• 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


    Wednesday, July 31, 2019

    Is Malick Working on a Jesus Film?
    The Last Planet to include scenes from Jesus' life

    Behind the scenes shot from Terrence Malick's 2012 film To The Wonder showing a multiplicity of crosses
    Various sites are reporting that Terrence Malick, the director of Tree of Life (2011) and The Thin Red Line (1998) has begun filming some kind of movie featuring scenes from the life of Jesus.

    The Last Planet has begun filming in Tor Caldara, Anzio near Rome, at least according to Italian site Corriere Città (City Courier). Filming has taken place both at the nature reserve there and the nearby beach. (There's an overhead shot of the region's coastline here)

    My Italian is still not very good but the jist of what is being said is that the film has "tema storico e religioso" (a historical and religous theme) and will cover various parts of the life of Jesus, including "la rappresentazione di parabole evangeliche" (a representation of the parables from the Gospels). I think some sites have mistranstlated that last bit as "evangelical parables". It's not clear however if this a full dramatisation of the life of Jesus; a drama which covers a wider period of time, but with some scenes featuring Jesus; or a documentary.

    Another Italian site - Studio 93 - also includes a quote from the city's mayor Candido De Angelis "è onorata di essere stata scelta da un regista e artista contemporaneo dello spessore internazionale di Terrence Malick" ([The town] is honoured to be chosen by a contemporary artist and director with the international significance of Terrence Malick").

    Two of Malick's films faetured in the most recent Arts and Faith Top 100 films list, Days of Heaven (1978) and The New WOrld (2005).

    Thanks to Efrain for alerting me to this via the Bible Films Facebook Page.

    Edit: (13/09/2019) More stories have been swirling about this film this week, including the casting of Mark Rylance as Satan, and Son of Saul star Géza Röhrig as Jesus. My friend Peter Chattaway has more details.


    Monday, July 22, 2019

    Your Own, Virtual, Jesus*

    I've been thinking about the two Virtual Reality Jesus films recently. I say "films" but really I question whether JesusVR really fits within what we would call a film, at least in the format it is currently available in. At present, you can download the film as an app from iTunes and, with a fairly cheap 'specialised' headset, watch it from the comfort of your own home.

    When you do, however, you discover that after each scene you are returned to the menu to choose which sequence you would like to see next. It breaks any sense of reality and narrative flow. In some ways it might not be uncommon to how some of the earliest cinema audiences experienced their films. Some theatres will have had multiple cameras and their owners might have spliced together all the different episodes into as few reels as possible, but I imagine that wasn't the universal experience. There are also parallels with the way people tend to experience the Bible as well - in chunks at a time, commonly just a single passage, rather than reading the whole thing through in one go.

    Those things and the way the footage is shot gives JesusVR the feel of a hi-tech museum piece, a bit like a 21st century version of the Jorvik museum, for those who know what that is. The location feels real, as do the costumes, and in a sense it feels like you're there, but there's also something oddly stilted and lifeless about the whole affair. I'll discuss that when I review it later.

    Whilst I've not yet seen 7 Miracles I understand it is somewhat different in these respects. There are three main reasons for this assumption. The first is that it recently appeared at the Raindance festival, and there's an interesting piece on that here. In fact, not only did it appear at the festival, it also won the 'VR Film of The Festival' award. This suggests a level of quality above that of JesusVR. Secondly there is also quite a bit of footage to be seen in this vlog review on YouTube and certainly it looks better than JesusVR and solves some of the problems with it's predecessor.

    The third point is the filmmakers claim that this is "the first feature length VR film". What's particularly odd about this is that several of those involved with JesusVR are also involved with 7 Miracles. Enzo Sisti (who helped produce The Passion of the Christ, Aquaman and Life Aquatic) is a producer on both films, 7 Miracles' co-director/producer, Rodrigo Cerqueira, was the VR Technical Director for JesusVR and some of the more technical teams like sets, costumes and make-up, are largely the same. I suppose it might just be a pitch, but it feels like, for them at least, they see 7 Miraclesas doing something that its predecessor. And it's cool, I guess, that Bible films are at the forefront of the new technology, just as they were when the "new" technology was "moving pictures", 120+ years ago.

    The other thing that is reminiscent of 120 years ago is the static nature of the camera. At present the technology does not allow for much camera movement, and because the viewer is "in" the shot, cutting to a different scenes is jarring and disorientating. This in turn tends to lead to mid-length shots and long takes, typically one shot per scene. Films such as the Pathé Passion Plays are often seen as unsophisticated but they are actually just the forerunners of the kind of long-take photography that Bazin championed over half a century later. The Passion plays allowed the viewer to choose for themselves where to focus their attention as the cinematic grammar hadn't yet taken hold. So too it is with the VR films where the viewer can determine for themselves where to look having a far wider space available to them.

    Furthermore, the use of technology, turns out to be fairly radical in terms of cinematic syntax, grammar and, by extension, meaning. By allowing the viewer to have a 360° vision and to decide for themselves where they wish to look, cherished concepts in film studies such as mise-en-scène are largely left redundant. Moreover, ideas such as authorship take a new turn: if the viewer determines where they look at any given moment, then the importance of the traditional gatekeepers of what is included in the frame is diminished. As Collin observes, “the director’s control starts and ends with their initial camera placement – which means the close-up is out, along with pans, tilts, zooms and shallow focus”.

    It will be interesting to see how these aspects develop as the technology improves - something else it might have in common with those early films. Certainly, based on the limited snippets I have seen from 7 Miracles it gets you closer to the action that JesusVR and seems to have overcome some of these problems. Hopefully it will open up new ideas and concepts in things like faith and theology as well as in film theory.

    *Yes, you have correctly discerned a Depeche Mode pun.