• 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


    Saturday, June 18, 2016

    La naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ (1906) - Scene Guide

    For a long time I've been meaning to sit down and actually watch La naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ (The Birth, Life and Death of Christ, 1906) and last night I finally did. I'm going to save my proper review until I've done a bit more background reading, not least David Shepherd's Chapter on it in "The Silents of Jesus in the Cinema (1897-1927)". The film, which was directed by Alice Guy Blaché for Gaumont is 1906, is in many ways quite a different film from Pathé's various cuts, though interestingly it also uses intertitle cards to literally give the title of the scene we are about to witness, which makes compiling a scene guide relatively easy. It's been a while since I did one of these so you might want to refresh your memories as to how I use gospel citations in scene guides.

    This is one of those films that's known by several other names as well so for the record it's also known as La naissance, la vie et la mort de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ; La vie et la mort du Christ or simply just La vie du Christ in French or The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ or just The Life of Christ
    Arrival at Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7)
    Nativity and Arrival of the Magi (Matt 2:1-11)
    The Sleep of Jesus (Extra-biblical episode)
    The Samaritan (John 4:1-42)
    The Miracle of Jairus Daughter (Mark 5:22-43)
    Mary Magdalene Washes the Feet of Jesus (Mark 14:3-9)
    Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-10)
    The Last Supper (Mark 14:12-25)
    The Olive Garden (Mark 14:32-26)
    The Night Watch (Mark 14:37-42)
    Judas's Betrayal (Mark 14:43-50)
    Jesus before Caiaphas (Mark 14:53-65)
    The Denial of St. Peter (Mark 14:66-72)
    Jesus Before Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:1-15a)
    The Torment (Mark 15:15b-20a)
    Ecce Homo (John 19:5)
    The Bearing of the Cross (Mark 15:20a)
    Jesus Falls for the First Time (Mark 15:21)
    Saint Veronica (Extra-biblical episode)
    Climbing Golgotha (Mark 15:22)
    The Crucifixion (Mark 15:24-32)
    The Agony (Mark 15:33-37)
    Descending from the Cross (Mark 15:46a)
    Committed to the Tomb (Mark 15:46b-47)
    The Resurrection (Matt 28:1-6)
    A Few Notes
    I can't quite remember where I got the version I watched last night from, but it's intertitles were in English, whereas some of the version on YouTube have French intertitles on charming cards complete with pictures of angels. I've kept these in English, which seem to be a pretty good translation.

    In nearly all cases the scene announced by the preceding title card consists of only one shot. There are two exceptions. The first is "Saint Veronica" where the first shot captures the moment Veronica captures Jesus' image on her cloth, and then cuts to a slightly later mid-shot of her alone holding the cloth. The second is "The Resurrection" where the scene starts inside the cave where the tomb is while we see Jesus be resurrected and the guards react in fear. Then we move outside the cave to see the arrival of the woman, and then we are taken back inside the cave where the women witness the empty tomb.

    Interestingly, if you were solely looking at the images in the resurrection scene, one might assume that the soldiers' fear is because they see the resurrected Jesus, but given how the angels work in this film, not least the way they appear and re-appear, it does leave open the interpretation that the soldiers cannot actually see the angels or the resurrected Jesus, they just see the empty tomb. It is only the audience who sees the full picture.

    One of the interesting things about this film is that even though it came to be known as simply The Life of Christ there is relatively little "life" in comparison to the "birth" and "death" scenes which are also included in the full title. Of the 25 scenes, only three ("The Samaritan", "The Miracle of Jairus' Daughter" and "Mary Magdalene Washes the Feet of Jesus") are connected with neither Jesus' birth or passion. The first of these scenes was popular in the early silent era, but for many years was ignored, at least until more recent times.

    What is noticeable about these three scenes is that they are three, relatively rare, episodes of the gospels where the main character, apart from Jesus, is a woman. That, combined with the way that the film includes Veronica and ends on the women finding the empty tomb without the male disciples are among the factors that have led to some to see this as a feminist picture.

    It's noticeable as well how many of these scenes can be traced back to Mark's gospel. Whilst obviously my own citation policy prioritises Mark, it is striking, for example, that all of the incidents leading up to Jesus' death are found in Mark. Obviously the birth scenes are not based on Mark (as Mark starts with the adult Jesus)

    Finally there's a really useful page here with lots of promotional material for the film and Alison McMahan - who has written one of the books about Guy Blaché - has a piece on the film at her own website, where she gets into the relationship between Guy's film and Tissot's work.

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