• 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, December 23, 2009

    The Nativity Story Revisited

    It's had been 3 years since I last saw The Nativity Story, indeed, after the hours spent discussing the build up to the film I had only seen it once in its entirety. So this year I decided I really should watch it again in the run up to Christmas.

    After such a long gap I was pleased to see that the film was still largely as I had remembered it. The opening scenes were still striking in their portrayal of 1st century peasant life, the latter section moved far more towards Christmas card piety. The wise men were still irritating and the weak dialogue was still exacerbated by the slightly suspect use of middle-eastern accents. This time around though I even noticed that even in the school scene the children use this exaggerated accents ("steeel small voice").

    There were a few other things I noticed this time that didn't really ring true however. Firstly, the arrival of the tax collectors in one of the early scenes seemed a bit showy. Not only were there a fairly large number of soldiers to carry out what is essentially an administrative duty (albeit one that might cause some trouble, but they all came complete with several standards and so forth. I suppose this may all be in keeping with how these things were generally done, but it didn't really ring true for me.

    But what really stood out this time was once these tax collecting soldiers had actually begun to collect money. The people cue up to offer their excuses and we see the soldiers take a man's daughter as payment. It's a fairly disturbing scene for a PG-rated film. It creates tension, and as the girl is the same age as our heroine we begin to fear for Mary. Thankfully though her father is also unable to pay his full amount, he does at least have a donkey who the soldiers can take instead.

    On seeing this Joseph, who we have already witnessed eyeing Mary up steps in and secretly pays off the soldiers to win back the family's goat. Its function is to establish Joseph as a good man. The thing is that I can't help wondering why Joseph redeems the donkey and not the daughter. It could be argued that he wants to impress Mary, but in all other matters he is happy to do his bidding through her parents. Or that he were trying to impress her father, except that he swears Mary to silence. Surely the actions of a good man with some means would be to save the other girl? This would also impress Mary (who is probably her friend and most certainly knows her), and if he wanted to help Mary's family he can always bring his offer of marriage and dowry forward a little.

    The other two things that stood out for me this time around were more positive. The first concerns the census. Herod, aware of Micah's prophecy, states that he plans to use this to try and smoke out any potential messiah. What struck me is that we only know about the census because Herod tells us about it. There's no arrival of soldiers, or a messenger of any sort, so whilst it's natural to assume that this thing has the backing of the empire, it is an assumption, and this time around there was something about the way that Ciarin Hinds delivered the line that made me suspect that it might have been his fabrication.

    If true this would be an interesting take on this problematic census. The census is recorded only in Luke, but according to non-biblical sources it did not occur until 6AD - at least 10 years after the most likely date for Jesus' birth. Is the film suggesting that Herod invented the census hence why Luke mentions it but the external evidence fails to corroborate it?

    Finally, I also noticed the scene where Mary washes Joseph's bleeding feet. This obviously anticipates Mary's son washing his disciples' feet as an adult. It's a nice detail, particularly as it is one of the few things that Mary actually chooses to do. For most of the film she is acted upon - passive rather than active.

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    Monday, December 21, 2009

    The Bible: A History
    7 Part Channel 4 Series Featuring Gerry Adams

    Didn't have time to tag this onto Saturday's post about religious telly over the Christmas period, but Mark Goodacre mentioned this a couple of weeks ago so I've been meaning to post it ever since.

    Channel 4 is to screen a seven part series called The Bible: A History. Like their earlier series Christianity: A History, each episode will feature a public figure from a variety of backgrounds who will examine the history of a certain part of the Bible "from their own, very personal, perspective".

    As I mentioned in the title, the name grabbing all the headlines is Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Having been brought up in an era when his voice was not even permitted to broadcast, it seems extraordinary that he will now be fronting his own show looking at Jesus' message of forgiveness.

    Other names include Anne Widdecombe (who also featured in Christianity: A History), former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar (Miracles of Jesus), Howard Jacobson (pictured above), Bettany Hughes and Robert Beckford. Mark Goodacre has been a series consultant and will appear in Beckford's episode on Revelation.

    Channel 4's website for the programme includes an interview with Anne Widdecombe about the programme. There's also an article about the programme on the BBC website. There's nothing yet on the production company's website, Pioneer Productions.

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    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Christmas UK TV Schedule 2009

    As longer term readers will know I like to give an overview of the festive season's religious programming (see Easter '09, '08 and '07 and Christmas '08, '07 and '06).

    This year is a bit of an odd one. There are very few Bible/Christian related documentaries, perhaps because BBC4 has just finished it's fascinating 6-part look at The History of Christianity. But for Bible film fans such as ourselves there's plenty.

    It's a case of get in early though, so I'm glad I checked my TV guide tonight and didn't leave it until tomorrow, with a DeMille documentary tomorrow and various films showing in the next few days. Anyway here's what I have gleaned:

    Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic
    Channel 4, Sunday 20th December, 12:35am
    Almost as long as one of his films, this documentary about everyone's favourite Bible film diector, Cecil B.DeMille kicks off in the early hours of Monday morning (though in TV guides it qualifies as Sunday so I've followed suit), and runs for over two and a half hours. I believe that originally theis documentary came in two parts: both are showing here.

    The Silver Chalice
    TCM, Various times as follows:
    Sunday 20th December, 5:05pm
    Monday 21st December, 8.55am
    Wednesday 30th December, 6:20pm
    Thursday 31st December, 10:20am

    Samson and Delilah
    Sky Classics, Various times as follows:
    Sunday 20th December, 10:35am
    Friday 25th December, 4:00pm
    Sunday 27th December, 6:00am
    Sunday 27th December, 2:10pm

    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    Channel 4, Monday 21st December 12:05pm

    The film that needs no introduction, with DeMille and Heston both at the top of their games.

    Christmas Tales
    ITV1, Wednesday 23rd December 11:35pm

    Last of a four party series looking at different parts of Christmas
    No idea what this is, but the other three looked at more secular ideas anout Christmas.

    The Nativity Story
    Channel 4, Thursday 24th December 11:45am

    The film's premiere on terrestrial television in the UK. Hardwicke's direction looks great but sounds poor in places, in oart due to an underworked script by Mike Rich. Gives a great contextto the nativity, but rarely feels convincing. But that's all forgivieable when everyone is feeling Christmassy.

    Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
    BBC1, Monday 24th December 2:15pm

    Christianity's best known allegory. The Jesus allegory is weakened, but certainly very much present, and this is generally fairly well made, if not, sadly, a masterpiece, it is at least better than the BBC1.

    Dark City
    TCM, Monday 24th December 11:50pm

    Another Christ-figure film. Alex Proyas' dark futuristic thriller.

    Ben-Hur (1959)
    Sky Classics, Various times as follows:
    Thursday 24th December, 11:30am
    Thursday 24th December, 9:00pm
    Thursday 31st December, 10:15am
    Thursday 31st December, 8pm

    The Robe
    Sky Classics, Various times as follows:
    Monday 28th December, 2:35pm

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    Friday, December 18, 2009

    The Tektōn in Jesus Films

    I've been catching up on some of Mark Goodacre's podcasts and in one of the most recent ones he asks "Was Jesus Really a Carpenter". The answer is that whilst there's some very old traditions that he was the word usually translated "carpenter" Tektōn is more the word for a general craftsman. Mark mentions how different Jesus films portray this part of his life, even ending the episode with a clip from Jesus Christ Superstar's opening number "Heaven on Their Minds"
    Like his father carving wood he'd have made good.
    Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
    This got me thinking about the more notable examples of how this theme is dealt with in Jesus Films. Obviously I can't cover every single treatment so I will limit myself to the examples that have been, for me at least, most memorable.

    Whilst From the Manger to the Cross doesn't show the adult Jesus working as a carpenter, we do see him assisting Joseph as a boy. There are various short scenes here, but the most notable shot depicts him carrying a plank of wood in the sunshine. The plank and his body cast a cross shaped shadow upon the ground. Mark actually mentions that one of the reasons that the tradition of Jesus as a carpenter has proved so enduring is, in part, because he dies hanging from a piece of wood.

    By the time The King of Kings starts Jesus' ministry is already in full flow, but there is a scene where a child brings Jesus a wooden doll to be healed. Jesus doesn't heal it miraculously, but instead mends it in more ordinary ways. It's a nice joke, which in DeMille's day probably emphasised Jesus' humanity.

    The "remake" also touches on Jesus' roots as a carpenter. I think there are a number of passing references, but the one that sticks out comes during his final visit to Nazareth. It's time for Jesus to go and he, somewhat absent-mindedly, points to one of his unfinished projects and says "The chair will have to wait until I return". Mary, wise to what is about to unfold fires back "That chair will never be mended".

    Eight years later Dennis Potter's Son of Man featured Jesus eulogising over the high quality piece of timber that has been used to crucify another man. A heavy sense of ironic foreboding hangs over this scene for we know that Jesus will be on a cross very similar to this before the play has run its course.

    All the film discussed thus far take the position that whilst Jesus worked as a carpenter until he was "about 30", once he began his ministry he left that life behind him. But in 1975 Rossellini's Il Messia took a decidedly different approach. Here Jesus' carpentry carries on alongside his preaching. Indeed often the two are shown happening at the same time. I have to say that this down to earth approach is one of my favourite treatments of the subject.

    However, perhaps the film that shows Jesus the most at 'work' is Last Temptation of Christ. Here Jesus' carpentry is not merely a detail in the background, but part of the film's overarching theme. Jesus is using his skills to make crosses for the Romans in an a futile attempt to push God away. It earns him the hatred of his fellow countrymen, but not of God. There's an interesting moment in this early scene where Jesus stretches himself out on the cross to see if it's the correct size. The shot is not logical (the time for doing this was before it was cut), but symbolic - whereas here Jesus is trying to see if the cross measures up to him, the rest of the film explores whether he will measure up to the cross.

    Like Last Temptation, Jesus (1999) also starts with Jesus the carpenter. Only here, Joseph is still alive, and the two of them are travelling round the countryside trying to get work. The two do some work for Mary, Martha and Lazarus, although it's clear that these days it is Jesus doing most of the work. I also seem to recall a later scene where these three try, unsuccessfully, to convince Jesus to stick with his profession.

    One of the films MArk specifically mention is The Miracle Maker which also opens showing Jesus at work but about to finish. Here however Jesus is no longer specifically a carpenter, but a general labourer. He's working at the nearby town of Sepphoris, and whilst his ministry is yet to start he gains two new followers - Mary Magdalene whom he protects from being beaten, and Jairus's daughter Tamar, who witness this.

    Lastly there is, of course, The Passion of the Christ with a scene where Jesus invents the modern day table. It's one of the film's low points. Not only is it anachronistic, but the whimsical tone seems completely out of step with the rest of the film. And, as Peter Chattaway points out in his essay on the film in "Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson's Film and Its Critics" [S. Brent Plate (ed.)], this scene also seems to introduce romantic touches to the relationship between Jesus and Mary.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Oops

    Just realised this week that I seem to have been classing The Miracle Maker as a 1999 film rather than one from 2000. I have no idea that is, or how many times I have done it on various articles. All I know is that I used to call it a 2000 film, and then I went wrong.

    It also means I need to re-evaluate my various film related lists of the decade, although I'm not sure onto which it would force it's way.

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    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Finding Christmas Clips Redux

    I talked last week about my attempts to find a decent film clip of the wise men for one of our Christmas services so I thought I would report back.

    In the end I went for a clip from Joseph of Nazareth. The wise men segment from this film is relatively concise (particularly when compared to The Nativity Story, although in the end I edited the 4-5 minute segment into one about 2 minutes 15 seconds.

    It was an unexpected choice in some ways. The film is not great, and there are some bizarre moments around the birth of Jesus - not least Joseph missing the birth because he is out collecting firewood. But it does have it's merits. I particualrly liked the shot from which the above still is taken which starts off looking back at the wisemen from the front before the camera gently rises up in the air and to the side so it can watch the magi pass below. It somehow catches the strangeness and the majesty of these men from the east arriving in the city. It's also a sort of God shot which is interesting. That said, here, as with many of the Bible Collection's films, the acting / dubbing is poor in places, and it lets this clip down a little bit, but all in all, I think I got away with it.

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    Burial Cloth Found from Jesus' Era

    Just Caught this on the BBC website:
    A team of archaeologists and scientists says it has, for the first time, found pieces of a burial shroud from the time of Jesus in a tomb in Jerusalem.

    The researchers, from Hebrew University and institutions in Canada and the US, said the shroud was very different from the controversial Turin Shroud.
    It is of course being reported as disproving the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, though that seems like a bit of a leap. I have various questions about the srouds authenticity, but this find disproves very little. After all, it'ssurely possible that more than one type of burial cloth was in use in first century Judea.

    Incidentally other news outlets are tackling this story from a different angle. For exmaple, The Jeruslem Post is focussing on the fact that this is the earliest discovered case of leprosy.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    A Serious Man

    I've been very slow off the mark with the Coen brothers' latest film A Serious Man, partly because I missed the pre-release discussion on the film's content, partly because it took an age to arrive in the UK, and then partly because it's taken it even longer to get to Loughborough. However I thought I'd make a few comments on what the film has to say particularly about how it relates to specific parts o the Bible.

    =============

    A Serious Man is the Coen's take on the Book of Job. Like Job the lead here – Larry Gopnik is running into calamity after calamity, and like the book, our hero is frustrated by the hopelessly unhelpful advice of three supposed sages. In contrast to Eliphaz, Zophar and Bilhdad – who are largely indistinguishable from oneanother – here the three rabbis are, on one level at least, very different. The first is very young, crammed into a tiny office and thinks the car park is profound. (Take that American Beauty).

    The second rabbi is more senior but equally vacuous. He lacks the youngers useful enthusiasm and has little to compensate save a bizarre story of a dentist who found one of his patients had Hebrew scribed into his teeth. Finally there is the elusive Rabbi Marshak. He has the biggest office of all and is protected by an officious secretary just so he can sit an think. Yet when we finally meet him – and it's not Lary but his son who gets the opportunity – he has little else to add to his colleagues trite aphorisms.

    But I've skipped ahead of myself a little. The film opens in what is appears to be some part of Eastern Europe. Certainly it feels like a deleted scene from Fiddler on the Roof only with subtitles (which are apparently easier to read if half of them are not chopped off the screen by a lazy and/or incompetent projectionist). This prologue concerns a man who, like Gopnik, has been having troubles of his own. When a man helps him put the wheel back on his cart he invites him back to his house for soup. But when his wife hears the name of their guest she is horrified. The man has been dead several years. This must be a dybbuk (an evil spirit). Determined to prove her husband wrong she stabs their guest in the chest. He takes it very well, and only bleeds a little, but now the couple know that either way they are cursed. Either they allowed a dybbuk into their home, or they have just murdered an innocent man.

    Given that this is the Coen's take on the Book of Job, it's fair to assume that this story is as critical to the rest of the film as Job's prologue is to it. Whether this is simply a parable illustrated or an account of Larry's ancestor's never becomes clear. The key, for me, is the way that this story relates to the film's core. Larry suffers and cries out to God, but hears nothing. By contrast, the man in the prologue gets help almost before he asks for it, but his unlikely helper takes his identity with him to his grave. The Coen's picture God saying you ask for my help and expect my intervention, but then when I did help you, you stabbed me in the heart. It's no doubt an mistake to interpret this thoroughly Jewish film in terms of Christian theology, but I find myself powerless to resist - the man who unexpectedly steps in to help is killed by those he came to save.

    There is another reading of this opening that has occurred to me as well, that this man is indeed a dybbuk. He then becomes the Satan figure who is roaming the earth at the start of Job. The dybbuk is not angry when he is stabbed by the wife. On the contrary he praises her for her cunning. Satan also seems to have been impacted by humanity's shrewd decision making. So this opening scene could represent the incidents before the book's prologue. After all the Coen's have been so upfront about the fact that this film is based on Job that it would be fair enough to assume that their audience is familiar with the cosmic bet.

    Betting rears it's head later in the film in the most unlikely of people, Larry's brother Arthur. Arthur is convinced he has figured out a system of probabilities for predicting the future, and whilst it seems to work at cards it doesn't fare so well in the field of predicting approaching policemen.

    I'm not sure whether ultimately Arthur is meant to represent Job's fourth advisor, Elihu, the/another dybbuk, or God himself. In fact to push the allegorical nature of this story too far would be a mistake. My hunch is that he is the Elihu figure. He's less qualified than the three rabbis but his words are occasionally more on the mark. The directors (god-like figures) don't seem to condemn him as harshly as the rabbis, and there is certainly some truth in the scene when he tells Larry about all the good things he has.

    Like her literary equivalent, Larry's wife is part of the problem not part of the solution. Perhaps anticipating the sinking nature of the good ship Larry she gets out at the sart of the film. She doesn't quite tell him to ("curse God and) die", but is equally if not more unhelpful than Mrs. Job.

    Another thing that intrigues me about the film is it's time period. I've been surprised that nothing I've read about this film comments on the fact that the film is set in APril/May 1967 - just a few short weeks before the six days war in Israel. For a film that has been praised for it's refusal to dumb-down its jewishness, the absence of any direct mention of the impending war cannot just be an oversight. Not when maps of the Holy Land adorn various walls. Yet having made that observation I find it hard to know what to make of it. Is the territory gained in the war a sign of the restoration and blessing we find at the end of Job? That seems unlikely. Is the suffering of Larry being linked to the suffering of Israel or Palestine. Is the absence of God in the film suggesting his absence from that conflict? I honestly don't have a clue, but I'm sure it's of significance.

    [Spoilers]
    Ultimately the film ends with an impending storm which recalls rather vividly the opening words of the final section of Job (38:1) where God answers Job "out of a storm". Yet whereas this is the point where things begin to turn around for Job - he's humbled, yes, but also vindicated and the beginning of his rewards are just around the corner - it's also the point where things are about to really start going wrong for Larry. His son looks likely to die in the tornado, he himself is about to receive a serious diagnosis, and perhaps fail to get tenure. Is this because he has finally decide that God will not come through for him, and he may as well take the money and solve two problems in one transgression?

    And what about the unlikily named Korean student Clive (C[see] and live?). He is also the very opposite of Larry. Larry understands the maths but, by his own admission, doesn't understand the picture of Schrodinger’s Cat. He can't handle the mystery. Clive on the other hand understands the less tangible things in life. He gets Schrodinger’s Cat it's just the maths he can't do.

    One of my favourite comments about the book of Job was a joke made by a friend of mine that it's ending seems "a bit Hollywood". It's notable, then, that in what is probably the fullest exploration of Job yet to emerge in American cinema the 'Hollywood ending' is nowhere on the horizon.

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    Friday, December 11, 2009

    On Finding Christmas Clips

    It's that time of year again when people ask me about finding nativity clips for Christmas meetings and services etc. It's actually quite difficult to find something that fits people's requirements, particularly if you are part of a young images conscious church like mine, because there simply isn't that much to choose from.

    As a general rule, the earlier Jesus films used to include the nativity - although DeMille's The King of Kings is a notable exception, and this seems to run up as far as Monty Python's Life of Brian in 1979. Most of these films, however, would feel a little dated to most congregations. The one possible exception here is Jesus of Nazareth from 1977, but in fact the nativity scene for this production is almosy an hour and a half.

    This leads me on to another grouping of potential nativity videos - those films that look solely at this story. In this category we, of course, have The Nativity Story. This is modern and reasonable enough to show - indeed when it was released we did a special screening with our church - but it too is an hour and a half - too long for a clip in a service. The same is also true of Godard's Hail Mary, though I suspect that the nudity in this film would put it beyond reach for most churches also. One useful option for summarising longer films is to show one of the trailers, although this works better when the story / film isn't so well known to begin with.

    Modern films about Jesus have tended to avoid the events of the first Christmas. On the one hand as audiences get more secular there's a greater interest in the teaching and example of Jesus, but not so much in the incarnation, with it's sceptic unfriendly virgin birth. Interestingly on the other hand there is also less interest in the incarnation - the salvific impact of which tends to be underplayed in protestantism - in favour of a greater emphasis on Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Two notable exceptions here are the Miracle Maker and Jesus (1999). Both these films tell the story via a flashback which gets around the narrative awkwardness of starting a story with Jesus as a baby and then having to jump to his life as an adult. In theory these could work - and The Miracle Maker is leading the field for a clip for our Christingle service on Sunday - but because they are flashbacks they can only give a very limited angle of things, or at least they choose to.

    Speaking of The Miracle Maker, a third area to look at it children's cartoons. There are a number of options here, but for British audiences there is a further problem - American accents. It may seem churlish to cite this, but it is a barrier for many congregations. I'm reassured by the fact that I know many North Americans find it equally unhelpful when Jesus iflms employ very British accents. But this and lower production values do for productions such as Charlton Heston's Greatest Heroes and Legends of the Bible. I've yet to make it all the way through The New Testament Stories: A King is Born, but my hopes aren't high.

    A fourth area is what Barnes Tatum might call the alternative trajectory - those films which take a somewhat alternative take on the story. This could include films who look primarily at the life of one of Jesus' parents such as Mary the Mother of Jesus, or Joseph of Nazareth, or even a camel as in The Fourth King. But it also includes modernisations such as Jezile (Son of Man) and The King. Mary is too long, Joseph might be more suitable. I might have a closer look at that one today. Jezile would be a little tooabas a clip, though it is a very powerful retelling of the nativity, particuarly the slaughter of the innocents. The King, though, will suit some settings, and as it's three ten minute films which runs into one, it works well for a congregational setting. The whoel point of The Fourth King is that he never (knowingly) gets to Jesus, but serves him anyway, but this obviously discounts this from most church contexts. And whilst Liverpool Nativity works well enough as live TV, I'm not sure how well it works in other contexts.

    All of which leaves us with YouTube. There are a couple of interesting takes, but there is so much poor quality material out there that wading through it all would take a lifetime. This five minute telling is well thought of, but I must admit I've never made it all the way through. I do like this 30 second take though which won a contest run last year by the Churches Advertising Network.

    So all in all, there's not much to chose from, but a few possibilites. I hope this helps anyone trying to do a similar thing.

    On a related note, last year I wrote a piece looking at 6 nativity films for The Reader magazine which is now available to view online (page 17). I looked at Hail Mary, The King, Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph of Nazareth, The Nativity Story and The Fourth King

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    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Repphun, Goodacre, Rosson on The Passion of the Christ

    Eric Repphun of The Dunedin School, a blog I've not read before, has posted his list of the Top 11 Religiously Themed Films of the Decade. I've been toying with the idea of doing a similar list myself, particularly as this morning I sent one of my editors my Top 10 films of the decade article. There are some good choices on there including a few I've not yet seen, but it's the 11th that has caused a bit of comment elsewhere. Repphun includes The Passion of the Christ as "the worst", listing many of the usual objections.

    Quick off the mark as always, Mark Goodacre has posted a response, noting a few errors along the way. The one that left me somewhat gobsmacked was his assertion that the "primary source material for the idea that Jesus was crucified with nails going through the wrists is the Turin Shroud". I'd thought it was tied in with the research related to the find of a crucified man's ankle bone, but apparently not.

    One of Repphun's objections that Mark counters is the general charge of historical inaccuracy. Mark's contends that a claim for historical accuracy "was not part of the publicity for The Passion of the Christ". Here I'd disagree. To quote what I wrote in Mark's comments:
    Gibson did claim at least twice that he was trying to be historically accurate. Firstly in an interview with Raymond Arroyo in the Wall Street Journal on March 7th 2003 ("I'm trying to make it as authentic as I possibly can, right down to the clothing, right down to the eating customs of the Jews of the old law") and then later with Andrew Gumbel for The Independent on 16th August 2003 ("(the film) will show the passion of Jesus Christ just the way it happened... like travelling back in time and watching the events unfold exactly as they occurred")

    Unfortunately neither of these articles appears to still be online, I don't have either of them to hand either, but recorded them and their source in an article I wrote previewing the film back in 2004.
    Mark's response draws a line "between interviews before the film and the film's own publicity". I can see his point, but I personally I don't think such a line exists, particularly in this case where the director is trying to build grassroots support for his film. Indeed I seem to recall that Peter Chattaway went as far as to say that even Gibson's claim "The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film...I was just directing traffic" was a pitch (though I can't find Peter's quotation so I may be wrong).

    It's interesting though that Mark has found his involvement with the BBC's Passion has brought The Passion of the Christ down in his estimation, particularly with regard to the anti-Semitism issue.

    Anyway Loren Rosson also discusses this and includes a link to his own thoughts on the film.

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    Monday, December 07, 2009

    The Beginning of the End

    Peter Mackie has sent me a copy of this delightful short film about the Christmas story that he made with his two daughters Rachel and Joanna. Peter was keen to stress that it's not a professional film and so in that spirit I'd like to make a few brief observations.

    The Beginning of the End is Luke's version of the Christmas story told in claymation. The obvious point of comparison here is The Miracle Maker especially as this film is very accessible for children. But whereas the Christmas scenes from The Miracle Maker feature both the shepherds and the wise men, here only the shepherds appear.

    The other difference from The Miracle Maker is that The Beginning of the End is wordless apart from the (original) songs which narrates the story as it unfolds on the screen. The song is a little uneven but has a strong chorus which brings the film nicely to an uplifting and memorable climax.

    The animation is clearly claymation proper (as in the modelling done with modelling clay rather than puppets), and whilst Nick Park and co. make it look effortless, it's surely one of the trickiest of all media to work in. Given that The Beginning of the End was made by a 13 year old, and 11 year old and their dad it's an impressive achievement.

    As you might expect, some parts work better than others, but the interaction between Mary and Joseph conveys a real tenderness, which must have been difficult to pull off. It also give us angels that not only sing of their good news, but who dance as well. This is something of a new angle, largely unexplored in film so far. It gives us heaven's viewpoint on the events on earth - this isn't just heavenly messengers fulfilling their duty, but real joy in what is unfolding before them.

    The film is available to buy on DVD, with proceeds going to the Barnabas Fund. To get a copy contact Peter Mackie through his website.

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    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    Reel History: A Man for All Seasons

    I'm a big fan of The Guardian's Alex von Tunzelmann's Reel History film reviews (I've previously mentioned her reviews for Life of Brian and the 1956 The Ten Commandments). So I was pleased to see that von Tunzelmann recently reviewed Fred Zinnemann's 1966 film A Man For All Seasons about the life of Thomas More. Ok so it's not a Bible film, but it is a historical film about a religious character, and as I wrote a little about it in my film chapter in Cut to the Chase 0.5 I thought I'd mention it. And, of course, it could also be classed as a hagiopic, and whilst it doesn't fit with Pamela Grace's classification, the exception only makes it more interesting. Hagiopics (according to Grace) are not only films about the life of a saint, but the story about their divine encounters, suffering and experience of God coming good. In A Man for All Seasons however More suffers plenty, but there is no divine encounter and ultimately God does not intervene.

    Anyway, it's an interesting read. Anyone wanting a second opinion could try either Marilyn Ferdinand's review (Ferdy on Films) or Steven D. Greydanus's (Decent Films).

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    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    Biblical Studies Carnival 48

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Doug Chaplain of Clayboy has posted the 48th Biblical Studies Carnival. I've not got time to make many comments at this stage, but it's a great entry in the series, and starts with a useful round-up of media resources.

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