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  • Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.


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    Matt Page

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    Sunday, December 30, 2007

    Bible Films Blog Review of 2007

    This blog is officially two years old in the next few days, and recently I've had a number of people surprised that I was still finding fresh material. I must say that I count myself among them! Actually that's a bit of an exaggeration. I always knew that there was plenty of material here to discuss, but at the same time I'm surprised that there has been so much news to cover. As a result I thought it might be worth concluding the year with a bit of a review.

    2007 was the year that Moses really made it big at the cinema, with three different films examining material from the Book of Exodus. 50 years after The Ten Commandments performed spectacularly well at the box office Promenade Pictures' animated re-telling of the Moses story used the same name. Somewhat less reverently, David Wain's The Ten used the idea of the Ten Commandments to string together a series of sketches. Finally Penny Woodcock's Exodus was a challenging reconstruction of the story of the Exodus set in modern day Margate.But it wasn't just Moses that got in on the action there was also Corina van Eijk's Samson and Delilah, and of course Evan Almighty. The New Testament had but a single representative, the lacklustre Magdelena, Released from Shame.

    Away from cinemas there were a few noteworethy productions on the TV as well. Friends and Heroes wove stories from the Bible into it's children's story of a family living in 1st century Alexandria. There was also The Liverpool Nativity. There was also a number of documentaries. The year was topped and tailed by Channel 4's night on Life of Brian which included two on The Pythons. The year's major documentary, however was James Cameron's Lost Tomb of Jesus. On a personal note I also got to see a number of other Bible films that I had waited for a while to see. Chief amongst them was Rossellini's Atti Degli Apostoli, which took 5 hours (not to mention travel time), but which I'd revisit in a flash given half a chance. I also got a first look at Cammina Cammina, Esther and the King, Golem Spirit of Exile, Story of Ruth, Noah's Ark, Silver Chalice, La Ricotta from RoGoPaG and Lance Tracey's The Cross. Perhaps my favourite find of the year, however, was the hilarious Real Old Testament.

    There were also a number of new books written on the subject. January saw the release of Adele Reinhartz's flowing, and very engaging "Jesus of Hollywood". Thomas Langkau focussed on the last fifteen years in his "Filmstar Jesus Christus" in German, Stephen Lang published his broader, if slightly dull "Bible on the Big Screen", and Staley and Walsh's invaluable "Jesus, the Gospels and Cinematic Imagination". Sadly, I wasn't given the opportunity to review "Mel Gibson's Passion: The Film, the Controversy, and Its Implications", but there were two contrasting and complementary reviews from Mark Goodacre and Timothy D. Finlay

    Films based on the Bible also got a mention in various other books about faith in film including Melanie Wright's "Religion and Film", Flesher and Torry's "Film and Religion", Johnston's revised "Reel Spirituality" and Jeffrey Overstreet's hugely enjoyable "Through a Screen Darkly".

    So all in all a surprisingly busy year and 2008 looks likely to be equally busy with a host of films in production, the pick of which looks likely to be the BBC's The Passion in partnership with HBO.

    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Review - Liverpool Nativity

    The Liverpool Nativity was repeated on BBC1 earlier this evening following its live performance on BBC3 last weekend. Having watched it online at the end of last week and read a number of reviews for it, I thought I'd add a few comments of my own.

    It's always hard to know exactly who productions such as this are intended to please. Is fans of the music? Is it professing Christians? Or perhaps those who generally avoid church, but still consider there to be something significant about Jesus? Or is it simply aimed at those seeking to celebrate their city's culture?

    This, somewhat inevitably, often results in the kind of production which ends up pleasing no-one. It's interesting, then, to find that many people, including those from the groups mentioned above, have been pleased by what they witnessed. Those who attended the event in person had a great night out, the more progressive church groups seem pleased by the publicity and the BBC must be pleased with the ratings for the event's live transmission.Perhaps if it had been more poorly received, I would have found myself defending it against the naysayers. After all, I do appreciate the risks that the Liverpool Nativity took, and the way it sought to bring this part of the Christian story to a wider audience in fresh and original ways. Furthermore, it avoided twee piety and the temptation to revise the key points of the story. But, perhaps because of all the positive buzz it has received, I feel duty bound to point out some of the production's weakness.

    Perhaps the largest of these was the way the first part of the programme sought to ram down a pro-immigration theme down its audience's throats. Don't get me wrong, I am firmly pro-immigration, indeed I'm genuinely pretty horrified by the rhetoric that screams through newspaper headlines on a regular basis. At the same time though, the programme's treatment of the issue was heavy-handed. It was forced, preachy and, worst of all, it talked down to its audience, as if simply saying "of course here in Liverpool we all love all the immigrants really" would boot bigotry and hatred out of the city for good. Whilst it's great to see a positive take on immigration emanating from the media for once, it felt far too like a sermon.Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, was the weakness of the music. This was where the production should have been strongest, yet it failed in numerous areas. At least one of the leading characters, Herodia (Cathy Tyson), repeatedly failed to hit her notes. Likewise compère / the angel Gabriel (Geoffrey Hughes) seemed to be unaware that his mike was switched on, so that his accompaniment of the crowd would cut out intermittently as he just stopped singing. And it wasn't just the vocals that were a bit off, the musical accompaniment lacked inspiration, with the majority of songs being accompanied by a single acoustic guitar and very little else.

    The other strange thing about the music was the selection of songs. No arguments with how they related with the nativity story. It was inevitably going to have to be a bit tenuous, and, given that, the songs seemed to relate pretty well. The problem, however, was that the selection of songs didn't really do justice to the range of acts who have come out of Merseyside in the last 40-50 years. Obviously there were always going to be a few songs by The Beatles, but in the end, 11 out of the 22 songs I counted were by at least one of John, Paul George and Ringo. As a result, there was nothing by Space, Frankie Goes Hollywood, Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Lightning Seeds, The Farm, The Boo Radley's or even the aptly named The Christians, despite there being several songs which would have been no more tenuous than the ones which made the final cut ("The Power of Love", "Ferry Cross the Mersey", "Pure and Simple", "Altogether Now" just from the top of my head!). As a result, The Liverpool Nativity paled by comparison with the Manchester PassionFinally, whilst the logistical challenges of staging such a large and complex event must have been enormous the whole thing was just a bit too much like a school panto. Tyson's acting as Herodia was way over the top; Mary and Joseph lacked any chemistry; and the renown Scouse wit worked only very rarely.

    There was, as I said above, much to commend the production for. Singing aside, Hughes generally did a good job of compèreing, the crowd sung along with the kind of gusto usually reserved for the Kop on a Saturday afternoon, the scenarios and costumes were well put together, and the programme has done a great job of stimulating the public's attention. Too bad the finished product didn't do justice to such a good idea.Below is (what I hope is a complete list of songs for the production. Please contact me with any corrections.
    Across the Universe - The Beatles
    Love is a Wonderful Colour - The Icicle Works
    Reward (All wrapped up) - The Teardrop Explodes
    The Zutons - You Will, You Won't
    My Sweet Lord - George Harrison
    Seven Minutes to Midnight - Wah! Heat
    There She Goes - The La's
    Liverpool Girl - Ian McNabb
    The Back Of Love - Echo And The Bunnymen
    Instant Karma - John Lennon
    Bouncing Babies - The Teardrop Explodes
    Comedy - Shack
    Get Back - The Beatles
    All You Need is Love - The Beatles
    Imagine - John Lennon
    Guiding Star - Cast
    All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
    You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) - Dead or Alive
    Let it Be - The Beatles
    Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
    Lady Madonna - The Beatles
    Beautiful Boy - John Lennon
    All You Need is Love - The Beatles

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    Saturday, December 22, 2007

    Christmas UK TV Preview 2007

    It's time for my usual Christmas/Easter round up of TV programmes / films over the holiday season that might be of interest (see 2006's). As ever, I'm only covering the 5 main UK channels, so apologies to any readers from the rest of the world. That said, I believe the History Channel, is showing The Passion – Religion and the Movies).Liverpool Nativity - 23rd Dec. 10:45pm - BBC1
    Following on from Last Year's Manchester Passion, the Liverpool Nativity relocates the story of Mary and Joseph to modern day Liverpool and accompanies it with various songs written by the city's famous pop acts. I've already made several posts on this, and will post a review shortly.Dr. Who - 25th Dec. 6:50pm - BBC1.
    As I mentioned back in July, Dr. Who has taken a rather Christological turn in recent outings and this Christmas special episode looks like it is going to go one step further. As you can see from the above photo the Doctor, will not only be joined by Kylie Minogue, but also two angelic looking robots. There was a story on this in yesterday's The Times which described the scene as the Doctor "ascending through the ship’s decks, carried by a pair of robotic angels". Sadly, it was also quite depressing to see "Christian Voice" yet again used as a spokesgroup for Christians.

    Hidden Story of Jesus - 25th Dec. 8:30pm – Ch. 4
    Documentary with Robert Beckford which attempts to unravel the mystery of why there are so many versions of the Christ story across the world and asks which is the real one, and where this leaves the Christian story and his own belief in Jesus. Channel 4 has a microsite for this one, which is made particularly relevant now that films such as The Aquarian Gospel are currently in production.The Secret Life of Brian - 31st Dec 8:00 pm - Channel 4
    Channel 4 are repeating the evening they devoted to Life of Brian last year, which is great news for those of us who, somewhat inexplicably, missed it last year. The evening kicks off with this documentary looking at the controversy surrounding the film. I hope they show the complete footage of the TV debate between two of the Python's and a bishop and another religious representative. I don't think it will, but hopefully there will be some interesting footage that I've not seen before.

    Monty Python's Life of Brian - 31st Dec. 9:00 pm - Channel 4
    (All posts on this film)
    A film that needs no introduction, but it is part of an evening on the Pythons. The evening continues after this film with the documentary What the Pythons Did Next.

    What the Pythons Did Next - 31st Dec. 10:45 pm - Channel 4
    Documentary, looking at what the Pythons did after Life of Brian. I seem to recall that this was considered to be the lesser of the two documentaries as, of course, everyone knows what the Pythons did next, but I imagine it will still be worth it to see some good clips.

    Samson and Delilah - 1st Jan. 12:45pm - Channel 5
    A tradition seems to be starting of showing an Old Testament Epic film at some point over Christmas. Last year it was Solomon and Sheba, this year it's the turn of DeMile's Samson and DelilahBruce Almighty - 2nd Jan. 8:30pm - BBC1
    A surprisingly deep film considering it stars Jim Carrey, managing to look at a host of issues from unanswered prayer to theodicy. Morgan Freeman's performance as God steals the show and there is at least one brief audio-visual reference to DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

    Summary
    Whilst there are a few good programmes to watch out for, it's a bit of a shame that quite a bit of this post was just a cut and paste job from last year! In other words there are various programmes (both that I've mentioned and that I haven't that were re-hashes of things from last year). That said there is a good deal of Bible related content again this year, with much of if (Liverpool Nativity, Hidden Story of Jesus, Dr. Who) fresh and creative, as well as a couple of classic Bible Films thrown in for good measure.

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    Thursday, December 20, 2007

    More on Year One

    There are a few more details emerging about Year One. Firstly, there's a good piece on the film over at MTV which contains a few interesting quotes from two of the film's stars, Jack Black and Michael Cera.
    It's not prehistoric, it's just pre-Christ. It's like an old, biblical tale. Cane and Abel type of stuff. Just two dudes wandering through early civilization," Black explained. "It's kind of like 'The Meaning of Life' or 'Life of Brian' — a funny look at biblical tales."

    "A lot of the humor comes from that — the fact that it's an adventure," Cera added. "We're walking across these mountains, and I think it's gonna look really cool. Hopefully it'll be kind of epic."
    MTV also have a video of Black discussing the film, but unfortunately, it's not available to view outside of the US.

    Peter Chattaway has also highlighted a third Hollywood Reporter article article on the film (here's one and two) which claims that June Diane Raphael will play the Jack Black's love interest, who also gets "involved" with "another man in her village".

    It's difficult to work out whether this film will actually be "biblical" in any sense other than its setting, and, even then, the timing of these events might not coincide (strictly) with biblical times. There's obviously a bit of a contradiction between the film's title Year One and Black's description as "pre-Christ", but it might even fit into that inter-testamental period. So it will be interesting to see whether this film re-works some (or even just one) of the biblical narratives, or whether it's just comedy in funny costumes.

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    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Reviews for The Liverpool Nativity

    I'm in the middle of moving house at the moment and so clean forgot to watch The Liverpool Nativity on BBC3 on Sunday. It's on iPlayer for a week so hopefully I'll be able to catch it at some point soon. Furthermore, as it snagged a fairly hefty 710,000 viewers (which is very high for a non-terrestrial programme) there is perhaps a very, very small chance it will show again over Christmas.

    Anyway, a quick Google Blog Search reveals plenty of different reviews for it, ranging from those who thought the very idea was an offence, to those who loved it's bold re-telling. Three comments stuck out in particular from my admittedly limited survey. Firstly, I found Kester Brewin's take on it particularly interesting:
    What is fantastic about these events is that they appear to tap into the rich Christian root in our heritage - a heritage that I think people are beginning to see is vital to our coherent future, rather than being consigned to our past. I think this could be interpreted as a move into clear post-Christian water, where people are happy to be part of events like this without it being tied to 'the church'.

    Christmas has always been about joining in the re-telling of stories, whatever distant orbit we have around belief in them. And this city-wide celebration of Liverpudlian music and theatre was just that - a risky, live, choral, sacred, communal event. It's in these moments that we are submerged into some wider consciousness... and realize why we live in cities - these urban exoskeletons that allow us new forms of movement quite impossible in smaller communities.
    Then there's Mark Goodacre at New Testament Gateway...
    The narrative thread was fairly straightforward, a fairly even and traditional harmonizing of Matthew and Luke translated into a contemporary setting, often in interesting ways, but often without the necessary time to get properly developed, so that it raced along. The story was stronger in the first third of the piece, where we see Mary in a cheap diner, meeting her boyfriend Joseph, an asylum seeker, and finding out that she is pregnant by the holy spirit at the same time that Joseph finds out that he needs to register as an asylum seeker. They get the ferry across the Mersey, and work out their problems with further communications from Gabriel. All this was the strongest, most compelling part of the story, not least because we were allowed some insight into what Mary and Joseph were thinking, the music well chosen, and the performances very good.
    I was also interested by this snippet from No Rock and Roll Fun:
    Trouble was - like the host city - the Liverpool Nativity got too fixated on the Beatles. The idea was to set the scene for the Capital of Culture year, and on this evidence, Merseysiders can expect twelve months of not thinking much further than 'what would John Lennon do now'? So the hackneyed end is a singalong to All You Need Is Love, rather than the slightly more fitting Power Of Love...
    However, perhaps not anticipating it's success, the major papers seem to have largely ignored it. Only The Guardian offers any kind of review, and that primarily because their correspondent was actually there. She seemed to enjoy the occasion, although seemingly only just. The papers' apparent lack of interest is probably not so much a reflection of the BBC's decision to tuck this away on BBC3, (and well over a week before Christmas) as the reality of how they deal with live TV. After all those "what I watched last night columns" are usually written well in advance thanks to screener discs and the like, which means that few live shows such as this get reviewed. Instead most of the papers' had a brief piece on it in advance (The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times and The Independent.

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    Monday, December 17, 2007

    Paul of Tarsus and Jesus of Nazareth

    NT Gateway's Mark Goodacre has been finding out some more information on the 1960 BBC TV series Paul of Tarsus. On Thursday he discussed the various bits of information he had gleaned from the associated novelisation. These included the book's ten chapter headings which, it's assumed, match up to the titles of the ten episodes. Interestingly, WitlessD left a comment on my earlier post which gave this and some additional information, from 2 different sources - the BFI Library and old copies of the Radio Times. Mark also describes the photos as the highlights of the book and notes how it relies more on Acts than on Paul's letters.

    Mark's second post deals with his discovery that Paul of Tarsus was actually a sequel to a series called Jesus of Nazareth which aired in 1956. Various productions have gone by this name - in addition to Zeffirelli's famous 1977 TV series, there were silent film versions in 1916 (a theologically modified release of From the Manger to the Cross and 1928 as well as a Mexican version in 1942 - but this one was unknown to me. According to the IMDb it starred Tom Flemming in the lead role. Flemming went on to commentate on the 1972 Eurovision Song contest.

    I'll not reproduce Mark's comments here, but would encourage those interested in these films to read his original posts for themselves.

    I've also checked both Campbell and Pitts and Kinnard and Davis, and neither book mentions either series.

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    Friday, December 14, 2007

    Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination
    A Handbook to Jesus on DVD

    Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (2007)
    Paperback: 208 pages
    Language English
    ISBN-10: 0664230318
    ISBN-13: 978-0664230319
    Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 16 x 1.8 cm
    Additional Resources available online

    The central premise of this latest addition to the books-about-Jesus-films canon is that the move from VHS to DVD has 'radically changed the way scholars, teachers and students can use Jesus films'.1 Digital technology has created a universal way of being able to reference a certain point in a certain film no matter which DVD player is being used.

    As a result the authors Jeff Staley ("Reading with a Passion") and Richard Walsh ("Reading the Gospels in the Dark") have set about creating this guide to Jesus on DVD, which makes the best use of the new technology. Taking the 18 of the most important Jesus films available on DVD (see my earlier post for the full list) they have given a run down of all the DVD chapters, with each subdivided into a list of biblical episodes that occur in that chapter. These come complete with extensive biblical references, and precise timings, as well as a few additional comments. The book climaxes with the final chapter "A Gospels Harmony of Jesus Films on DVD" which the authors describe as the 'generative heart of our work'.2 Such a work is long overdue. Whilst aspects of it have been included in the appendices of previous works (notably Tatum, and Stern, Jefford and Debona) it's great to have something to help those who regularly find themselves trying to locate a particular biblical episode from a film, and finding that it takes a lot longer than they initially imagined.

    Having said all that, the book offers far more than simply a collection of data. The eighteen chapters looking at the films themselves are bookended by two which are simply titled "Watching Jesus Films" and "Teaching Jesus Films". The former (which is excellent) lists various questions relating to the different aspects of film: Camera, Editing, Set, Lighting; Story, Plot, Causation; Characters; Genre, Tone, Ideology; and Motifs and Symbols. These themes then become, loosely speaking, the basis for which the 18 films are discussed in the main section of the book.

    In contrast, the penultimate chapter ("Teaching Jesus Films") subdivides its subject matter into teaching using clips, teaching using a complete film, and Christ figure films. The first section discusses notable treatments of key incidents and characters in the films they have selected: the second offers 'topical suggestions' for 'a more holistic use of Jesus films' ranging from Peasant Faith and Capitalism to Queer Concerns.3

    In addition to the DVD chapter listings, each of the 18 main chapters also contains a good deal of analysis. There's an opening plot summary, discussion about the film's memorable characters and visuals, and a handful of pertinent scriptures, all before brief discussions of the film's cultural location (or genre) and the film's director.

    Of course, many of these areas have already been discussed in the various other volumes on Jesus in film, which makes it all the more impressive that Staley and Walsh are able to bring to the table so many fresh, and at times fascinating, insights. The authors are particularly adept at reading film visually, which is something that has been somewhat lacking in the library of Jesus film books to date.

    The book is also eminently readable, and accessible to a far wider audience than Walsh's last book. "Reading the Gospels in the Dark", was most certainly interesting, but nevertheless quite difficult reading and not always entirely convincing. Here, non-specialists will feel at home, whilst those of us who are more experienced in this area will find plenty to chew on.

    As always, there are a couple of minor quibbles. Firstly, I'm surprised that for the sake of completion the authors did not include details of all the versions of these films that are currently available DVD. Whilst the chapter listing would still have to focus on only one of these releases, this would certainly have enhanced the sections on DVD extra features, and would, no doubt, prove useful to readers who are keen to acquire some of the titles they did not have beforehand.

    Secondly, the plot summaries are, at times a little long, often mentioning nearly every scene. Given that there is a full scene listing at the end of each chapter, these could have been a little briefer and given space for more of the authors' own observations.

    But these are minor quibbles about a book that will prove invaluable to the growing numbers of people who lecture, teach and lead discussions on cinematic portrayals of Jesus. Staley and Walsh have brought an end to the hours spent in front of video (and indeed, DVD) machines trying to find a particular clip, and I, for one, am extremely grateful!

    ========
    1 - Staley, Jeffrey L., and Walsh, Richard, "Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD", Louisville / London, Westminster John Knox Press (2007), p.v (Preface)
    2 - Staley, Jeffrey L., and Walsh, Richard, "Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD", Louisville / London, Westminster John Knox Press (2007), p.vii (Preface)
    3 - Staley, Jeffrey L., and Walsh, Richard, "Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD", Louisville / London, Westminster John Knox Press (2007), p.167

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    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Pete Aitken's Jesus Filmography

    Almost 10 years ago now there was a great online "Jesus Filmography" by Pete Aitken, hosted by the Adult Christianity / Post-fun website. And then it seemed to disappear, which was a real shame as it had a few of the more obscure titles on it such as Irving Rapper's Pontius Pilate (1962).

    Adult Christianity moved and whilst there is an article by Pete Aitken on that site, most of the links went back to the original site, and didn't seem to work.

    As a result I dug out an old copy and published it as a Google document for all to see. If the original ever re-surfaces I'll obviously take it down again, but hopefully it will interest enthusiasts.

    Thankfully it seems like some of that old site is now back up again, including an introductory article and a few pictures. The actual filmography section doesn't seem to be working, nor does the Hollywood squares bit, but many of the other articles linked to from the new Adult Christianity website seem to be back in action.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    The King (2007)

    The King is the prequel to this Easter's The Follower from The Saltmine Trust. Released in time for Christmas it offers three snapshots of what the Christmas story might look like if it would happen today. So Herod (Richard Hasnip) works in an office; Joseph's dreams occur whilst he has fallen asleep in front of the TV; the wise men make their plans via an internet chat room; and Jesus's birth takes place in a grotty basement.

    The three films' central plot device is also a result of this modernisation. Herod is hauled in by the Romans and interrogated about the events leading up to his slaughter of the innocents. It's an interesting concept, precisely because it makes Herod somewhat sympathetic. Whilst Hasnip warns us that this time he is not the hero, seeing Herod as something of a victim throws fresh light on him. Yes he is still culpable for the tragic events at Bethlehem, but, for possibly the first time, he is played as a three dimensional character rather than just the villain in a holy Christmas pantomime. At the same time, however, the idea feels a bit contrived - as if the setting was chosen to allow Hasnip to demonstrate his acting ability, rather than because it fits particularly well with the story.Herod's account is interspersed with the story of Mary and Joe, whose familiar story unfolds in an (un)familiar setting. This has been done before, of course, in Goddard's Hail Mary, but that was over twenty years ago, set in another country and filmed in a different language. Here Mary calls Joe on his mobile to tell him about her pregnancy whilst he's at work. It's the worst possible timing and unsurprising, therefore, that he has a hard time accepting it. When they have to travel for the "census" Joe's anger surfaces once again, and it's his aggression, as much as the landlady's kindness, or God's provision, that gets them somewhere for Mary to give birth.

    The unconventional take on Mary and Joseph is fresh, and emphasises their normality. It puts us in their shoes, just as Herod's scenes do. Unfortunately, although the two scenes described above are well conceived, they don't quite deliver. They require an awful lot from the two young leads, and whilst they give it a good shot, it all feels a little forced. And ultimately, Joe's anger and Mary's sappiness makes it hard to sympathise with them elsewhere in the film.Like The Follower, The King is written by Richard Hasnip and directed by James White. White's task here is trickier than in the follower. The three main sets are not the kinds of places that make for attractive cinematography: Herod's office is the epitome of corporate blandness, the interrogation takes place in a darkened room, and the basement is meant to look kind of shabby. Given this, White does well to find some nice shots whilst preserving the real-world feel of the three films as a whole. In fact, whereas The Follower's three stories worked best as stand alone episodes, this is more like three parts of the same story.

    The King differs in other ways too. The soundtrack is subtler, and much improved, and the use of a number of viewpoints leave this feeling like more of a conventional drama than the original's dramatic monologues.

    Overall, then, whilst The King is not up to the standards of The Follower it still manages to take a story that it sometimes too familiar and offer up some interesting and original ideas.

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    Monday, December 10, 2007

    Article in Print - The Reader
    Jesus in Film

    I've had an article published in the Church of England's The Reader magazine on Jesus in Film. Their winter issue is looking at Jesus, the incarnation and artistic expression, so they asked me to contribute a piece for it. I'm actually going to be writing for them on a more regular basis now, contributing film / DVD reviews and the like. It's a bit tricky as you have to be 3 months ahead of yourself, but I'll have a short article in the spring edition looking at the BBC's Passion. The winter issue is not online yet, but should be shortly.

    A warm welcome to anyone who has found this site from The Reader. I hope you enjoyed the article.

    Friday, December 07, 2007

    More on BBC/HBO's Passion

    See all posts on this film
    (I know I'm using the same photo two posts running, but it's the only one there is so far, and, well, I really like it).

    Mark Goodacre, who has acted as the historical consultant for HBO/BBC's The Passion has posted a few comments on Tuesday's press release. The first of his recent posts includes the following:
    A couple of minor comments. First, this story is widely reported today with the error that it is five episodes. It is actually six. Second, when the press release above says "Easter Week", it should read "Holy Week". I assume that it will run from Monday-Good Friday + Easter Sunday.

    More substantively, I am happy to report that I have seen rough edits of the first two episodes and they are really excellent. I am very excited about this, having been involved with this project as a consultant for just over two years. In due course, I would like to tell the story of the project from the sidelines of my small contribution. At this stage, though, I should not be revealing any of its secrets, so my story will have to wait
    Then on Wednesday he added
    don't think it's quite right to say that it "rehabilitates Pilate" though it is the case that all the characters in the drama are well-drawn, three-dimensional characters. I would also doubt that the depiction of the resurrection will "anger Christian groups" in the US, though you can never predict these things. I have not yet seen the episode, but what I can say on the basis of the scripts and the extensive discussions about them is that it is depicted in a very interesting and fresh way, quite unlike anything in previous Jesus films.
    He's also linked to articles in the press featuring in The Sun, The Times, This is London, Inspire Magazine, Variety, World Screen, Hollywood Reporter, The Stage and The Guardian.

    There are a few interesting bits of commentary in amongst the usual re-hashing of the press release. Incidentally, on Tuesday I omitted to mention that there are a few additional comments on the BBC's winter / spring schedule which was released the same day.I also wanted to add a few comments by Nigel Stafford-Clark (pictured above) on casting. I've alluded to this previously, but wanted to use it for a print article I was writing on the story. It's a snippet taken from his interview at the MP3 of the 2007 Churches Media Conference. Asked about the casting of Jesus, and whether there will be any star names he replies:
    The general idea is that the people who are the authority figures, the people who would have been known names to the world in which we're moving, will be played by well known actors. Jesus and the disciples will be mainly played by actors who are not so well known...it's important that when they arrive at the beginning of the week that they are, to some extent, unknown quantities, as they were when they arrived at the beginning of that week.
    One further point on all of this, someone called notes that
    It sounds rather similar to Channel 4's 1992 drama An Incident in Judea which was an adaption of the Pilate section from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. An Incident in Judea is probably the best drama I have seen on tv so I hope this is as good. (C4 please repeat Incident at Easter)
    I vaguely remember this programme happening, but I don't think I actually saw it (I was only 17 at the time). It does sound interesting, although I think that Jesus didn't appear on screen.

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    Troughton as Paul of Tarsus

    Mark Goodacre has discovered details of an old BBC series called Paul of Tarsus (1960) which starred Patrick Troughton in the leading role. Troughton performed the role six years before he became the second Dr. Who in 1966.

    Like Mark, I'd never heard of this film before. He quotes the brief entry in the BFI database ("A cycle of ten plays telling the story of the Acts of Christ's Apostles. BBC tx 1960/10/16 - 1960/12/18 (Sun)") and links to details of two episodes - To the Gentiles and The Feast of Pentecost - as well as the Cast List. The latter lists the writer, producer and director as Joy Harington, who, the following year, converted the production into a novel featuring pictures from the series. Mark's getting the book and will hopefully find out some more details. I'll echo his request for more information from anyone who knows more.

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    Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Columbia to Make Year One Comedy
    Jack Black, Mintz-Plasse, Apatow, Platt, Ramis and Vinnie Jones


    Photo by Mirka23, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Peter Chattaway has linked to a story at the Hollywood Reporter about a new comedy set in biblical times, to be called Year One. There's a whole range of stars associated with it: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Judd Apatow (producer, pictured), Michael Cera (all from Superbad, Oliver Platt (Huff), Jack Black (King Kong), and Vinnie Jones (Leeds United). Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) will be directing the film.

    The Hollywood Reporter piece describes the film as "a comedy set in biblical times", and also adds:
    Platt is in talks to play a platform-shoe-wearing high priest in the comedy, while Jones is on board to play a head palace guard named Sargon. Cross and Temple's roles are not known.

    The studio is keeping mum on the story line, which is based on a story by Ramis who, along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, penned the screenplay.
    There's also an earlier Hollywood Reporter piece on this film which lists Owen Wilson as an executive producer. I suspect the absence of Wilson's name from this latest piece suggests that he is no longer involved.

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    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    The Passion BBC Press Release

    See all posts on this film
    I've been expecting a press release on the BBC's The Passion for some time now, and it finally came out today, featuring the above image of Joseph Mawle as Jesus. I've covered quite a bit of the information in this press release in previous posts, but there are a couple of bits to add. Firstly, an intriguing way to set the scene; one which gives a really good feel of the angle that the series will be coming from:
    It's the start of Passover week. In the next few days Jerusalem will more than double in size as thousands of pilgrims come to celebrate the most important festival in their religious calendar.

    For their Roman masters, it is the tensest time of the year. Palestine is an unruly province at the best of times, prone to insurgency and driven by an ancient religion that the Romans neither understand nor appreciate.

    Indeed, for most of the year the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, and his force of 3,000 legionaries base themselves by the sea in the city of Caesarea, where they can enjoy the pleasures of civilisation well away from the perils of Jerusalem's narrow streets.

    But for the festivals, and particularly for Passover with its undertones of resistance to imperial power, they move back into the capital city and prepare for trouble.

    For the High Priest Caiaphas and his Temple priests too, Passover is not an easy time. The Temple in Jerusalem is the epicentre of the Jewish religion, and during Passover their workload will be immense – on one day alone, some 10,000 lambs will have to be ritually sacrificed in the Temple in the space of a few hours to ensure that every family has its lamb for the Passover meal.

    And there is pressure on Caiaphas in other ways. As High Priest, civil unrest is also his responsibility. His Temple guards are the local police force, and it is their job to keep order amongst the civilian population.

    Any trouble and the Romans will swiftly move in. And everyone knows what that means.

    As Pilate and his wife move rather reluctantly back into their Jerusalem apartments, and Caiaphas and his colleagues review known troublemakers and insurgents who might be on their way to the city, no-one gives much thought to a local preacher from the backwaters of Galilee, who is also making his way to Jerusalem with a gang of followers bonded by two years on the road – a tough, resourceful group whose loyalty is absolute.

    Then news is brought that the Galileean is approaching the city on a donkey's colt, and will be entering Jerusalem through the East Gate – thus fulfilling two of the most powerful religious prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The one who many believe will lead them to military victory or spiritual salvation

    On the streets a crowd is beginning to gather. And the week has only just begun...
    I think that is largely the same text that Producer Nigel Stafford-Clark read out at the 2007 Churches Media Conference, but I now realise that this typifies so much of why I'm particularly looking forward to this one. It's great to see the story will be told from Caiaphas's point of view as well as Jesus's and Pilate's, and the solidly historical context that the film has been put in is also very encouraging.

    I do note, however, that Stephen Graham's name is not mentioned. I hope he's still involved. I also need to find out a bit more about director Michael Offer (State Within).

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    The Ten Coming to DVD

    I was disappointed not to see David Wain's The Ten this summer, particularly as there have been two other movies released this year that also dealt with material from the Book of Exodus (the others being the animated version of The Ten Commandments and Penny Woolcock's Exodus).

    However, looks like it's finally due to come out on DVD on the 15th January 2008 (although only in the US). The film's official website lists the following extras:
    * Audio commentary with David Wain, Ken Marino and Paul Rudd — plus soothing jazz and David’s parents!
    * Alternate-Take and Deleted-Scene Vignettes – over 50 minutes!
    * Bonus Interview
    * Wainy Days Episode One as seen on MyDamnChannel.com
    * Exclusive (and outrageous) Ring tones and Wallpaper
    * Plus some wild surprises!

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