• 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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    Sunday, July 01, 2018

    Why the Film Community Needs to Rethink its Stance on the Biblical Film

    I think it's time film lovers revisited the Bible film.

    I understand their a bad reputation: too often they have suffered from being low-grade propaganda, artistically or morally deficient, or just plain dull. Furthermore, it's been compounded by the way that biblical films have come to be seen as synonymous with biblical epics. It's not hard to see how, as the dominant genre of 50s has fallen from grace, many have thrown the often pompous, overblown, baby out with the subtler, more nuanced, bathwater. But whilst epics form a significant part of the picture, it's important to realise that portrayals of the Bible on film are, in fact, far more wide ranging than the biblical epic.

    Perhaps the most persuasive argument for fans and students of film to take biblical adaptations more seriously is simply to look at the list of directors who have made one. So yes, of course, there's DeMille but there are also such directors as Roberto Rossellini, Jean Luc Godard, John Huston, Alice Guy, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean Marie Straub/ Danielle Huillet, Luis Buñuel, The Coen Brothers, Ermanno OlmiMartin ScorsesePhilippe Garrel and Carl Dreyer. Add to that the numerous biblical films in which Orson Welles was involved, and an ultimately unrealised work on Genesis by Robert Bresson and that's quite a list.

    For a large part these directors and the team of filmmakers they represent worked outside the boundaries of the biblical epic. The subject was one for them to adopt, adapt, interpret, uphold or rally against. They are women and men of various approaches to faith, from the passionately devout, through to troubled agnostics and provocatively atheistic and they brought their artistic sensibilities with them.

    So looking at the films I have covered on this site over the years, in addition to the epics, there are also musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973), comedies (Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979), neo-realism (Il vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964), horror (Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter, 2001), surrealism (La Voie Lactée, 1969), materialism (Moses und Aron, 1973) and the avant garde (Lot in Sodom, 1933).

    Furthermore these films also touch on other more wide ranging 'movements' in cinema from silent film (of which I've discussed more than thirty here over the years), queer cinema (Salomé 1922) and pioneering animation (The Miracle Maker, 2000); as well as numerous films such as The Green Pastures (1936) and Golem, l'esprit de l'exil (1992) which quite simply defy classification.

    I should point out that I don't wish to dismiss the biblical epic. You can't run a site like this and not admire DeMille in full flow. I guess I'm just saying that if epics are not your aesthetic preference, then you're in good company because some of the cinema's greatest ever artists have rejected those same aesthetics. So let's celebrate their work, rather than dismiss it for being something it isn't.


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