• 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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    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Jesus of Montreal DVD on Offer

    Even though the price of DVDs has dropped dramatically over the last couple of years, rare / foreign films still tend to be fairly pricey. So I'm keen to let readers know whenever there's a bargain.

    Jesus of Montreal is currently on sale at Amazon
    for £6.97, which in turn has driven the marketplace price down to between three and four pounds. That's no consolation to those of you in the US now that there are two dollars in the pound again.

    But this is the enhanced widescreen version, rather than the other, awful, region 2 disc which just looks like someone's copied it from their VHS copy. The only advantage of that DVD is the packaging which is an improvement on this one as pictured above. I believe this is the only widescreen version of this film available, but at the moment I can't be sure.

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    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Online Trailer and Reviews for van Eijk's Samson and Delilah

    There's a trailer online for Corina van Eijk's Samson and Delilah which has now been and gone at the VIFF. It looks fantastic, if odd. I've also found a handful of short reviews.

    Ron Reed has replaced his original post about the film with his review, which includes the following paragraph:
    This radical reinterpretation of the celebrated Saint-Saëns' opera is a splendid example of cinema offering many things that the stage cannot. Ingenious ideas abound, from the political sparks of the contemporary setting to the sensational use of the simplest of décor to the very entertaining use the singers make of the freedom cinema allows for facial expression.
    Sandra Peredo has also reviewed it for Intermedias.
    Opera Spanga director Corina Van Eijk’s take on Camille Saint-Saens’ 19th century opera Samson and Delilah is replete with bizarre meanderings. Love her style or resent it, Saint-Saens’ music is still gorgeous.
    Lastly, there's a capsule review on the film from Matthew Englander which I'll quote in full. He hated it, giving it only 1 out of 10.
    The French-language opera adapted for film with some kind of modern middle-east setting. Boring and cartoonish, I almost walked out several times and I wish I had. Shot in digital video, the movie looked terrible; perhaps just the way it was projected but all the reds and blues were garishly ugly. The music was loud and unpleasant and never let up. The singing voice of Klara Uleman, playing Delilah, was particularly grating.
    I had also quoted a bit of blurb on the film from the VIFF organisers and it turns out that that was part of a longer write up which is now available on the VIFF website.

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    Friday, October 26, 2007

    Noah film to Rock the Boat

    French Production company Gaumont have announced plans to release a 3D animated film about Noah in the run up to Christmas 2009.

    According to Variety it'll be a $35 million production by Franck Chorot with first timers Andre Bessy and Fabien Suarez co-directing the latter's script. Also involved are French effects company MacGuff Ligne.

    This is one of a number of Noah films that have either been recently released, or are in production (including El Arca which I somehow missed). It's funny how these things go. We're currently coming to the end of a run of 5 Moses films in 18 months, so now it looks like it's Noah's turn.

    HT to Peter Chattaway

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    The Seventh Sign (1988)

    Back in 1991, Demi Moore was at the heart of a controversy when a nude picture of her, taken whilst she was pregnant with her second child, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Was it sexual objectification or a symbol of empowerment?

    What the coverage of this debate generally failed to take into consideration was that three years earlier, Moore had also been photographed nude whilst pregnant with her first child. On that occasion, however, it had been part of a reasonably successful film - Carl Schultz's The Seventh Sign.It's possible that Seventh Sign escaped the controversy because it was released in 1988 - the same year that Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ reached (or often didn't reach) theatres. Whilst The Seventh Sign was released first (in April), discussion about Last Temptation began a long time before it's eventual August release.

    The two films have much in common. In addition to the nudity, both featured unconventional and unflattering characterisations of Jesus, had something of an apocalyptic outlook, and gave the role of Jesus to actors who made their names starring in popular war films. Of all the cinematic Jesus's, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot) is perhaps the least conventional-looking. With short, slightly curly, blond hair, no beard, a pockmarked face, and long, lean features is almost diametrically opposed to what the historical Jesus would have looked like. Furthermore, his 47 years make him the oldest screen Jesus of modern times. But this is not the Jesus of history (other than in a couple of brief flashes back to the first century), but the Jesus of Revelation. In fact it's not until a good way through the film that it's actually revealed who Prochnow's character actually is. Confronted by Moore he calls himself a messenger from God, "I came as the lamb and I return as the lion". The clues have been there from the start, of course. Prochnow has been wandering around opening the seals that unleash the various stages of the apocalypse. Only the risen Christ gets to do that.

    Yet whilst there's no reason that the Christ of the apocalypse should resemble the Jesus of history physically, it's the contrast with the biblical Jesus's character that is so strange. Prochnow is cold and emotionless (a feature heightened in the minds of English speaking audiences by his German accent). In contrast to the compassionate Jesus of Hal Hartley's similarly themed Book of Life, this Jesus never seems to wrestle with his awful task, nor does he anticipate the greater future beyond the apocalypse that its author does. He briefly bemoans the world's inability to change, but it's very much delivered with a shrug of the shoulders. The problem with The Seventh Sign is it's a conventional genre picture. Whereas Book of Life was able to subvert and surpass the conventions of the supernatural/apocalyptic thriller, this film is unable to build on its good start and falls back on an amorphous vaguely-religious mix of obscure ancient texts, pick-and-choose prophecies, immortal villains, and reincarnation. It does give a passing tip-of-the-hat to goodness and self-sacrifice, but by then the film has already well and truly sunk under the weight of its own contrived nonsensical climax.

    The handling of the seven signs is also weak. The concept of "seven signs" is taken from Revelation, but those signs are an overly literal, jumbled mixture of the events that accompany the breaking of the seven seals, the blowing of the seven trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven bowls. At the same time they are not actually literal - there are literal seals, but no bowls; a Christ figure ushers in some of the signs, but there are no angels; etc. etc. In other words it's a highly selective literal approach to the Bible's most symbolic book. The seals/trumpets/bowls section of Revelation lasts for 12 chapters, but in order to find seven distinct "events" to structure the narrative around, the screenplay just picks out a single word or phrase from here and there and labels it as a "sign". But these events are so localised that only experts can decode them, as opposed to the fact that in Revelation the signs are metonymic. Rather than being simply localised, unusual occurrences, a literal reading of this section would suggest that the signs actually are part of the end of the world. They would not be secret signs, but clear indicators. Of course, most scholars consider that the signs should be taken more symbolically, but that would be to move this film very much out of this genre. The supernatural/ apocalyptic thriller genre has two main paths - that of widesp read destruction or that of the secret conspiracy, and Seventh sign rather weakly opts for the latter.

    It's not all bad. Those into early Christian legends will appreciate the references to the myths of Seraphia and Cartaphilus/the Wandering Jew. The story of the Wandering Jew was a popular choice for early film makers, with at least 4 silent films being made with that title. As far as I'm aware this is the first occasion that it has been made post-WW2, and it's notable that the character in question is now Roman rather than Jewish. More importantly, the film has aged incredibly well for one made in the 80s. Even that decade's best films are usually blighted by terrible wardrobes, awful hair, and badly synthesized soundtracks. Here, however, only Moore's oversized glasses, give the game away. More importantly, Schultz handles the tension well, and creates a good sense of mystery around his lead villains. It's just a shame that as one of them is widely renowned as a ground-breakingly compassionate teacher we never quite know who we're meant to be routing for. Jesus rarely makes a good villain.
    =========
    There are a few useful resources on this film, notably the full screenplay which is available at Drew's script-o-rama, and a collection of photos from the Movie Screenshots Blog. I've only discovered it today, but I'm sure I'll be returning. Finally, Danel Griffin's review is certainly worth a read.

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    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Daniel Films Redux

    Having discussed a number of films about Daniel earlier in the month, I've now watched a couple of those that I hadn't seen previously.

    The Beginners Bible: The Story of Daniel in Lions' Den is a fairly standard cartoon aimed mainly at kids, albeit with the odd joke that might entertain adults. For example, during the incident with Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2, one of the bewildered magi summarises his master's request as "You want us to tell you know what we know so you'll know that we know what you already know?" If shows the following episodes:
    Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem - (Dan 1:1-2)
    Daniel and friends in Babylon - (Dan 1:3-7; 18-21)
    Nebuchadnezzar's dream - (Dan 2:1-49)
    Belshazzar's banquet - (Dan 5:1-31)
    Daniel in the Lion's Den - (Dan 6:1-28)
    So it misses out the incident where Daniel and his friends request a special diet from Dan 1; The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan 3); and the story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness (Dan 4). Given that the story is aimed at younger children these omissions all make some kind of sense. Trying to explain diet restrictions to younger children from another, ancient, culture is fairly difficult I imagine. Likewise introducing three other characters whilst Daniel is off screen might be distracting, and there's a fair bit of repetition in the telling of Nebuchadnezzar's second dream.

    What's also interesting is the way that this cartoon is called The Story of Daniel in Lions' Den, but it's really a general account of Daniel in Babylon. The Lions' Den story only takes about a quarter of the total run time. The cartoon is fairly well animated, but offers very little insight for grown ups. (Which is obviously fair enough!)

    VeggieTales: Daniel in the Lions' Den (on the Where is God when I'm S-S cared DVD) has much in common with the above cartoon. Again it's aimed firmly at kids, although it also includes the odd joke that adults might get more easily. I can't help feeling though that whilst all children will be entertained by this film, the story is more accessible to younger children in the Beginners Bible version. It's a play off because that version will probably not keep the attention of older children as this does however.

    Like the Beginners Bible this programme contains scenes from Daniel's life other than the title story:
    Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem - (Dan 1:1-2, 6)
    Nebuchadnezzar's dream - (Dan 2:1-13, 25-30, 48)
    Daniel in the Lion's Den - (Dan 6:1-28)
    There are obviously fewer stories here, which partly reflects the shorter running time. The account of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem is shorter still, just the briefest of prologues. The only other story included (other than that of the Lions' Den) is that of Nebuchadnezzar's first dream. Strangely, the content of the dream is never revealed or discussed. It simply forms the motive for the wise men who then plot against Daniel.

    Despite the shorter running time the events from Daniel 6 take longer than in the above film, mainly due to it having more songs, and lengthy sequence where Daniel first enters the den.

    I also made a few comments on the Daniel entry from the Testament: Bible in Animation series, which also admits the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and compounds Nebuchadnezzar's two dreams into a single incident. Overall though it's the most complete animated account that I've come across.

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    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Euphemism and Counter- Euphemism in The Story of Ruth

    As part of last nights' Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years session on Ruth we looked at 3 different film portrayals of Ruth, the version that was part of the Testament series, Henry Koster's The Story of Ruth and Amos Gitai's Golem:Spirit of Exile which I hope to write about shortly.

    One subject that we dwelt on perhaps a little more than was ideal was the issue of euphemism in Ruth 3. I've long heard it said that when Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz's "feet", she actually means his genitals. There's debate about it, but it remains a possibility. Some of the discussion last night revolved around whether or not, if true, this act would necessarily be sexual. In our culture it's hard not to read it that way, but it's possible that in other cultures, this may not be so. For example in some cultures today it is the norm to walk around with genitals exposed.

    Against this backdrop, the closing segment of The Story of Ruth is particularly interesting. Given it was made in 1960, it's no surprise that it doesn't offer the euphemistic interpretation, but even more surprising is that rather than playing it entirely literally, any hint of sexual behaviour is purged. So, in fact, Ruth doesn't even lie down, or touch his garment. Instead they sit together very briefly before Boaz sends he on her way.In the closing sequence, this episode is referred to again, and it is this, rather than issues of inheritance, which settles the issue of who will marry Ruth, Boaz or Tob (the closer kinsman). As part of his wedding speech Tob gives Ruth the chance to speak. Whilst she vocalises her agreement to the marriage she also declares that she doesn't love Tob, and in the spirit of "truthfulness" tells him that he should know that she "sought out Boaz on the threshing room floor".

    Tob takes this as evidence that she has been unfaithful, and calls the wedding off leaving Boaz to claim her hand in marriage before explaining to the elders that "nothing passed between us on that night except spoken words of love". This is all very interesting, both in terms of what it says about the sexual standards of America in 1960, and about the way euphemism is treated.

    Firstly, putting the feet euphemism aside, the film clearly considers it's heroine too chaste to have her lie down with a man. Societies standards may have been based on the Bible, but at that stage they had clearly advanced such that the implicitly commended behaviour of its heroines was still not good enough.The second point is more interesting. In saying "I sought out Boaz" and nothing more, Ruth's deliberate ambiguity acts as a kind of counter euphemism. Certainly Tob takes her phrase euphemistically (as an admission of an inappropriate act that compromises their proposed marriage) whereas the truth is that the phrase should be taken literally. Ruth use of this phrase seems to be to deliberately send out the wrong message as a last ditch attempt to marry Boaz. This contrasts strongly with the biblical account whereby the original may have suggested (what we would consider?) a sexual act, but then introduces a euphemism to cover up that particular meaning, leaving readers today to understand the description literally.

    Two short additional point of interest. When Boaz seeks to clear things up with the elders his insistence that "nothing passed between us" is somewhat economical with the truth, because Ruth and Boaz did kiss at that point. Secondly, I can't help wondering when watching this scene what Tob's reaction would have been to this final revelation. Did he feel tricked, or was he still glad to have let Boaz marry Ruth?

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    Monday, October 22, 2007

    The Ten Commandments (2007) - Review

    Much of the early criticism of this year's The Ten Commandments has focussed on the animation quality which many reviewers consider to be below par. Whilst it may be true that the standard of the CGI here may not be quite up to the standard of Pixar's The Incredibles, overall I think the harshness of that criticism is a little unfair. The animation of people appears to be the hardest task in the world of CGI, and there are very, very few films which can hold a light to Pixar's family of superheroes. But the CGI in The Ten Commandments is comparable with the brief moments that humans enter the fishy narrative of Finding Nemo or the scary world of Monster's Inc., yet was achieved with a small fraction of those films' budget. The danger is that in demanding only the absolutely highest standards of CGI that this particular form of artistic expression is closed to everyone but the biggest two or three studios. Smaller filmmakers haven't got a change to compete. Twelve years ago Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg struck a blow for smaller filmmakers with their Dogme 95 manifesto. It seems a shame that twelve years later, to many critics' eyes, computer animation is only for the rich.

    Given the amount of criticism levelled at the animation it surprising just how much visual creativity is on show in this film. Liberated from the technical restraints of cranes etc. the "camera" is able to swoop about indoors, produce some impressive backdrops, and get low and high angles that an actual camera would struggle to achieve. When Moses throws his staff to the ground in Pharaoh's palace its transformation into a snake is threatening shot from the floor. There are also a number of interesting dissolves.
    It's also hard to imagine a live action film would be able to give the same prominence to the pillars of cloud and fire which lead the Israelites in the wilderness. They are present in the other films, of course. Cecil B. DeMille was never one to miss such an obvious opportunity for showmanship. But in a live action film, such a spectacle is just a bit too showy. In contrast, whilst the biblical account is certainly impressed by it's presence, it also implies that it quickly became the norm. Commandments captures the way that these pillars were reassurance of God's presence and leading, rather than simply divine pyrotechnics.

    Films about Moses are, of course, so numerous, and so well known, that reference and homage are easy, but originality is difficult. Commandments has examples of both. Moses has died on screen before, but the film adopts an interesting approach. Moses's perennial thorn in the side Dathan is present once again, and here he even looks like Edward G. Robinson who played him in the 1956 film.

    In some places, however, the "borrowing" perhaps goes a little far (here, as in The Prince of Egypt such as the crocodiles who snap at baby Moses's basket), but overall the various nods to the other films are fairly deft. That said, when the credits sequence uses animated hieroglyphics to highlight the increasing enmity between Moses and his cousin Ramsees, it's a clear reference to The Prince of Egypt's most impressive sequence, but it's also very effective in it's own right.
    One of the things that is very different about this film is the wealth of material it manages to cover in such a short space of time. DeMille's gargantuan epic ran to 220 minutes, and still didn't cover as much of the story of the Exodus as this film does. At 88 minutes (including ending credits) this film is shorter even than The Prince of Egypt's 1 hour 39 minutes, and yet by avoiding silly sub-plots and distracting songs it covers far more material. In addition to the usual prologue, burning bush, plagues, exodus, and Ten Commandments, we're also treated to the stories of the water from the rock, manna and quails, and an extremely downplayed version of Aaron and Miriam's rebellion.

    One of the things that will have attracted many of the film's viewers, are the big names that are providing the voices. Moses is played by Christian Slater in his least Nicholson-esque role yet, who is adequate rather than outstanding. But Ben Kingsley (who took the lead role in 1996's Moses) and Alfred Molina do well as the narrator and Ramsees respectively. Less impressive is Elliot Gould as the voice of God who seems to lack sufficient gravitas and kindness to really carry the role.
    One unusual aspect of the film is the relationship between Moses and God. Whereas most of Moses's relationships are fairly conventional (enmity with an insecure Ramsees etc.,) Commandments breaks new ground by depicting Moses seeking out God and not just the other way around. When the Israelites complain that it's his fault they now have no straw to make their bricks with, he goes out into the desert to hunt out his Lord.

    So whilst this is not a great film, and whilst the computer generated animation is not at the same standard as many of the big-budget productions, this is a reasonably solid telling of the story of Moses, which will be particularly appealing to younger children.

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    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    Reviews for The Ten Commandments

    Promenade Pictures' The Ten Commandments was released last night, so I thought I'd link to some reviews. Unfortunately my screener only arrived yesterday so I'll not get my review written until Monday.

    Joe Leydon at Variety praises Kingsley's narration, but bemoans the "dispiriting visual clunkiness" adding that "blandly rendered characters are wooden in their reactions and stiff in their movements".

    Reviews from the major papers generally find both positives and negatives. Mary Houlihan of the Chicago Sun Times says it "mostly succeeds in bringing a new level of humanity to the legendary Moses... but as mainstream entertainment at the multiplex, it doesn't quite live up to animated-movie standards".

    Likewise, The Chicago Reader's J. R. Jones is also undecided "The panoramic backgrounds have a silky beauty, but the characters are cheaply rendered with doll faces, enlarged musculature, tiny joints, and clunky movement." Tom Keogh at the Seattle Times calls it "ponderous but somewhat moving".That said, Los Angeles Times / Chicago Tribune's review by Lou Carlozo is very effusive. "There's an endearing, earnest quality to "The Ten Commandments" that transcends its star-studded cast and computer-generated animation".

    Overall though the film has not won the critics over. At this moment in time, Rotten Tomatoes is poised at 18% (though 20% from the cream of the crop), whereas Metacritic is currently a slightly more encouraging 25%.

    Even Christian Critics aren't particularly sold on it. Decent Film's Steven D. Greydanus rates it C+ wishing "If only the worst that could be said about it were in regard to the stiff, unappealing animation". Peter Chattaway's review or Christianity Today gives it 2½ out of four. "As a straightforward introduction to the biblical story, it is arguably better than some of the splashier or more sensational movies out there. Whether it merits a special trip to the big screen, though, is another matter."

    As a film critic, I have to say sifting through the various reviews is made somewhat tiresome by the multitude of weak puns that plague these reviews. (As that one shows), it's really not very difficult to do, so there's a danger that we end up coming across like a bunch of sniggering adolescents.

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    Friday, October 19, 2007

    Broadway Resurrects Godspell

    Variety has a story about a new version of the musical Godspell scheduled to open in summer 2008. There's no casting news at this point, although it looks like most of the key positions in the crew have been filled.

    I've only seen this live once, and even then it was a school play that a teacher-friend of mine was involved in, but it would be great to see a new version of this for the 21st century if it ever made it over here.

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    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    CT Interviews Producers of The Ten Commandments (2007)

    Promenade Pictures' animated Moses feature The Ten Commandments opens in the US tomorrow, and, as is often the case with such films, Christianity Today has interviewed some of those involved. Frank Yablans and Cindy Bond (the chairman and president of producers Promenade Pictures) spoke to Mark Moring about the film as well as the Epic Stories of the Bible series which aims to give the same treatment to another 11 Bible stories.

    There aren't many reviews for this film yet. CT's own review should go live in the next 24 hours. Even Variety could only link to a review by Roger Moore of The Orlando Sentinel.

    HT to Peter Chattaway

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    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    UK Screenings for (The Margate) Exodus

    Having premièred last month at the Venice Biennale, broadcast dates for The Margate Exodus, or simply Exodus have finally been announced. The Channel 4 première will be on Monday the 19th November, several months later than was originally planned.

    Before that, there will also be 3 theatrical screenings as part of the London Film Festival. The UK première will be on Friday 19th October 2007, 9pm at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square. A week later the film will show again at 9pm at The Ritzy in Brixton. The final showing will be followed by a special concert featuring the artists who contributed to the film's soundtrack. That won't take place until Sunday 28th October 2007 and it will be held at the Barbican Theatre. The film shows at 4pm, with the concert commencing at 7:30.

    More details are available from the official website, although unusually this was one notification I received via a mail out. Given the postal strike which is holding up all sorts of things I'm expecting I'm pleased that this, at least, got through.

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    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    New Layout

    Regular readers will probably have noticed that I have a new blog layout. There's still plenty to be done, not least sorting out the header image issue with IE7 that's been a problem for some time (apologies to IE7 users). If anyone knows how to fix that, or suspects that the site isn't functioning correctly, then please do let me know. Many thanks to my good friend Jonny Nott for his help / tutelage in the mysteries of web programming!

    The idea of the new layout is to make the site more image friendly. I feel that very often I spend ages finding an image / precisely the right image and then make it so small it's hard to see. It has also given me ugly layouts, so I'm planning to use larger images from here on in. It'll change the older pages of course, but hopefully not too badly. The irony of this post being without an image, however, is not lost on me.

    Does anyone want to take a guess at which film the header image is taken from?

    Evan Almighty DVD Release. Plus! Additional Commentary

    In the US, Evan Almighty has been out on DVD for a week now, but according to amazon.co.uk it's not due for release over here until November the 26th. I guess this mirrors the film's staggered theatrical release, but it's still kind of strange.

    Anyway, it seems that this release is fairly extras-lite, no doubt preparing the way for a special edition some time next year, but those of you who can't wait might want to check out Peter Chattaway's audio commentary which is available to download for free.

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    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Magdalena - Released From Shame - Review

    My friend in Morocco was given a DVD of this film at a conference recently, although she couldn't remember which one. A quick search on Google, however, reveals that this has happened in a few places, and that the film has been screened at other conferences. I've got a fair bit to say about this film's use of material from The Jesus Film which I'll save for another post. For now, here's my review
    ========
    The Jesus Film was finished 28 years ago, and in the intervening period it has gone on to become the most watched film of all time. Yet whilst missionaries all over the world continue to value it as an evangelistic tool others clearly seem to be aware that their beloved movie is starting to appear dated. As a result, the last few years have seen a number of different versions of the film be released, including a version made for children and a longer edition of the film featuring a brief introduction from Genesis.

    Magdalena - Released From Shame is the latest, and most radical development in this tradition. In addition to incorporating its own extra-biblical scenes, it has also incorporated a number of additional stories from the gospel that were not included in the original production. Brian Deacon has reprised the role of Jesus from the original - vocally at least, but in order to avoid the inevitable continuity errors that would result from the passing of almost 3 decades, Jesus's face is not shown in these scenes - it may even be a younger actor. Close listening, however, reveals a slight difference in Deacon's voice: it is richer and more noble than it was in 1979.

    This leads to a couple of interesting moments, when we see a more intimate conversation between Jesus and one of his audience. We see their face in close up with part of the back of Jesus' head in the foreground. But the expected, and usual, reverse shot (showing us Jesus's face and the back of the other person's head) never materialises. It's a little off putting, but it does focus the attention on the response of those who originally listened to Jesus, and recollects all those 50s Bible epics which were so reverent they didn't even show his face.

    As well as inserting extra scenes / shots, it has also added extra flourished to the original. So the original angels were white men with 70's fros and a white bed sheet, Here they are more indistinct CGI figures. We also see the occasional piece of symbolism, most notably the snake who slithers amongst a pile of ropes during Jesus trial, but is seen dead shortly after Magdalene sees the resurrected Jesus.

    The film also jumbles the chronology. We start in 40AD with Mary Magdalene telling a group of her friends about Jesus. She goes right back to the stories of creation and Abraham before jumping to the events of the Nativity and Jesus's baptism and onto her encounter with Jesus. At this point the film returns briefly to Mary and friends before proceeding with the story of Jesus's ministry and execution in a more linear fashion. From then, up until Jesus's ascension we occasionally return to AD40, but it's the Jesus story that by far predominates.*

    Essentially then this film seeks to tell the story of Jesus in from the perspective of Mary Magdalene - the message of Jesus is mediated to the audience by her. In addition to the scenes from 40AD and those from Jesus's ministry that feature Magdalene, she also provides the occasional bit of narration. Unfortunately, the actress playing Mary Magdalene herself (Rebecca Ritz) is one of the film's greatest weakness. She is far too earnest and, as a result, comes across as somewhat patronising. Worse still, there's no real passion in her account of this supposedly life-changing encounter.

    The film's intended audience is also made fairly clear. Mary is primarily telling the story to a woman who has not heard about Jesus, and who rather conveniently feeds Mary the exact questions she needs to move her monologue on to the next part in the narrative. Unfortunately, it's as forced and awkward as it sounds, and it's not helped by a wooden, unconvincing performance by Shira Lane as the the would-be believer.

    The other major key to the production's intended audience is the selection of episodes it includes. Nearly every scene from Jesus's ministry - whether from the original film, or more recent footage - has a woman as one of the crucial characters. The promotional material for the film is clear that in addition to Mary Magdalene the film also covers the stories of the Widow of Nain, the woman caught in adultery, and the haemophiliac who touches Jesus's robe.

    In addition to selecting these stories it also inserts shots of Mary and the other woman around Jesus's ministry. So when he delivers his Gospel manifesto to a packed synagogue in Luke 4 we see Mary and a friend in the women's enclosure at the back. Likewise when an adulteress is brought before Jesus for Judgement, it is Mary who observes that the man should also be present.

    So this is very much a film made for women, who perhaps find the usual male-dominated Bible films alienate them. As such it could have been a worthy project, but sadly, it's been poorly executed.

    Despite it's popularity with missionaries abroad The Jesus film has always been unpopular with film critics. Not only is it a not particularly well made film, but it's rubbed salt in the wound by going on to become the art form's most widely seen specimen. It's unfortunate, then, that the parts of Magdalena which stand out as being the most well crafted are those which have been cut and pasted from that original Jesus film.


    *The end of this paragraph was changed to it's present form on 27/11/07 to amend an earlier error.

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    Friday, October 12, 2007

    New Release Date for The (Final) Inquiry

    CT Movies has a piece on FoxFaith one year after its inception, which towards the end makes the following note about The Inquiry
    The Final Inquiry, a made-for-TV movie in Italy (original title: L'Inchiesta), was one of those long listed as "coming soon" on the Fox Faith website, but Bixler says it will have a "small theatrical" release in January 2008, followed by video at Easter.
    There's a little bit more on this announcement at FilmChat. Peter, who I believe has actually seen the film, says that he has been told that "the film has been re-cut" and speculates that it's most likely "the Dolph Lundgren fight scenes" which have faced the chop. He's also puzzled by the above Spanish poster which has titled the film En Busca De La Tumba De Cristo (In Search of the Tomb of Christ) - "I don't believe the location of the tomb is ever in question in this film".

    Looking back over my previous posts on this film, I note that originally it was claimed that Sir Ben Kingsley was involved in this film, but that neither his name, nor his face, appear on the poster above, so it may also been that his scenes have been cut, or re-shot without him.

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    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Article on Jesus Films and The Redeemer

    Brendan O'Regan dropped me a line to say hello and to let me know about his site Faith Arts. It also has a blog associated with it which I think I'll be keeping tabs on from now on. Lots of stuff about religion in popular culture, including some things I've not come across before.

    There's also an article on Jesus films which I've added to my sidebar. In it it mentions a film I'm not really familiar with - The Redeemer (1965). Here's what Roy Kinnard and Tim Davis have to say about it in "Divine Images":
    The Redeemer (Empire Pictures, 1965) was a Spanish production filmed in 1959 under the title Los Mysterios Del Rosario (The Mysteries of the Rosary). Produced by Rev. Patrick Payton, it was shot near Madrid and examined the last three days of the life of Christ (Luis Álvarez). Jesus' face is never shown on-screen, and the familiar voice of Hollywood veteran Macdonald Carey overdubbed Jesus's dialogue in the re-edited American version, which was narrated by Sebastian Cabot
    I did get another email recently asking me about this film / group of films. It seems this film was also known as El Redentor in Spain as well as several other titles listed on the IMDb. I don't know a great deal about them. The name Luis Álvarez does ring a bell, but I'm not at all sure why. It is available from Amazon on VHS as part of The Life of Christ: The Amazing Trilogy For what it's worth I suspect that the film's producer is actually Father Patrick Peyton who is best known for coining the phrase "the family that prays together, stays together".

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    Another Animated Noah Film in the Works?

    I got back from Morocco last night, and had to prepare to go to London first thing this morning, so normal service will resume around here shortly. Meanwhile, Peter Chattaway picked up a Variety story about a potential CGI Noah film.
    Indie financer Unified Pictures (Bob Funk) is launching development of $35 million CG-animated feature Noah’s Ark - to be told from the point of view of the animals in the ark.

    Unified has signed Philip LaZebnik (The Prince of Egypt, Mulan, Pocahontas) to script. The shingle’s relying on its private financing, and ElectroAge has already started on the animation.

    Unified topper Keith Kjarval said improvements in CG technology will make it possible to give Ark the look and feel of a studio pic. He anticipates that the toon will be completed over the next two years.
    This is just the latest in a series of Noah films, several of which have been animated. And as Peter goes on to mention there are supposedly another 3 animated Noah's Ark films in production (not to mention Darren Aronofsky, so who knows which of them will actually happen.

    Anyway, given the release of Evan Almighty earlier in the year, I was surprised to see that I'd not yet made a list of Noah films, so here it is:
    Noah's Ark (1909)
    The Deluge (1911)
    The Bible: Noah (1921) [Part of series]
    Noah's Ark (1928)
    Father Noah's Ark (1933)
    Green Pastures (1936)
    Noah's Ark (1959)
    Noah (1964) [Belgian]
    The Bible: In the Beginning (1966)
    In Search of Noah's Ark (1976) [Documentary]
    Greatest Heroes of the Bible: The Story of Noah (1976)
    Genesis: Creation and the Flood (1994)
    Testament: Creation and Flood (1996)
    Noah's Ark (1999) [TV}
    Fantasia 2000 (1999)
    Evan Almighty (2007)
    There are a few other minor films/cartoons showing on the IMDB, so I may add them in in the next few days.

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    Sunday, October 07, 2007

    Son of Man Seeking Intern Angels

    Spier Films, the compnay who has produced Son of Man (Jezile) are planning to release the film over the next few months, and whilst there's still no release date, they are seeking to take on a couple of interns to help with the launch. Unfortunately I've gone and left the details on my other computer so I'll have to add them below shortly.

    However, if you think you might be interested then contact me and I'll pass the information on to you.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Going On Set

    I'm actually on holiday in Morocco at the moment, but one of the things I like to do before I go away is set a few posts up in advance just to keep the blog ticking over.

    Anyway, one of the things I'm hoping to do out here is visit some of the places that various Bible films were shot. Unfortunately we're a long, way away from the home of Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate where a whole host of Bible films have been made. It would, perhaps, be a different matter if we weren't only going for a week, and if we didn't have my 15 month daughter with us, but it's just not feasible.

    All of which is a shame as the BBC are currently filming The Passion in Ouarzazate and Tamnougalt / Tamnougalt near Agdz (pictured), although some websites are reporting filming at nearby Zagora.

    Anyway, according to the IMDb there have been at least 4 epics / Bible films made near where we will be staying: Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), I Giardini dell'Eden (1998) and Alexander (2004). I've only seen Last Temptation and Alexander, and even then I've only watched the latter once, but hopefully the location for Last Temptation will be recognisable, and hopefully our host will know of others that the IMDb does not.

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    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Biblical Studies Carnival XXII

    Tim Bulkeley has posted the Twenty Second Biblical Studies Carnival up at Sansblogue.

    Next month's 23rd Biblical Studies Carnival will be edited by John Hobbins at his Ancient Hebrew Poetry site. For more information on nominating posts for future carnivals, see the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

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