays back, I thought it would be good to post a scene guide for the film. It's been a while since I did one of these (see all) so a reminder (for me if no-one else) of the reasoning behind my citations from the gospels.
    [EBE - Text intro explaining political situation]
    [EBE - Arrest of messianic/zealot preacher]
    Jeremiah 33:15-16 cited
    Teshua in the desert - Mark 1:12-13
    Baptism of Yeshua - Mark 1:9-11
    [EBE - Introduction to Pilate]
    Healing of a blind man - Mark 8:22-25
    Yeshua teaches - Mark 8:12, 11:22-24
    Greatest Commandment - Mark 12:28-31
    Beatitudes - Matt 5:3-12
    Rejection at Nazareth - Mark 6:1-5
    Yeshua recites the Shema - Deut 6:4
    Are you the one? - Matt 11:2-6
    Calling the disciples - Mark 3:13-19
    [EBE - Romans in Zealot Meeting]
    [EBE - Zealots and Yeshua's brothers]
    Parable of the Sower - Mark 4:1-20]
    Death of John - Mark 6:17-29
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod]
    Isaiah 53:7 cited
    [EBE - Bartholomew's baby]
    News of John's death - Mark 6:30-32
    [EBE - The disciples complain]
    [EBE - Jesus preaching]
    Jesus fails to heal - Mark 6:5
    [EBE - Yeshua meets the Zealots]
    Isaiah 53:5 cited
    [EBE - Yeshua Plans his Death]
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod collude]
    Triumphal entry - Mark 11:1-11
    [EBE - Fire stars]
    Cleansing the temple - Mark 11:15-19
    [EBE - Temple uprising]
    [EBE - Death of Bartholomew]
    Last Supper - Mark 14:22-31
    Gethsemane and Arrest - Mark 14:32-50
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod collude]
    Jewish hearing - Mark 14:53-65
    Trial by Pilate - Mark 15:1-20
    Crucifixion - Mark 15:22-39
    "Burial" - Mark 15:40-47
    The Empty Tomb - Mark 16:1-8
    [EBE - Death of Jesus]
    A Few Notes
    The first that is noticeable from looking at this scene guide is how heavily the film uses the Gospel of Mark. Aside from a token nod to the Beatitudes, the extra-biblical episodes added to fill out the story and a few citations of the prophets, all the incidents in this film are found in Mark's gospel. Whilst this is highlighted by my policy of citing Mark even if the event occurs in all of the synoptic gospels, it's nevertheless fair to say that Millard Cohana and Patricia Knop's screenplay, which is presumably largely based on Schonfield's book, uses Mark the most.

    There are a number of potential reasons for this. Firstly, close adherence to Mark gives Schonfield's work an air of authenticity. If Mark is the oldest gospel, then a supposedly subversive alternative version of the life of Jesus should probably look more like Mark than anything else. The film pre-supposes that at a very early stage there was a parting of the ways between its real history and the history told by traditional Christianity. Mark would be the most in touch with those traditions, and, from the film's perspective, the gospel least bent away from "what really happened". It's significant that the text at the end of the film stresses that Mark was written over 40 years after the events it portrays, and gives dates for the other gospels as Luke 85AD, Matthew 90AD and John 110/120AD.

    Secondly, of all the gospels Mark is the one that is usually seen as portraying Jesus as a man of action. Certainly there are fewer words and those tend to consist of pithy sayings rather than long teaching discourses as found in Matthew and John in particular.

    Thirdly, Mark's gospel does not so much include a resurrection as an empty tomb. The additional, and almost certainly forged, endings try to patch over this embarrassing omission (which may be deliberate or the result of damage to an early copy of the manuscript), but the genuine ending, in the form we now have it, only includes accounts of the empty tomb. (spoiler) The film also gives us an empty tomb - Jesus is woken up and taken away - but, as he dies shortly afterwards, no resurrection appearances. The film shows a single attempt to demonstrate this to someone not in on Yeshua's plot, but it fails.

    Having said all that the film does not really portray a Marcan Jesus. Mark's Jesus may be a man of action, but his action is not so much a quest to be hailed as the messiah but as a healer and exorcist. There is only one "healing" in this film, and there's more about that below, and no exorcisms. I was struck in a recent read through of Mark quite how prominent the dealing with the demons aspect of Mark's gospel is. One of the things that is strange about the film is that Jesus does so very little. He's not a miracle worker, he's not a teacher and he doesn't rise from the dead. The film's alternative history fails to offer a compelling reason for why the Jesus story lived on and for why he didn't simply fall into the all-too-heavily populated category of failed Jewish messiahs. At least bar Kokhba minted his own coins. There's also relatively little talk of the Kingdom of God. This is Jesus' obsession in Mark, but is overshadowed by the film's emphasis on Jesus being the messiah. Indeed faced with Pilate's questioning Yeshua conspicuously does not even say "my kingdom is not of this world".

    The one miracle that the film does portray is the healing of the blind man from Mark 8:22-25. It's this single miracle that persuades people to follow him and proclaim him the messiah. But the film suggests that Jesus does not perform a miracle at all. The blind man is in fact a fraud, seemingly pretending he is blind to make his appeal for money more compelling. Jesus sees through it and so spits in his face. The man momentarily gives himself away, and before he can cover it up, the disciples have declared a miracle and the crowd joins in. There are shades of "penny for an ex-leper" here. It's an intriguing reinterpretation of an odd text - after all, why does Jesus spit in the man's face - but if this was Jesus' sole miracle (and we later see him fail to bring Bartholomew back to life), it again raises the question of why anyone really found Jesus worth following.

    There are two main asides from the time Jesus spends with his disciples. The first is the role of the zealot movement. They are seen as very prominent in Jerusalem and around, and there's an uneasy relationship between them and the followers of Jesus. In a key scene the two groups meet and Jesus lays out his agenda of peaceful revolution as opposed to violent overthrow. The result is a plan to have Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then disappear to avoid capture by the Romans, reappearing in the temple shortly afterwards to re-take the city peacefully by sheer numbers alone. Recent situations in the Middle East at the moment come to mind as we have seen attempts at a similar peaceful movements result in varying degrees of success. There are certainly echoes of 1961's King of Kings whether intentional or not.

    The other aside is the story from the perspective of the authorities. Donald Pleasance's role as Pilate is particularly to the fore, and its clear he is pulling all the strings, shown scheming with Herod, Caiaphas and his own soldiers. There's also a good deal of screen time given over to Caiaphas, reminiscent of BBC's The Passion. Caiaphas is hated by the zealots who mock him as corrupt, and pushed about by Pilate. Hugh Griffith's portrayal of Caiaphas taps into numerous aspects of the worst of Jewish stereotypes over the centuries and so its hard to sympathise with him. Yet, surprisingly, the body he convenes to hear Yeshua's case find "no cause" for a charge of blasphemy, and returns him to Pilate to see if he can get him under Roman law.

    At the end of the film there is a lengthy note, the first part of which is as follows:
    Yeshua of Nazareth died with his faith undimmed. Those who shared his faith were convinced that death could not hold him, and that he had gone to God until the day when the prophecies would finally be fulfilled.


    Sunday, May 08, 2011

    Biblical Studies Carnival: Apr. 2011

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Where does the time go? It barely seems like a fortnight since I realised I was late posting the last Biblical Studies carnival and now here I am being late posting this one.

    Anyway Jim Linville has done a great job with April's Biblical Studies Carnival, adding a generous (and most welcome) dash of his typically irreverent humour, not to mention so many links that it could possibly take more than a month to read. Towards the end - where he finally gets onto what is really, lets face it, the most important stuff - there are a couple of extra links to reviews on last month's BBC series The Bible's Buried Secrets.


    Wednesday, May 04, 2011

    Some Obscure Paul Films

    Recently I've come across a number of lesser-known films about St. Paul so I thought I'd post a few bits and pieces about them here.

    The first is Damascus (pictured above). It's a docudrama made in 2008 as part of a collaboration between Agape 4 Media (the team who distribute the Jesus film), Youth Arise and one or two others as part of the Pope's Year of St. Paul. It's shot in and around Damacus itself and uses actors from the region and at some point I should hopefully get around to reviewing it.

    The next is Life of St. Paul (1949). According to the IMDb it starred DeForest Kelley, best known for his role as Dr "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek. Paul was played by Nelson Leigh who would reprise the role 8 years later in The Living Bible Series: Acts of the Apostles. Life of St. Paul was made the same year as The Pilgrimmage Play which also starred Leigh (as Jesus). Both films were made by the same director, John T. Coyle.

    Then there is I Paul from 1980. IMDb contains a good synopsis of this one. It was essentially a soliloquy given by Fred J. Scollay as Paul delivers his final message from prison to Timothy using the words of the King James Bible. It's available on DVD in the States, but seemingly not in the UK, which is a shame given that this is the 400th anniversary of the KJV.

    Dayamayudu appears to be a sequel to the Jesus film Dayasagar. It's about Peter and Paul and can be seen on YouTube in its entirety. (I assume given the advert that plays at the start and that its there in full that it's legitimate to watch it on YouTube). Sadly there are no subtitles.

    Also online is Paul the Emissary which I've discussed in passing before and a long time ago at Arts and Faith. It's available through the producer's website TBN (you have to scroll down a bit as there are a number of other films you can view online including The Revolutionary.

    Lastly, I posted a link on the Bible Films Facebook page to a piece on 1960's Paul of Tarsus. There's an article all about the 10 part series at Roobarb's Forum. According to Ian K McLachlan it still exists in its entirety in the BBC archives (as does 1956's Jesus of Nazareth. Another poster adds that there is a clip from the series in the Roger Delgado documentary on the Doctor Who Dalek War set. I'm not a great fan of Dr. Who these days, but I know a couple of readers of this site who are. Has anyone seen this documentary?

    Whilst I'm mentioning the Facebook page, just a quick plug to encourage you to "like" it (which means all the news bits will appear in your News Feed) and to post your own links / opinions there. I really want the page to become much more communal and as so many of you know things that I don't it would be great to have your contributions direct.

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    Monday, May 02, 2011

    The Passover Plot (1976)

    The 1970s were a time when the traditional aura of respect for Jesus was beginning to be tested, and following the relative success of Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell in 1973 the rights were secured to adapt Hugh Schonfield's 1965 book "The Passover Plot". Essentially both the novel and the film were a previous generation's The Da Vinci Code - a best-selling but trashy and implausible book making controversial claims and later getting adapted into a similarly poor movie. The main contrast is that whereas The Da Vinci Code claimed Jesus died at the crucifixion, but that his blood line lived on, The Passover Plot suggested that Jesus tried to fake his death on the cross so he could appear to have been resurrected.

    The film itself is not nearly as bad as might be expected. For one thing it's the Jesus film most steeped in the Jewish origins of the gospel narratives. Jesus is known as Yeshua, and his disciples also take on the Jewish versions of their names (John reverts to Yohanan, James reverts to Jacob, Judas to Judah and so on). The prayers around the Last Supper have a strongly Jewish feel to them, and rely more on traditional seders than the New Testament for their dialogue. Other Jewish rituals are shown such as the celebration of the birth of Bartholomew's son, the recital of the Shema and we even see Jesus and his disciples wearing tefillin at one stage. There's a strong emphasis on the hopes for a Jewish messiah (which in actual fact many doubt was the case) and Jesus' emphasis is repeatedly stressed as being on reformation and fulfilment of the Jewish faith, rather than starting a new movement.

    Another plus is its well-rounded portrayal of Jesus' humanity, at least up until he reveals his plan to convince everyone he is the messiah by faking his own death. It's hard to imagine whether most Christians would find this mentally unstable Jesus more palatable than the one from Last Temptation of Christ. There he is wrestling with the possibility that he might be the Messiah from the start, such that its difficult to ever really like that film's Jesus, even if ultimately the film affirms traditional Christian theology. Here however there's plenty of time to appreciate a Jesus that is devout, dances, smiles, whispers and shouts, but in the end he's not the messiah, just deluded enough to believe he is.

    Jesus communicates his message with such diverse styles that it tends to gives the film a surreal and other-worldly feel. At times Jesus chats with his friends, the volume is so low that the audience is straining its ears to catch what he is saying. Shortly after, he is yelling with all his might to a crowd in the open air. This combined with long periods of quiet whilst the camera pans round to capture the mood give the piece a rhythm and mood quite unlike any other Jesus film I can think of. Its good to encounter something new like this: it makes you think in fresh ways about the original source material.

    One result of the lingering quiet periods is that the film includes relatively little action. With a running time of over two hours we nevertheless encounter only one miracle - and even then the implication is clearly that it was not actually Jesus' doing - and relatively little teaching. And there lies one of the main problems with the message of Schonfield, director Michael Campus and producer Wolf Schmidt: without the resurrection, Jesus is just a miracle worker and teacher. Without the miracles Jesus is just a teacher. Without much in the way of teaching Jesus is just a nice, but deluded man whose ideals of loving your enemies may well just be a part of his delusion. Telling a story about a sower, and correctly identifying the greatest commandment are hardly the marks of an interesting person, let alone one who was so significant that his followers founded one of the world's great religions.

    Spoilers ahead.
    This becomes even stranger when we discover that not only was Jesus crazy enough to try and fake his own death and resurrection, not only was he unable to see that if you have to fake it the chances are that you're not who you think you are, but he ends up dying shortly after the crucifixion anyway. Whilst this might explain some of the resurrection appearances, and Jesus apparently leaving this world after a period of time, it's still unconvincing. Several of the disciples knew what Jesus was doing, the others are unlikely to be convinced that Jesus had in fact entered the life of the world to come whilst he was still looking like he was at death's door. It's interesting that by making Peter a fairly minor character, and bringing to greater prominence those we don't hear of again, such as Bartholomew and Judas, it leaves the door open for the suggestion that Peter genuinely believed it, whilst the disillusioned others left the movement, but Yakov (Jesus' brother James) is pivotal in misguided plot, but still goes on to lead the church in Jerusalem.
    Spoilers end.

    So despite a few notable strengths, The Passover Plot is ultimately a silly and highly implausible piece of filmmaking, which is certainly not dissipated by learning that the actor playing Jesus, Zalman King, would go on to be called "the high priest of erotic filmmaking". Whilst I suspect that overall King's films have little to commend them, I imagine few have quite such a preposterous plot as this one.