• 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, November 27, 2021

    10 things you didn't know about... 'The Bible on Film'

    Richard H. Campbell and Michael R. Pitts' seminal book "The Bible on Film: A Checklist 1897-1980" was published 40 years ago today. So to mark the occasion, here are ten facts you (probably) didn't know about this ground-breaking work:

    1. Only 1,000 copies of the book were ever published. The authors made 75 cents a copy.

    2. There were a number of significant errors with the final manuscript, including the accidental exclusion of the book's final paragraph which mentioned biblical comedies (like Bedazzled) and a last line that read  'with all these new biblical films being made, it is obvious that THE BIBLE ON FILM, like THE BIBLE itself, is forever'. 

    Other omissions resulted in a rather negative review for a film the author "really liked", The Gospel Road (1973), and left the plot for The Story of Jacob and Joseph (1974) not quite making sense.

    3. Campbell began writing the book in 1977 when he was just 18, but didn't get a contract for it until 1980 when he was 21. It came out the following year.

    4. Alongside writing the book Campbell also worked part-time as a hospital janitor, wrote TV episode guide for fanzines and self-published a Godzilla fan letter. He also had major surgery for cancer. When the book was finally published in 1981 he was still only 22 and had started attending Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. 

    5. In contrast, Michael R. Pitts was 34 when the book came out and had already worked as a high school history teacher, a public relations director and as a lecturer on film history. He wrote his first book "The Great Spy Pictures" with James R. Parish in 1974, having begun writing aged 12.

    6. The book is dedicated it to "Toby".
    Toby was Campbell's cat!

    7. In total Pitts contributed to 29 books, thirteen of which he co-wrote with James R. Parish, and a further seventeen with Scarecrow. His other books covered films about detectives, spies, gangsters as well as covering westerns and sci-fi. 

    8. Pitts's most successful book, though, was "Horror Film Stars" which was also published in 1981. It gained a third edition in 2002.

    9. Campbell was listed as a member of the Irving Forbush Appreciation Society. This was a joke the author made up in tribute to the Marvel comic book character Irving Forbush and his alter ego Forbush Man. 

    10. As the above suggests, Campbell was huge fan of comic books, even back then. He wrote this book but every publisher rejected it, saying there would never be any interest in the subject...

    You can read my exclusive interview with Richard H. Campbell here. Some information about Michael R. Pitts has been sourced from encyclopedia.com. My own book, "100 Bible Films", is being published in May.

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    Thursday, November 25, 2021

    Interview with Richard H. Campbell

    This month we're celebrating the publication of the first book on the subject of cinema and the Bible, Richard H. Campbell and Michael R. Pitts' "The Bible on Film: A Checklist 1897-1980, so to mark the occasion I managed to get an exclusive audience with Richard Campbell himself. So here goes...

    What first got you interested in the Bible on Film?

    I always liked movies and television, especially biblical films. I enjoyed watching movies like The Robe and The Ten Commandments on TV every year. When I was in tenth grade, my high school ran Jesus Christ Superstar, and I thought it was great. I knew then I wanted to write something about it someday.

    How did you come to decide to write the book?

    Being a fan of all types of movies, I would buy whatever books I could find about film. I found books about spy movies, westerns, horror films, science fiction movies, so on, but I couldn't find any book at all about biblical films. So I decided to write one! I began writing it on the day I graduated high school, which was 8 June 1977. The first thing I wrote was about Superstar. That's the version in the book.

    Paint a picture for us about how you went about searching it, particularly those of us who have only ever done research in the internet era

    I just kept writing more of it whenever I had the time right up until it was published in 1981. It was just a lot of hard work and research. I remember Leonard Maltin's book about "Movies on TV" being helpful, as well as Walt Lee's brilliant "Guide to Fantastic Films". There was no internet then, and no home video.

    There are three sections in the book OT films, NT films and TV Programs which is your favourite film from each section?

    I like the section about the New Testament movies the best, because that's where Superstar is listed. To this day, Superstar is the best movie I've ever seen (followed by Head and High Noon).

    Which are the Bible films over the last 40 years which have really captured your attention (and why)?

    I haven't seen many of the 'newer' movies. Noah was good. The Passion of the Christ was interesting. The last biblical film I really liked was Peter and Paul back in 1981. I wrote a massive write-up for Peter and Paul which ran several pages and was not used because Scarecrow (the publishers) didn't want to change the 'end date' from 1980 to 1981 (no idea why) so my Peter and Paul piece was reduced to a sentence or two in the afterwords section.

    How has the landscape changed over the last 40 years in terms of the kind of biblical films which are being made?

    The modern biblical films lack the 'epic' look of the ones made in the '50s and '60s. The wonderful costumes and  great dialogue are gone. The old ones are almost 'camp' , which  I like. Today's biblical films are more serious and rely on special effects too much.  I don't think they'll ever do a musical biblical film again. Nor should they. It's a different time.

    Which story from the Bible would you love to see made or remade in a particular fashion?

    This may sound strange, but I'd like to see them do a movie about the life of Christ with an all female cast. No nudity, no language, not done as a joke. Think The Greatest Story Ever Told with only females playing all the roles. 

    A publisher offers you $30,000 dollars to write the book of your choice. What would it be?

    When I was a kid -- starting in third grade and lasting until high school graduation -- my friend and I made our own 'pretend' comic books about a trio of superheroes  called THE GANG. We wrote and drew them ourselves as a hobby. We never tried to get them published. We'd also write and sing songs into a tape recorder. I'd like to write a book about the ten years we did this. We did some pretty good stuff considering how young we were. I'm sure many kids did things like this. Now that they are adults, they might identify with the nostalgia of it.

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    Saturday, November 20, 2021

    40th Anniversary: 'The Bible on Film'

    This month marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of the seminal book on cinema and the Bible, Richard H. Campbell and Michael R. Pitts' "The Bible on Film: A Checklist 1897-1980". As someone writing my own book about the subject, it blows my mind to think about writing a book such as this before the internet age and it has been invaluable in my research in putting together this blog over the last 15+ years. I bought my copy around 20 years ago and I think it's safe to say it was one of my soundest investments.

    To celebrate the book's 40th birthday I'm going to post a couple of special posts over the remainder of the month:

    - An exclusive interview with author Richard H. Campbell.

    - "10 things you didn't know about 'The Bible on Film'"

    There are still copies of the book available from Abebooks, and given how pivotal the book has been, and how few were originally published the prices are pretty reasonable, especially given the cost of the books of many of those who have followed in its wake.

    In the meantime remember to come back later in the month to discover more about this landmark publication, or share your memories about the book in the comments below.

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