• 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.

    Friday, June 30, 2006

    Nativity News vol. 2

    Stuff is certainly moving fast on The Nativity Story. Having only posted Nativity News vol. 1 a week ago, I find there's so much new news that I'm posting the next update again already.

    1 - The main piece of news is that the site now has an official website. There's not a huge amount of information there at present, but what is there is very good. In particular the photo gallery has some stunning stills. There is also a behind the scenes featurette, which I guess will probably end up on the DVD at some point, featuring screen writer Mike Rich's thoughts, and some shots of filming taking place. There's also a small amount of text about the film
    From humble beginnings, great things can come. THE NATIVITY STORY tells the extraordinary tale of two common people, Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy, an arduous journey, and the history-defining birth of Jesus. Brought to life with an unprecedented attention to detail and commitment to historical accuracy, THE NATIVITY STORY is the very human, very dramatic, and uniquely inspiring saga of a journey of faith.
    Some of the things that are being said here sound very similar to those that Mel Gibson was saying back in 2004. The text stresses the film's historical accuracy whilst Mike Rich is keen to highlight how he is part of a church who has been praying for him as he is writing the film. I don't agree with my friend Peter Chattaway's take that when Rich talks about the sources he used he is "reminiscent of how Mel Gibson frequently talked about the gospels when promoting The Passion, but was less forthcoming about Sr. Anne Catherine Emmerich". For me Rich seems to be saying there isn't much to go on (particularly as he appears to be a Protestant which would mean he would most likely downplay information about Mary and Joseph based on tradition), but he actually says how he's had to do a lot of speculation, which is different from how Gibson said he was showing it "just the way it happened".1

    The other thing on the website is the Teaser trailer which brings me onto my next piece of news...

    2 - The teaser trailer for the film will be showing before screenings of Superman Returns. There's not much to this trailer, no shots from the actual film, but it's encouraging to see New Line taking the film so seriously.

    3 - Finally, the film has also been mentioned in Time magazine.
    WHEN MARY MET JOSEPH--THE ROAD TRIP

    In her movie Thirteen, director Catherine Hardwicke took a less-than-romantic look at the antics of adolescent girls. Now she's taking on another teen with a big secret in The Nativity Story. The film, which could also be called The Passion of the Christ: The Prequel, follows young Mary's life in Nazareth and her journey to Bethlehem with Joseph (OSCAR ISAAC). Taking the part of Mary--the key role, as any Christmas-pageant organizer can attest--is Keisha Castle-Hughes, 16, the New Zealander who swam to an Oscar nomination in 2002's Whale Rider. She has been "fearless, dazzling, an almost ageless spirit," says Hardwicke. Castle-Hughes gamely learned to milk goats, which, to the dismay of little kids everywhere, are played by real animals.
    Thanks to Queen Spoo's Nativity Story Blog for keeping on top of all the news.

    1 - Andrew Gumbel - The Independent – 16th August 2003

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    Thursday, June 29, 2006

    Dayasagar Scene Guide

    Last week I posted my review of Dayasagar - the Indian Jesus film. As usual I like to accompany that with an analysis of the scenes in the film with accompanying gospel citations.
    Annunciation - (Luke 1:26-38)
    Joseph's 1st Dream - (Matt 1:18-25)
    Census and Birth of Jesus - (Luke 2:1-7)
    Shepherds and Angels - (Luke 2:8-15)
    Wise men / Magi visit - (Matt 2:1-12)
    Joseph's 2nd Dream - (Matt 2:13-15)
    Slaughter of the Infants - (Matt 2:16-18)
    Jesus as a child - (Luke 2:40, 51-52)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    John the Baptist Teaches - (Luke 3:1-18)
    Baptism of Jesus - (Mark 1:9-11)
    2 Disciples Follow Jesus - (John 1:35-39)

    Temptations - (Matt 4:1-11)
    Calling of Matthew - (Mark 2:13-17)
    Healing a man with Dropsy - (Luke 14:1-6)
    Sermon on the Mount - (Matt 5-7)
    Healing a Leper - (Mark 1:40-45)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Walking on Water - Matt (14:22-33)
    - Intermission -
    Woman Caught in Adultery - (John 8:2-11)
    Jesus Anointed - (Luke 7:36-50)
    Blind Man Healed - (John 9:1-7)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Feeding 5000 men - (Mark 6:30-44)
    - Let the Children come (Mark 10:13-16)
    Attempt to Crown Jesus King - (John 6:14-15)
    Raising of Lazarus - (John 11:1-44)
    Triumphal Entry - (Matt 21:1-9)
    Clearing the Temple - (Mark 11:15-19)
    Washing the Disciples Feet - (John 13:1-17)
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:17-25)
    Jesus's Farewell Speech - (John 14-17)
    Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial - (Mark 14:27-31)
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-42)
    Arrest - (Mark 14:43-50)
    Peter's denial - (Mark 14:66-72)
    Sanhedrin Trial - (Mark 14:53-64)
    Pilate 1st Trial - (Mark 15:1-5)
    Beating, Scourging and Mocking - (Mark 15:16-20)
    Pilate 2nd Trial - (John 19:4-16)
    Road to the Cross - (Luke 23:26-31)
    [flashbacks]
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:22-32)
    2 Thieves - (Luke 39-43)
    Jesus Dies - (Mark 15:33-37)
    Earthquake at Death - (Matt 27:51)
    Judas Hangs Himself - (Matt 27:5)
    Burial - (Mark 15:42-47)
    [Resurrection shown]
    Appearance Amongst Disciples - (John 21:19-28)
    Reinstatement of Peter - (John 21:15-18)
    Ascension - (Luke 24:50-53)
    Great Commission - (Matt 28:18-20)
    (John 3:16)
    Notes
    This scene guide was created using an un-subtitled version of the film; hence some of it is guess work. Although it always surprises me how much of a Jesus film one can work out without speaking the language. In particular, I have no idea which passages from the Sermon on the Mount were included, only that Jesus was definitely teaching from the top of a large hill at one point.

    The film also uses a few flashbacks around the 2nd trial at the hands of Pilate. I think this might be the first Jesus film to do this

    The crucifixion is incredibly bloody - probably the most violent before Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in addition to it showing all of the various bits of torutre inflicted by the Romans in Mark 15:15-20 it adds scenes of Jesus walking through a patch of thorns which stick in his bare feet, and shows the blood spurting out of his hands as the nails are driven in. At this point we are shown that even the (already crucified) "bad thief" is unable to watch.

    The film contains a couple of healing scenes that are not that common amongst many Jesus films. Firstly the healing of a man with leprosy from (Mark 1:40-45 / Matt 8:1-4). Interestingly the film shows Jesus coming down the large rocky outcrop he is teaching on to heal this man, reflecting a detail in Matt 8:1 that would seem to be simply a continuity link from the Sermon on the Mount back into the structure of Mark's overall narrative. John Gilman, President of the film's main missionary distributors Dayspring International notes how there are more people with leperosy in India than there are Christians, and that as a result this scene tends to be the favourite scene when it is shown.

    Secondly, the film also includes the healing of a blind man in John where Jesus uses mud made with his spit as part of the process. That always seems such a distasteful, and undignified method of healing someone that it seems unlikely that this story was fabricated by the early church as some claim.

    There are at least three scenes in this film based on events in the gospels where the variations between the different accounts of seemingly the same incident are particularly marked. In each case it is interesting that the film uses the fullest and most visual account available. Firstly, the story of Christ walking on the water and calming the storm. Only Matthew includes Peter's act of little faith as does the film.

    Secondly, the woman who anoints Jesus. Mark (14:3-9) has the woman simply pouring the ointment over Jesus's head. Matthew's account (6:13) follows suit. But Luke does not have her anoint Jesus' head at all (other it mentions Simon's failure to do so suggesting that Mark's version - or someone else's - is at least at the back of his mind. Note also the way the name of "The Pharisee" suddenly becomes "Simon" when Jesus starts talking in 7:40), just his feet. Neither does John who ignores Jesus's host altogether. In the film, it's is Luke's most vivid account which the scene most closely resembles.

    Finally, the Triumphal Entry scene actually shows Jesus with two donkeys, one of which is presumably the colt, only mentioned in Matthew as he attempts to link the event with Zechariah 9:9. Again it is the most visually full version of the story, that is filmed. Although it's not something I generally take not of, I can't think of another film that is quite so literal on this point, although I would be interested to re-watch the same incident from Pasolini's and the Visual Bible's version of Matthew in that respect.

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    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Full "Jesus in Film" Course Notes now Online

    Last lent I led a course on Jesus in Film which ran over five evenings. Ever since, I have been meaning to make the notes available online. Very Kindly, Alan Thomas of Movies Matter has already converted the first, two sets of notes into HTML and posted them at his site. However, now all four sets of notes are available to download as PDFs.

    I shaped the course around the five different ways which people tend to approach Jesus Films. When most people first look at films about the life of Christ they tend to be primarily looking for a depiction which matches their own perception. Perhaps after watching a few such films they will then begin to enjoy finding aspects they have never thought of, things that supplement their own mental picture if you will. A third approach is to look at the films and see what they tell us about the film-makers and the culture and times that they were living in. One of the main advantages of watching a film made by someone with a different world view to oneself is that it can challenge cosy, unscriptural notions we have about Jesus, and ask us difficult questions. Finally, the way the film-makers handle the texts can help us understand how those who wrote them may have handled their source materials.

    These five approaches were covered in the sessions as follows:

    How and Why Study Jesus in Film?
    An introduction to the course explaining the approach above, looking at some objections to such study, and giving a brief introduction to some of the basics o film vocabulary.

    Finding our Jesus in Film
    This section covers the first approach explained above by looking at 34 of the principal films about Jesus. Where possible I would encourage showing clip of a number of these films.

    Enhancing our Jesus in Film
    This session looks at the second two phases "supplementing", and looking back at the film-makers. This set of notes will actually last for two sessions if there is a reasonable amount of discussion.

    Challenging our Jesus with Film
    This final session covers the challenging approach above and, in theory covers the more textual approach, although when I led this session we over ran and so missed out this part of the course.

    Please feel free to download these notes and use them as you wish. I do however ask that you give me the appropriate credit as author, and do not reproduce these notes in any published form or where people will be charged money for anything other than covering printing costs without asking me first. I would also be keen to take other groups through this material if desired. Contact me if you are interested.

    Monday, June 26, 2006

    Another Gospel of John Film

    My Dayasagar review was visited by a fellow blogger called Ronald who is charting the progress of a new film on John's Gospel. The Gospel According to John is still in the very early stages of production, but already has an official website with a ringing endorsement from Jack Hayford (president of the International Bible Society).

    The project is already interesting at this stage for two reasons. Firstly, it is only 3 years since the release of the last filmed version of John's Gospel, Phillip Saville's word for word adaptation The Gospel of John. That film was made using the Good News Bible by Visual Bible International - their third film following on from Matthew and Acts. There had been some discussion about a Gospel of Mark, including a teaser trailer buried in the "Video Clips" section of this site, but sadly it appears that Visual Bible International gone into receivership.

    Secondly, this new project is the brain-child of Bruce Marchiano, the same actor who played Jesus in those first two Visual Bible films. After filming those films he wrote a book about his experiences, "In the Footsteps of Jesus", and started Marchiano Minisitries.

    There's a couple of points I'd like to make about this. Firstly one cannot help wondering if Marchiano was disappointed not to be asked to reprise the role for Saville's Gospel of John. I certainly couldn't blame him, as an actor, for wanting to explore all four gospels, particularly having got a taste for it after Matthew. Secondly, Marchiano was 28 at the time of Matthew (1994), which would make him around 40 now, and presumably around 42 by the time filming might be completed. Marchiano is cautious about whether he will get the role or give it to someone else. Answering a few likely questions on the film's website he says:
    Will you play Jesus? Let me answer this way... If the cameras rolled today, yes, I would play Jesus. At the same time it would be grievous error to be presumptuous in such a holy pursuit. So even though I would love nothing more I have to be willing to lay it down for His perfect desire if He calls me to. So when it comes to casting Jesus we will make that decision on our knees before Him. That is the only way John will be all God wants it to be.
    If Marchiano did take the role, he would be one of the oldest actors to play Jesus behind HB Warner (who was 51) and possibly Robert Wilson (who I can't find a date for - there is a more comprehensive list of the ages of actors playihg Jesus here courtesy of Peter Chattaway).

    That said, some scholars at least consider that John 8:57 ("you are not yet 50") suggest Jesus was older than the more commonly ascribed 33. I doubt Marchiano is tapping into this line of thought here, but I suppose if you commit yourself to reproducing John irrespective of what the other gospels say then it's certainly a possibility. (This is reminiscent of how the Jesus (1979) film based solely on Luke did not give him a crown of thorns as that detail does not appear in that gospel).

    There's a wealth of information on the film at the official website and the blog. Peter Chattaway also covered this story on Saturday.

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    Friday, June 23, 2006

    Dayasagar / Karunamayudu (1978)

    One of the most common criticisms of films about Jesus is that he has never been portrayed by a Jewish actor. In fact the vast majority of pictures made about Christ have starred a white European/North American actor in the central role. Some, such as Johnny Cash/Robert Elfstrom's The Gospel Road even portray, an Anglo-Saxon ultra-blond Jesus. There are signs that the tide is turning. This year has seen the release of the first major film to feature a black actor playing Jesus, albeit in a modernised version of the story in Mark Dornford-May's Sundance Festival hit Son of Man. Hot on its heels is the forthcoming Color of the Cross.

    However, whilst we wait, there is one Jesus film that has, at least, cast an actor from the right continent. Known by many names including Daya Sagar, Oceans of Mercy, Karunamoorthy, and Karunamayudu the film is largely unknown in the west and yet has played to 19 million people in thousands of villages in India. The film owes this large audience largely down to missionary organisation Dayspring International. They claim 7 million have become Christians as a result.1

    The film was actually completed by Indian producer Vijay Chandar in 1978, using largely Indian actors. Whilst not technically a Bollywood film (in the way that not all American cinema is technically "Hollywood"), there are clear stylistic similarities to other works of Indian Cinema.

    Chandar himself played Jesus, and his portrayal, particularly given depictions of Jesus in American films of the time, is strong. He is believable both when he smiles, and when he is angry. A strong sense of compassion comes across in a number of scenes, without him ever appearing wimpy, or tediously "nice".

    The film also gives him a healthy balance of humanity and divinity. Whilst the film doesn't strive to investigate Jesus's emotions or his inner thoughts, it does portray him as someone who is in touch with the people around him, reacting and interacting with the people around him, rather than being emotionally distant. There are some notable exceptions when we see Jesus teaching high above his audience. However, these scenes are balanced with those of him amongst the people. One of these even starts with him teaching from high up, but stopping his preaching to come down to the bottom of the hill they are on and heal a leper. Across the film, this balance marks Chandar's Jesus out as both a man of the people, and yet still someone who is important and has something to say. He draws people to himself to hear his vital message.

    In order to stress the divinity of Jesus, and the supernatural nature of many of the events around him, the film uses a considerable number of special effects. To western viewers these might seem cheaply created, poorly executed and somewhat kitschy, particularly in the days of seamless CGI. In particular the "dove" that alights on Jesus's head is laugh-out-loud awful. However, whilst they lack the gloss, and the sophistication of American films, their clunky execution emphasises the otherness of these events. They are extra-ordinary. Furthermore, given that this film is not created for western audiences such criticisms, whilst certainly having some validity, are not so problematic for the intended audience. It should be noted as well that many other films about the life of Jesus have either minimised the number of miracles, kept supernatural elements off-screen, or shown them in a more naturalistic style, perhaps relying on cuts.

    The other aspect that may seem strange to western viewers are the dance/musical numbers. Whilst singing is hardly alien to the Jesus film genre (Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell) those films are predominantly musical. Here however, there are only a couple of such routines. Often in Indian Cinema western viewers find the songs cut completely across the feel of the rest of the movie; The sound is differently produced from the rest of the film, and previously serious and intense characters burst into song and dance.

    Actually though, this is not the case with Dayasagar. There are only two song routines which are two of the film's high points. The opening sequence covers Jesus's birth and childhood, with skilful brevity which captures the essentials without bogging the story down in pseudo-piety. The sequence takes only 5-10 minutes, and yet covers all the essential elements of the story. The second song/dance routine covers Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was perhaps the strongest scene in Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), no doubt because of the way the setting of the biblical episode lends itself to a large chorus scene. Here the scene is spectacular. Whilst it could never be argues that this was how it really happened, it captures the feel of that episode wonderfully.

    The film also bears comparison with a number of other American Jesus films, in particular Day of Triumph (1954), and King of Kings (1961). All three films devote a portion of their runtime to the Zealots, their clashes with Rome, and their plans to use Jesus to further their own aims. Each film also shows Judas associated with the Zealots, yet being initially attracted to Jesus, before ultimately getting disillusioned with the path of peace he is taking and betraying him in the hope it will cause him to rise up. Given that this film was made only around 30 years after a peaceful Indian leader had managed to free his people from the oppression of a foreign empire there must have been a number of strong resonances in these scenes for Indian audiences. It is perhaps no coincidence that the film also challenges the caste system.

    So, whilst at times the production values are a far cry from contemporary western cinema, Dayasagar has much to offer, not least because the gap between its intended/original audience and the events which it depicts are narrower than for any other Jesus film.2


    1 - Joshua Newton - "Blockbuster Evangelism" in Christianity Today - December 2003.
    2 - This, of course, does not take into consideration those films which try to bring Jesus up-to-date into a modern western context.

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    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Nativity News vol.1

    I guess there is going to be a steady stream of posts on Catherine Hardwicke's current film in production The Nativity Story between now and its release, and no doubt a fair few from then onwards. So I'm going to run a "Nativity News" feature periodically from here on in.

    Anyway, top of the list is a blog dedicated to the film, simply called Nativity, run by Queen Spoo, an Art Therapist from Washington DC. There's a fair bit of good stuff there that I'll have to wade through shortly.

    Secondly, in order to make things a bit simpler I've made a central hub/links page with links and titles of all the posts on this blog, plus a few other key external links. This information should also be on the Index of Jesus Films Page.

    Finally, Mark Moring of Christianity Today has been on the set of the film along with Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service. Both have a number of interesting things to say which I'll hopefully get to comment on later. Filming is currently taking place in Matera, Italy (where both Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew and Gibson's The Passion of the Christ were filmed.

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    "Cut to the Chase" Finally Published

    Back in April I mentioned a (then) forthcoming book called "Cut to the Chase" that a friend of mine had co-written and to which I had contributed a couple of very short chapters. After a two month delay in publishing, the book was finally released on the 8th of June, or thereabouts - already a very significant day for me!

    Having re-read my two chapters, they are better than I remember them, although I'm still slightly disappointed that the two chapters I really cared about didn't make the cut, as I'm told they didn't really fit with the overall thrust of the book. You can still read them though here, and here.
    (I have nothing to do with the picture at the top of that second article by the way).

    I've also read the rest of the book, which is definitely well worth a read. In particular anyone who finds they can't really relate to the "masculine Christianity" of books such as "Wild at Heart" might find this is more their cup of tea.

    Friday, June 09, 2006

    Please welcome into the world Nina Page


    Not usually one for personal stuff, but this is a biggy. My first daughter, Nina, was born yesterday afternoon at 3:47pm. She weighed 7lbs 9ozs. An incredible, but exhausting day. She is incredibly beautiful with a small amout of blondy-gingery hair. Mel is doing well, but exhausted. Here are a couple of photos.


    I'm on paternity leave for a couple of weeks, and as a result won't be anywhere near a computer for that time, so I won't be blogging for the next fortnight. Peter Chattaway and Jeffrey Overstreet are usually reliable sources of information on any new developments in the world of Bible films, so I suggest you check them out!

    Couldn't resist posting this before I go on Paternity Leave

    Peter Chattaway has a story that Tim La Haye, co-writer eschatological fantasy novel "Left Behind" and it's many, many sequels, has teamed up with Sony to make a film called The Resurrection. According to Hollywood Reporter:
    Picking up where the biblical story of Jesus Christ's passion leaves off, Screen Gems is angling for an Eastertime release of a feature film tentatively titled "The Resurrection," people familiar with the project confirmed Wednesday. Using the Bible for its source material, "Resurrection" will tell the story of Jesus Christ beginning the day he died on the cross and ending about 40 days later with his ascension into heaven.
    A fuller report is also available from Reuters

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    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

    The term "feature length film" is something of a slippery one. However, if one takes it to mean a film with a running time greater than an hour then it's fair to say that From the Manger to the Cross, made in 1912, was the first feature length film about Jesus.

    Although the dating of Jesus films before this date is somewhat unclear, the vocabulary and techniques of the medium of film had moved on considerably in the 7 or so years since the release of The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ was released somewhere between 1902 and 1908. In particular, film-makers had begun to progress in their thinking from film being a novel form of side-show entertainment, to it being an extension of the theatre, and onto understanding it's place as one of the visual arts. Hence, whilst the film is still largely shot in middle distance, there are a few exceptions, and we also begin to see some more visually pleasing camera shots, with more interesting compositions.

    Take for example the shot captured above which shows the boy Jesus carrying a plank of wood for his father, inadvertently casting the silhouette of a cross on to the ground. Many consider Chinese shadow plays to be one of the forerunners of cinema, so there is something here of things coming full circle. Elsewhere we see a greater understanding of depth of focus as Jesus enters the shot below from back of the focus field, rather than the front as was more usual. The composition is far more pleasing than anything in earlier Jesus films. Jesus remains the focus of the shot, as we follow the disciples' gaze towards him, and the skyline "points" towards him.

    All of this is not bad to say that the film crew that was sent out to the Holy Land were not intended to film a life of Christ, but several other one reel films such as Captured by Bedouins and An Arabian Tragedy. However, inspired by the locations actress, and sometime writer, Gene Gauntier penned a script for the film and persuaded Sidney Olcott (who had previously made the 1907 version of Ben Hur) to direct it.

    Looking back over 100 years it's hard to understand how aware people were of what the rest of the world looked like. Today we are used to TV, cinema, the internet, advertising in general pumping images at us at an incredible rate, many of which relate to the rest of the world - not to mention the impact of cheap flights on world travel.

    In 1912, photography, and film in particular, was in its infancy, and whilst people may have seen the odd pencil sketch or the occasional photograph of certain sites of interest, the chance to see images of the wonders of the world would have been a big draw in itself. It's no surprise then that the film features the pyramids and the sphinx so prominently when Joseph and Mary escape with the infant Jesus to Egypt. They probably had the pulling power of the groundbreaking techniques of the original Matrix film in our day. Location filming, today the norm, was then not only a novel way to make the film look more realistic, but it gave audiences a chance to see the world for the first time.

    The limitations of "silent film" also directed the medium in various ways. Even a brief glimpse at the episodes shown in the film show that, as one might expect, this film emphasises Jesus's actions rather than his words. There are ten or more healings in the film, and the supernatural is in evidence also in a number of dreams, although in stark contrast to earlier films the angelic presence is shown off screen, only represented by a stream of light, or the character's gaze off screen. This active Jesus closely aligns with that of Mark's all action Jesus, even though the film is really a harmonisation of stories from all four gospels.

    The film was also highly controversial. Robert Henderson-Bland, the actor playing Jesus, or Christus as he preferred to call it, claimed that "No film that was ever made called forth such a storm of protest".1 For some, the offence was based solely on an objection to any cinematic depiction of Christ at all. The medium was increasingly being viewed as depraved, and rotten to the core in some church circles. Perhaps some fo the objections however related to the way the film attempted to wrestle its imagery away from the confines of church tradition. For example, the use of a T-shaped cross, or the composition of the last supper (see right) which emphasised how some at the meal ate whilst reclining (Luke 22:14). Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film was it's omission of the resurrection.

    On its release, however, the film seemed to be well received, with some Christian groups rejoicing in such an evangelistic opportunity. Henderson-Bland's portrayal would be one of the best for years to come, capturing both his humanity and his divinity well. He was able to be compassionate and caring for most of the film, and yet is clearing of the temple is one of the most passionate and fearful of them all. The film also captures his relationship with his father nicely in a few brief shots of him spending time alone praying from the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

    The film also seemed to avoid the charges of anti-Semitism that were levelled at the slightly later Palestinian scenes from D.W. Griffiths' Intolerance (1916), and DeMille's The King of Kings (1927). This was in no small part due to the omission of any sort of trial scene in front of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. It is also noticeable that the "crowd" who beg Pilate for Jesus's blood is probably the smallest crowd of any other Jesus film, with the possible exceptions of Il Messia, and Last Temptation of Christ (where Pilate sentences Jesus in private).

    Given the positive reception it was no surprise that the film achieved a number of subsequent re-releases, some of them with tacked on "resurrection scenes" under the alternative title of Jesus of Nazareth. There was even a re-release at the start of the sound era, adding a soundtrack with a few sounds effects. Whilst the soundtrack brought the film more up to date, it removed some of the simple spritiuality of the images. I'd advise viewers to day to watch it muted.

    Eventually, the film was overshadowed by DeMille's popularist The King of Kings, which outguns Olcott's film for spectacle, but fails to capture From the Manger to the Cross's authenticity and calm sense of spirituality. Whereas DeMille's Jesus is heralded by overbearing fanfare, the Jesus of this film "speaks" for himself.

    ======
    1 - Tatum, W.B., "Jesus at the Movies", California: Polebridge Press (2004). p.30

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    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    From the Manger to the Cross Scene Guide

    Having mentioned this film a number of times so far, most notably in my Top Ten Jesus Films post and in last week's post in the re-issue under the alternative title of Jesus of Nazareth (1916). As this is a silent film, all the dialogue is obviously conveyed via the intertitles. In this film's case these are accompanied with bible references. This makes the task of referencing the film's scenes and dialogue a little easier, as well as ensuring they are in line with the film-makers' intentions. So I'll forgo the usual citation method in favour of the film-makers' references. Where consecutive verses are separated by a comma this signifies that they appear on separate cards. The words in bold are from separate title cards which introduce each section. I believe these headings are imposed on pictures from Tissot's illustrated bible.
    The Annunciation and the Infancy of Christ
    Annunciation - (Luke 1:27;28)
    Joseph's dream - (Matt 1:19,20,21)
    Birth of Jesus - (Luke 2:4,7)
    Shepherds and Angels - (Luke 2:8,10)
    Wise Men - (Matt 2:1)
    Joseph is warned in a dream - (Matt 2:3)
    The Period of Youth
    Return to Nazareth - (Matt 2:19)
    The Boy Jesus - (Luke 2:40,42,43,45,46,51,52)
    After Years of Silent Preparation: Heralded by John the Baptist
    John the Baptist - (John 1:23, 36)
    Calling the Disciples
    Calling of the 1st Disciples - (Matt 4:18,19,21)
    The Beginning of Miracles
    Jesus heals many - (Matt 4:23)
    Wedding at Cana - (John 2:1,7)
    Jesus Heals a Leper - (Mark 1:40)
    Jesus heals a Paralytic - (Mark 2:4,11)
    Widow of Nain's son - (Luke 7:12,14)
    Anointing at Simon's House - (Luke 7:37,47)
    Scenes in the Ministry
    Teaching from a boat - (Mark 4:1)
    Walking on Water - (Matt 14:25)
    Many Healings - (Mark 6:56)
    Mary and Martha - (Luke 10:38,39,40,42)
    Attempted Stoning - (John 8:20,58)
    Raising of Lazarus - (John 11:1,17,40,43)
    Healing a Blind Man - (Matt* 20:29,34)
    Jesus Anointed at Bethany - (Matt 26:7,8-9,11-12)
    Last Days in the Life of Jesus
    Triumphal Entry - (Luke 19:37, Matt 21:9)
    Clearing the Temple - (Matt 21:12)
    Plot Against Jesus - (Mark 11:18)
    Temple Healings - (Matt 21:14)
    Prayer on the Mount of Olives - (Luke 21:37)
    Judas agrees to betray Jesus - (Mark 14:10)
    The Last Supper
    Washing the Disciples' Feet - (John 13:5)
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:8,18, John 13:26, Luke 22:19,20)
    Crucifixion and Death
    Gethsemane - (Matt 26:47, Luke 22:41)
    Jesus's Arrest - (Matt 26*:46, John 18:6)
    Judas Hangs Himself - (Matt 27:35)
    Trial before Pilate - (Matt 27:2)
    In Front of Herod - (Luke 23:11)
    Pilate Orders Scourging - (John 19:1)
    Crowd Orders Jesus's death - (John 19:5,6)
    Mocking - (Matt 27:31)
    Road to the Cross - (John 19:17, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:49)
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:25, Luke 23:34,42,43, John 19:28,25)
    Death - (Matt 28:5, John 3:16)
    Notes*Two of the references given on the cards are wrong (as indicated above by asterisks. The first is cited at Mark 20, whereas the second is cited as Matt 31.

    This is possibly the only Jesus film to show Jesus parading through the streets of Jerusalem with a T-shaped cross. Although a number of films show the two thieves crucified either side of Jesus on such T-shaped crosses, Jesus is always crucified on one that is the traditional shape. Jesus (1979) also proved something of a watershed here, being one of the first films to show Jesus carrying the cross beam alone, as has been shown to be more historically likely. Since then the majority of Jesus films have followed suit - although The Passion of the Christ is a notbale exception. In either case, the cross itself is always a † shape in all other Jesus films.

    As I noted when looking at the re-named, re-issue of this film Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) was heavily criticised by Christian groups when it came out because it omitted the resurrection. Yet note that this was not a new thing, both the earliest passion plays (which were focussed solely on Jesus's suffering), and this film (which shows more of Jesus's life but tells the story up "to the cross" as per its title) this was far from a new thing then - it goes back to the very start of cinema, and indeed, older Christian tradition. The truncated ending, and the film's emphasis on the works rather than the words of Jesus, have led many to find similarities between this film and Mark's gospel in particular.

    The healing of the Widow of Nain's son (picture right) is one incident that is ot included in many Jesus films, only this film, and Jesus (1979), although it is also included in episode 6 of the Living Christ Series. I can't recall a film that shows either this raising, or that of Jairus's daughter but omits Lazarus's, other than those based solely on one gospel.

    Similarly sparse are films which show Jesus washing the disciples' feet, although this has increased in recent years with The Gospel of John (2003), and The Passion of the Christ (2004). Prior to that, I can only recall this film, Il Messia (1975) and the Living Bible Series.

    Of all Jesus films, this one is perhaps the one that shows the greatest range of Jesus's childhood in the "Period of Youth". Obviously a great many films show the birth and the incident in the temple when Jesus is 12. A few also include the return from Egypt. This film also shows some very naturalistic footage of Jesus growing up, with his mother as a toddler, both parents as a young child, and then helping his mother around the age of 10-12. After the temple incident, we see him helping Joseph carry some wood. The brevity of these scenes, no doubt due to what seems to us a short running time, but was then one of the longest films ever made, help this natural feel. They are wordless, and are of every day tasks. Another shot achieving a great deal of naturalism is the one shown at the top of the post where Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives.

    One curious aspect of this film is the way it includes two different versions of women anointing Jesus. This, like the two accounts of Jesus clearing the temple in The Gospel Road, is unusual, both amongst Jesus films, but also as an interpretation of multiple, yet variant accounts of similar incidents in the gospels. Most scholars would consider there to have only been one anointing, with the author of Luke relocating it - presumably because it fits in with the surrounding incidents, forming a section focussing on those outside "respectable" Jewish society. John's relocation of the story to Lazarus's house in Bethany, and naming of the woman as Mary, either reflects and alternative tradition, or most likely is to strengthen the link between Lazarus's death and resuscitation and Jesus's coming death and resurrection.

    W. Barnes Tatum in his analysis of the film in "Jesus at the Movies" comments on how the screenplay, written by a woman Gene Gauntier has a very positive view of women, omitting incidents which portray women as harlots and seducers, such as the woman caught in adultery from John 8 and the dance of Salome, and including incidents which show women in a more positive light such as the two anointings, Mary being praised by Jesus for sitting at his feet and learning from him. Gauntier also played the Virgin Mary. The film also omits any kind of "trial" before Caiaphas or the Sanhedrin, perhaps to remove potential anti-Semitic incidents.

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    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Spoof Feature Film of The Ten Commandments in the works

    UPDATES here

    This is probably old news by now, but Jeffrey Overstreet blogged about a forthcoming parody of The Ten Commandments, to be called The Ten. The original story came from Variety. You have to subscribe to get the full story, but the interesting part is quoted below:
    City Lights Pictures and MEGA Films have teamed to finance and produce "The Ten," a comedy spoofing the Ten Commandments, to be directed by David Wain ("Wet Hot America Summer").

    Pic, written by Wain and Ken Marino, will star Paul Rudd, Amanda Peet, Jessica Alba, Ken Marino, Justin Theroux and Adam Brody.

    Jonathan Stern will produce with Morris Levy for MEGA along with Marino, Rudd and Wain. City Lights CEO Danny Fisher and Michael Almog will exec produce, Michael Califra will co-exec produce and Marcus Lansdell will associate produce.

    Filming will begin in July, primarily in New York
    I know very little about most of the film's actors. Amanda Peet was chilling in her small role in Changing Lanes, Alba did what she had to do, I guess, in Sin City (my review). I probably know the most about Paul Rudd, who is best known to me as Mike in "Friends", but was recently very funny opposite Will Ferrell in Anchorman. The fact that his name comes first suggests that he will take the Moses part, which can only be a good thing as far as this film goes.

    That said, I'm not optimistic that this will be a good film. In fact, I suspect that there will be fewer laughs in the entire thing than there was in 2 minutes of the spoof trailer Ten Things I Hate About Commandments. Furthermore, there has already been a spoof Moses film - shameless Life of Brian~ cash in Wholly Moses (1980). Even Dudley Moore and Richard Pryor's immense comic talents couldn't save that from being an unmitigated disaster.

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    Friday, June 02, 2006

    Pasolini's Matthew for Just £5.99

    Just found out that Movie Mail Online, an excellent web / mail order based DVD company specialising in foreign, classic and lesser known movies are selling Pasolini's classic 1964 film Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (Gospel According to St Matthew) for just £5.99 (about $10) for one week only. Such a bargain I feel duty bound to pass it on!

    Pasolini's film is probably the best Bible film ever made, and DVD Beaver rated it highly in their 5-way comparison of the various editions of this film on DVD (including French and German versions, although they missed out this one which is horrifically dubbed).

    Postage is free in the UK, and £1.50 ($2.50) to the rest of the world.

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    Thomas on the Road: A Comparison of the Gospels of Cash and Thomas

    As I've been thinking about The Gospel Road over the last week (review, scene guide), I've begun to see certain parallels between it and the Gospel of Thomas - a Gnostic gospel which has come to prominence in recent years due to it sharing a fairly large volume of material with the canonical gospels.

    The style of The Gospel Road - part documentary, part dramatic re-construction - is noticeably different from the majority of Jesus films, as well as from the majority of documentaries about Jesus, being somewhere in between the two. In the same way, the way this film uses scripture is also very different from those films. Other Jesus films primarily tend to take incidents from Jesus's life, and occasionally transfer the odd saying from its original context in one or more of the gospels into a fresh context in the film. However, although this film has Jesus's baptism early on, and ends with his entry into Jerusalem and his death there, the incidents and sayings that occur in between do not relate to the narrative order of any of the gospels. Furthermore, the film is comprised of a great deal more of the sayings material than most other Jesus films. As Jesus never speaks in the film these are all delivered by Cash, who fills the role of teacher and interpreter.

    Just as this film does not fit the pattern of the majority of Jesus films, it also does not really fit the pattern of any of the canonical gospels. Mark, the earliest gospel, has fairly little teaching in it. Matthew takes Mark's work and arranges it around 5 (or 6) longer blocks of teaching. Luke similarly incorporates more teaching into Mark's work. However, he distributes the material more evenly. But in both cases the teaching is generally in longer sections, perhaps embedded in a story, or comes in the form of parables. Although John's gospel has relatively little action, its teaching is different again forming a number of longer discourses, most notably Jesus's farewell speech (Chs 13-17) which is almost 5 chapters! Most Jesus films tend to take one or more of these approaches.

    The sayings material in this film is different again. It is mainly one or two verses without much in the way of context - aphorisms, particularly those snippets of Jesus' teaching which are most beloved by the (Christian) community that the film is primarily aimed at. Most of it is extracted from its original context. And it is reported by a well known, colourful, Christian character, with many sayings introduced by the words "Jesus said...".

    Those who are familiar with the Gospel of Thomas will hopefully see the parallels between it and this film. I am aware that the date of this gospel and its relationship with the canonical gospels is highly contentious, with some scholars even suggesting that it is contemporary to the synoptics. I, however, share what I believe is the view of the slim-ish majority that Thomas is second or third century BCE, and dependent on the canonical gospels, as well as a few other Christian writings, rather than sharing sources with those gospels.

    If that position is accepted then further parallels emerge. Firstly, both The Gospel Road and the Gospel of Thomas draw their sayings from all four gospels even though they take them out of their "original" context. Secondly, both works were created to reflect, and presumably appeal to, a specific branch of Christianity, and so selects the material which most reflects that community's particular views.

    That said, some scholars, such as Ben Witherington III do not the Gospel of Thomas to actually fit into the literary category of "a gospel"
    ...the term gospel ("good news") is not just a Christian term, but rather one that was already in use in the Greco-Roman world before the canonical gospels were written...When early Christians picked up the term gospel, they had in mind the goods news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.1
    It can of course be argued that if this is a Gnostic gospel then its good news would revolve around knowledge (what Jesus taught) rather than action (what Jesus did). Nevertheless that is beside the point. The Gospel of Thomas does not include a passion narrative. The Gospel Road does.

    Finally, last month I mentioned Richard Walsh's book "Reading the Gospels in the Dark" which compares 5 Jesus films with the gospels they most closely represent. The second chapter compares Godspell to "Q" and The Gospel of Thomas. From memory, I seem to recall finding his comparisons between Godspell and "Q", more compelling that between Godspell and The Gospel of Thomas. It should be noted that Godspell also includes a depiction of the Passion. I wonder if Walsh has seen The Gospel Road? Since his main points of comparison regarding The Gospel of Thomas are based on the performances within Godspell I think he would find this and more in The Gospel Road. There is a fairly comprehensive review of Walsh's book at the Journal of Theology and Film.

    1 - Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code (Downer's Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004), p. 97

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    The Gospel Road - Scene Guide

    Following up Tuesday's review of The Gospel Road here is the scene guide for the film. Gospel citations follow the usual format. I should add that in writing this I realise there are a few areas I'm not entirely confident in, so apologies if there is the odd mistake.
    Prophecy about Jesus - (Is 9:2)
    The boy Jesus grows in stature - (Luke 2:51-52)
    John the Baptist - (Mark 1:4-11)
    Temptation of Jesus - (Matt 4:1-4)
    Rejection at Nazareth - (Luke 4:16-30)
    Wedding at Cana - (John 2:1-11)
    Blind Man healed at Bethsaida - (Mark 8:22-25)
    Calling of the 12 - (Mark 3:14-19)
    Peter's Confession of Christ - (Mark 8:27-30)
    Jesus the Way, Truth and Life - (John 14:6)
    The truth sets you free - (John 8:32)
    Good Shepherd - (John 10:1-18)
    The Two Greatest Commandments - (Matt 22:34-40)
    The Greatest Love - John 15:12-13)
    John the Baptist doubts Jesus - (Matt 11:1-5)
    Jesus ponders John's death - (Matt 14:10, 13a)
    Clearing of the Temple - (John 2:14-22)*
    Seven Woes - (Matt 23:1-36)
    The Fulfilment of the Law - (Matt 5:17-18)
    Rest for the Weary - (Matt 11:28-30)
    Woman caught in Adultery - (John 8:2-11)
    Jesus and Nicodemus - (John 3:1-16)
    Sermon on the Mount - (Matt 5-7)
      Judging (Matt 7:1)
      Ask and receive (Matt 7:7)
      Go the extra mile (Matt 5:40-42)
      Giving Alms (Matt 6:3-4)
      Do not Worry (Matt 6:28-31)
      Seek first the kingdom (Matt 6:32)
      Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12)
      Lord's prayer (Matt 9:9-14)
    Eating with Sinners - (Mark 2:15-17)
    History of Mary Magdalene - (Luke 8:2)
    Jesus and children - (Mark 10:14-15)
    Jesus weeps - (John 11:35)
    Passion prediction - (Mark 8:32)
    Apocalyptic discourse - (Mark 13:4-8,13,21-22)
    New commandment - (John 13:34-5)
    Gospel preached to all people - (Matt 24:14)
    Time of the Parousia - (Mark 13:31-32)
    Kingdom not of this world - (John 18:36)
    Triumphal Entry - (Luke 19:35-41)
    Clearing of the Temple - (Mark 11:12-18)
    Taxes to Caesar - (Mark 12:13-17)
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:12-23)
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-40)
    Trials - (Luke 22:54-23:25)
    Mocking and Beating - (Mark 15:15-20)
    Road to the Cross - (Luke 23:27)
    Crucifixion - (Mark 15:22-26)
    2 Thieves - (Luke 23:39-43)
    Jesus's Death - (Mark 15:33-41)
    Mary sees the risen Jesus - (John 20:11-18)
    Appearance to disciples - (John 21:9-12)
    Great Commission - (Matt 28:16-20)

    A Few Notes
    This is the only film that shows Jesus clearing the temple twice. This is based on a very conservative view of scripture which deduces that since John includes the incident that the start of his gospel, in contrast to the story's location at the end of the synoptic gospels, that the incident must have occurred twice. It is noticeable how different details are emphasised in both scenes to bolster the idea that there were originally two different incidents.

    This is one of the strangest versions of the Sermon on the Mount. As noted in my review Cash and Elfstrom had such a low budget that when a scene called for a multitude they had Jesus on his own. This effect is used here. Jesus stands on various locations on a huge hill, but utterly alone. This technique does serve to emphasise the universality of Jesus's teaching, as he stands on top of the hill addressing the whole universe.

    It is also strange because, unlike the majority of depictions of the Sermon on the Mount (not least the one in Matthew's Gospel), it does not start with the Beatitudes, but only introduces them part way through.

    The depiction of the Lord's Prayer is also interesting concluding, as it does, the Sermon on the Mount. Here the camera moves to Cash who prays the prayer with the bible half open. However, the final stanza of the version of the Lord's prayer recited in churches is not actually found in the gospels, at least not in the majority of texts, only in a few of the later texts. So when Cash gets to this part of the prayer he very subtly closes his bible, marking the transition between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, which occurs throughout the film.

    Finally, as you may have noted from the length of this scene guide for an 83 minute film, the film includes a great number of Jesus's individual sayings, many of which are just the famous bits plucked out of their "original", longer context. I will write more about this aspect later.

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