• 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, January 16, 2014

    David et Goliath (1910)

    (Warning: sometimes I write well, intelligently and interestingly. Other times I seem to be more driven by a desire to record everything, even if it's dull and meandering so at least I know where to find it if I ever need to. Sadly for all concerned this is one of those latter occasions.)

    I'm doing some writing on film portrayals of King David at the moment so I thought it was about time I wrote up my notes on Pathé's David et Goliath from 1910. There was a rush of short films about David at the time with six films about David being released in as many years (the others being David and Goliath in 1908, Saul and David in 1909, David and Saul in 1911, David, King of Israel in 1912, and La Mort de Saül in 1913).

    David et Goliath is the only one I have seen however, although the fact that Solomon1 (p.166) discusses the Italian made David, King of Israel and Shepherd2 (p.66-68) discusses Blackton's Saul and David means that prints of those two films are still in existence. As far as I can tell however David et Goliath does appear to be the only one which you can view online (parts 1, 2 and 3). The online version comes with French intertitles whereas the version in the BFI archives has German intertitles. As it was there I first encountered it - and diligently wrote down all the intertitles it is those I'll refer to, though I'm not convinced that the intertitles all say the same things.

    It's also worth noting that the German version has been produced using some kind of early colour process (hence the image above) whereas the French version is in black and white. The appearance is similar to that of early two-strip Technicolor, but as that wasn't yet in existence then it looks like it was made using either Lee-Turner Colour, Kinemacolor or the Keller-Dorian process. (The Kinemacolor Wikipedia entry lists 262 films made using the process but this isn't one of them.)

    Unusually the film starts with a close up of some of the leading actors, the French version shows the actors playing David, Goliath and Saul, whereas the German version only includes Goliath and Saul. As was typical at the time the rest of the film only comprises mid-shots so these are the only close ups in the picture. The close ups are proceeded by each actor's billing (though the German print only starts after Goliath's introduction.

    Following the introductory shot of Saul we get the first intertitle proper.
    Die Philister haben
    Den Israeliten den Krieg
    Erklärt, und die drei
    Brüder Davids ergreifen
    die waffen

    The Philistines declare war on the Israelites and David's three brothers take weapons.
    This preceeds a scene of David and his brothers are sitting around which is absent from the French version. David plays the harp, Jesse wears an alarmingly short robe and Samuel arrives giving the early 20th century gestures for "quit playing that harp I have a message from God". More messengers arrive and read from a scroll resulting in a two columned intertitle designed like a scroll.
    Sohn Israels!
    Die Philister sine
    in dein Land eingedrugen
    Der König
    mendet sich an dich
    damit durch deinen
    Hut die Ehre deines
    Gottes gerellel werde
    There seem to be quite a few errors between what I noted down and correct German, some of which is probably my poor quality transcription, but there are translation errors in some of these intertitles as well, so here is what it seems the intertitle should be trying to say and an English translation
    [Sohn Israels! Die Philister sein in dein Land eingedrungen Der König wendet sich an dich damit durch deinen mut die Ehre deines Gottes gerettet werde Saul]

    Son of Israel! The Philistines have invaded your land. The King turns to you so that by your courage the glory of your God will be saved. Saul
    The older sons are sent off to war and David tries to go too, but Jesse stops him, putting his arm around his shoulders. A heartbroken David sits down and pleads to go but Samuel also intervenes.

    The next intertitle introduces the next scene of David looking after the sheep
    “David Verteidigit
    Seine herde gegen
    die raubtiere"

    [David Verteidigt Seine herde gegen die raubtiere]
    David defends his herd against predators
    The "predator" in question turns out to to be a wolf, bear or lion, but an eagle. It's a surprising divergence (do eagles poach sheep frequently enough for this scene to be credible. Perhaps it was just that the fake eagle seemed more credible than a fake lion / bear / wolf. Perhaps composition required an aerial threat rather than another woolly mammal trying to stand out amongst all those sheep. Either way David brings it down with his sling and Jesse is so pleased he allows him to head to the front with a basket of bread for his brothers.
    “Im auftrage
    seines vaters bringt
    David seinen brüdern,
    Sauls soldaten,

    David on behalf of his father brings his brothers, Saul's soldiers, food.
    There's an oddly comedic scene here (also absent from the French version) where some boys hide and steal David bread. Fortunately David whips out his sling, fells one of them and gets his brad back.

    David then arrives at the camp waving into the distance. Meanwhile some of the soldiers grab weapons and line up.
    Goliath Schlägt
    Saul einen
    Einzelkampf vor

    Goliath beats Saul before single combat
    I'm not entirely sure what the meaning of this sentence is so I've left it rather literally. Essentially though it's followed by Goliath strolling into camp and shouting (in tablet form):
    König Saul!
    Erwählet einen unter
    euch, der mit mir
    Kämpfe, Vermag er
    wider mich zu streilen
    und schlägt er
    mich, so wallen wir
    eure Knechte sein,
    schlage ich aber ihn, so sollt
    ihr unsere Knechte sein.
    In zwei Studen erwarte
    ich meinen Gegner

    [König Saul! Erwählet einen unter euch, der mit mir Kämpfe, Vermag er wider mich zu streiken und schlägt er mich, so wollen wir eure Knechte sein, schlage ich aber ihn, so sollt ihr unsere Knechte sein. In zwei stunde erwarte ich meinen Gegner]

    King Saul! Chose one of you, with me fighting, he is able to strike against me, and he beats me, then will we be your servants: but I kill him, then shall ye be our servants. In two hour I expect my opponent
    Seeing Goliath leave, David is ashamed. Saul begins his hunt for a champion, but only David is willing:
    Es entfalle keine,
    menschen das herz um
    deswillen dein knecht
    will hingehen und
    mit de Philister straiten

    Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with the Philistine
    There are quite a lot of extra subtitles in the French version than in the German, which disrupts the story for anyone that knows it. David offers himself and points to the sky and then in the next scene comes face to face with Goiath.
    David sprach zu Goliath:
    Du kommst zu mir mit
    Schwert, Spieß und Schild;
    Ich aber komme zu dir im
    namen des hernn zebaoth
    des Gottes ISraels den
    du Gehöhnet hast

    [David sprach zu Goliath: Du kommst zu mir mit Schwert, Spieß und Schild; Ich aber komme zu dir im namen des herr zebaoth des Gottes Israels den du Gehöhnet hast]

    David said to Goliath:
    "You come to me with sword, spear and shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel whom you have defied"
    Thus David reveals that he is the challenger. Goliath mocks him of course, raising his arms whilst David prays desperately to God. The two circle each other for a while using the depth of field in a way that was not that well established at the time so that by the time David fires the vital shot, Goliath is closest to the camera. Goliath falls, writhes and dies.

    The final scene shows David processing through the town on a horse. He wears a crown on his head whilst a minion follows at a respectable distance with Goliath's head on a stick. Again there are more subtitles in the French version, the last of which ends by citing Samuel 1 - 2 Ch 32.

    Campbell and Pitts describe it as follows:
    1000 feet B/W
    CAST Berthe Bovy, René Alexander, L.Ravet.
    Another in the series of French Pathé films adapted from Old Testament stories. This version of David's slaying of the giant Goliath, at 1,000 feet, was a bit longer than most of the series entries.
    The BFI archive has a synopsis for this film rolling two descriptions into one very long one so I'll just provide the link on this occasion.

    1 - Solomon, Jon. "The Ancient World in the Cinema", (Revised and expanded edition). Yale University Press, 2001 p.166
    2 - Shepherd, David J., "The Bible on Silent Film: Spectacle, Story and Scripture in the Early Cinema", Cambridge University Press, 2013. pp 66-68.

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