• 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, May 30, 2008

    Podcast: Godspell (1973)

    Having postponed last month effort the latest podcast entry is up looking at 1973's Godspell. I'm still quite pushed for time so this one is a little shorter than normal.

    For those new to my podcasts there are 16 other entries that are also available to download.

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    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    James Tembo, Detective (2006)

    I've been meaning to post about this for a while now, but as I haven't yet had a chance to review it, I though it would be worth letting people know about it first and then return to it later.

    James Tembo, Detective is a Zambian film which "follows the work of a detective in modern Zambia who is hired to look for the missing body of an executed religious figure named 'Joshua'". It seems fairly clear from the official website that Joshua is a modern day equivalent of Jesus (obviously the route of their two names is the same) which means that this film is a sort of modern day version of The Final Inquiry. I guess other comparisons might be films such as Son of Man and, perhaps, Dark City. I'll be very pleased if this film, which started out life as a play, is anything like either of those, or if it manages to capture some kind of film noir feel, but it's ultra low budget so I wouldn't judge it too harshly if it didn't!

    The film was made at the end of 2006 which means you can already buy the DVD , and the website also gives you a run down of both the main and the supporting cast and crew as well as a description of the film's history and some hopes for the future. I hope to review it shortly.

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    Friday, May 23, 2008

    Got a Spare $60,000?

    Over a thousand pieces of Charlton Heston's movie memorabilia will be auctioned off later in the summer according to The Washington Post (amongst others). Highlights include the green kaftan that Ben-Hur wears at the crucifixion and his costume from The Ten Commandments (1956). But the most impressive item is surely a set of the commandments themselves which are expected to raise $60,000. The auction is due to take place on the 31st July and the 1st August. If only my second child wasn't due to be born the same day...

    (Hat tip to Peter Chattaway).

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    Gyllenhaal to be Prince of Persia

    Speaking of non-biblical epics, Empire has announced that Jake Gyllenhaal is taking the lead role in Mike Newell's Prince of Persia. Gemma Arterton will play an "exotic princess who aids him in his quest".

    Prince of Persia is based on Ubisoft's popular computer game of the same name (rather than any actual history, although there is some link with 'The Book of One Thousand and One Nights'). As I know nothing about computer games I'll quote Empire's description of the film's plot rather than risk my own.
    In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Gyllenhaal will play Dastan, a prince of Persia (naturally) in the sixth century who must defeat an evil nobleman and stop him getting his hands on The Sands of Time, a gift from the gods that has the power to reverse time and can give its possessor the power to rule the world.
    Having just been studying Ezra and the surrounding history I assume that this means the sixth century BCE rather than CE, but in any case I suspect the question is almost irrelevant.

    Historical Epics Newsbites

    None of this is Bible film related really, but those interested in the historical films in general might like to know that FilmChat has a special version of "Newsbites" just about forthcoming epics. There are a whole range of them in the early stages of production at the moment, and it seems like a number of deals have been done in the last week. Here are the titles of those Peter talks about with links to the relevant story:
    Olympia
    Eagle of the Ninth
    Agora
    Mortal Armour: The Legend of Galahad
    Pope Joan

    Unamed film on Da Vinci's Trial
    Unnamed film on Mahler

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    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Thoughts on Jeremiah (1998)

    I got an email asking me for my thoughts on The Bible Collection's Jeremiah (1998) so I thought I may as well post them here so anyone else who's interested could read them as well. First off, I must admit that it's been a while since I watched this film in its entirety, so I reserve the right to change my mind about it when next I watch it.

    Overall this is one of my favourite entries in the Bible Collection series. This may be partly due to the fact that it was one of the first in the series I watched and therefore things like the (seemingly) obligatory introduction of a love interest didn't bother me to the same extent as it did 10 or so films later.

    The other main reason I liked it was far more positive. Prior to watching it I knew very little about Jeremiah, and considered his work rather dull. I believe that it's the longest book in the Bible if you count the number of words rather than the number of chapters. And most of it is fairly miserable prophecies. There's the odd high point - lots of people love to quote 29:11 (usually out of context) - but it's a hard book to really get into both because of it's size and it's make up. It's the biblical studies equivalent of exploring Russia.That said, what the film did for me was draw my attention to just how much narrative there is in the book; to make the links between Jeremiah and the other bits of the Old Testament that I was more familiar with; and to give me the broader context in which to read Jeremiah's prophecies. Most of the information was already there, but now I could see how it fitted together - perhaps the equivalent of being given a good map of Russia, or even a Lonely Planet guide or something.

    There are a few memorable scenes in the film. One image that stands out is the discovery of the lost book of the law in the days of Josiah. This is shot from both inside and outside the sealed compartment which it has been stored in all these years. There's some question as to whether this passage should be taken as literally as the film takes it, but it's a memorable interpretation nevertheless. The PoV shot taken from inside the compartment almost makes the lost scroll a character in itself. It draws attention to the scroll's story, lost and neglected for years and now finally liberated.Another sequence that sticks in the mind is the one in which Jeremiah hears God's call. This is shown as a flashback if I recall correctly, and the child actor employed in the role of young Jeremiah does a decent job.

    I mentioned the love interest above, but I seem to recall a scene where Jeremiah and his girlfriend are separated which is fairly powerful. It I remember rightly this spurs Jeremiah on to follow God's call more strongly. It's all extra-biblical of course, but it's an interesting hypothetical character motivation, and adds to the sense of melancholy that comes through so powerfully from Jeremiah's writings.Other memorable moments include those where Oliver Reed's General Safan throws Jeremiah in a hole, where Jeremiah prophecies with a yolk around his neck and the scene where his prophetic writings are thrown into the fire bit by bit. The film draws to a close around the time of the exile to Babylon under Zedekiah / Mattaniah and these scenes are also fairly striking.

    There are a few other places that anyone wanting to read more about this film should check. Firstly the Prayer Foundation have a review featuring a few extra photos. There's also a few comments by Peter Chattaway at Canadian Christianity. Lastly there is some footage of the film available at Video Detective - it's the trailer for a 4 film set which also includes Esther, Solomon and Genesis: Creation and Flood.

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    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Update on NBC's Kings

    NBC has released more details of its autumn / fall schedule including a little bit more about Kings. The modernised version the story of David will be shown in prime time and is described by the NBC website as being a "one hour special". There's also the following plot outline which expands on the Variety piece I discussed last month.
    HOPE LIES IN BRAVERY.

    Kings is an inspiring exploration of the timeless David vs. Goliath struggle. The show is set in a modern metropolis under siege, where the fighting has gone on for too long and cost far too many lives. When David Shepherd, a brave young soldier, rescues the king's son from enemy territory, he sets events in motion that will finally bring peace. Suddenly, David is thrust into the limelight, earning the affections of women - including the king's daughter. When he's promoted to Captain, he becomes the reluctant poster boy for hope. But for David, the line between his allies and enemies will blur as the power players in the kingdom go to great lengths to see him fall.

    From the director of the blockbuster movie I Am Legend comes the ultimate story of David vs. Goliath, and there's no telling who will win.
    Pictured above are McShane who'll play King Silas, Christopher Egan as David, and Sebastian Stan as Jack. I imagine Jack is the aforementioned son of King Silas, which is presumably the equivalent of Jonathan. If so, I wonder whether the series will explore the theory that David and Jonathan were lovers. I never know which of the major US stations is the conservative BBC1 equivalent, and which is the more radical Channel 4 equivalent.

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    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    Secrets of the 12 Disiciples

    I've been meaning to make a few comments on Secrets of the 12 Disciples ever since it broadcast on Easter Sunday when, unfortunately, the last quarter of an hour clashed with the final instalment of The Passion. Robert Beckford has become something of a Channel 4 regular these days fronting documentaries every Christmas and Easter for a number of years how. And it appears he has a growing following. Back in 2006 his programme about the Jesus film genre The Passion: Faith, Films and Fury gained around 900,000 viewers in the UK, but this latest effort reportedly pulled in 1.45 million.

    One of the strengths of Beckford's previous programmes is their sense of narrative, but Secrets opts for a slightly different approach. Rather than telling one overarching story, or moving towards a particular conclusion, Secrets is more of compilation of smaller pieces, examining the fate of the original twelve disciples. In a way it acts as a compendium of stories around the margins of orthodox Christianity, many of which have enjoyed some sense of prominence.

    First to the plate is a look at the disciples known as Simon, James and Jude (also known as Thaddeus). Beckford notes how these three disciples share their names with three of Jesus's four brothers (the other being Joseph), and contends that perhaps they were the same people. Here Beckford is revisiting his previous work in The Secret Family of Jesus and touches on the recent Jesus Tomb controversy - both of which relied heavily on James Tabor. Noting how it's initially James that heads up the church in Jerusalem, Beckford speculates that originally the brothers of Jesus were far more prominent in early Christianity, but later got moved to the sidelines by a church that based its legitimacy in its leaders' succession from Peter.

    This is then followed by a closer look at Peter himself. Beckford notes how heavily the early Roman church relied on the idea that Peter had been the first Bishop of Rome, and that he was buried in Rome itself. But his efforts at testing the legitimacy of this claim are somewhat foiled by Vatican staff, though he does manage to find a tomb in Palestine that also claims to have been that of Peter.The next two sections look at Thomas and James son of Zebedee - both of whom are purported to have gone abroad as missionaries. Thomas is, of course, linked to India, but Beckford finds evidence that suggests that when the established churches sent missionaries to India they try to suppress the Thomasian version of Christianity they found was already there. In contrast Beckford questions the ancient tradition linking James and the shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Spain which, incidentally, features in Buñuel's film The Milky Way.

    The film's presentation of John son of Zebedeeis slightly different again and considers his corpus of writings. The traditional view - that John wrote a gospel, Revelation and three epistles - has been questioned many times over the centuries, going right back to at least the third century. Beckford briefly explains the textual difficulties with the "traditional" view before examining some of the more extreme interpretations of Revelation.

    However, no survey of the disciples, and particularly not one which challenges traditional views, would be complete without considering Judas. Surprisingly, though, Beckford doesn't go into the recent 'Gospel of Judas' controversy. Instead he finds that the greek word for "betray" should really have been translated "hand over". In other words, perhaps Judas may not have been a traitor: if Jesus's death was necessary then perhaps Jesus actually asked Judas to hand him over. Hence even though 'The Gospel of Judas' isn't discussed, the programme ultimately comes to similar conclusions.

    The Judas section is of special relevance to this blog as it also features footage from four different Jesus films. Silent films are usually in the public domain so are popular targets for use in such documentaries. So it's no surprise to find something from The Life of Christ (1898) / The Death of Christ (c.1900). Also in the public domain is The Living Bible series, which also makes an appearance. But the other two I find myself unable to name. One of which looks like it is from the Golgotha era and features Judas receiving his 30 pieces of silver (see below) not in some temple backroom, but in a large open hall. Unless this scene is from Golgotha and I've just forgotten it, I'm at a loss as to what it might be, and I'm totally at a loss for what the other film is. I did write to the programme's producers, but they were struggling to locate the staff who sourced the clips. If they ever get back to me I'll be sure to post the details.The final section of the film looked at whether there would have been any female disciples. There was some discussion of Mary Magdalene of course, but far more interesting to me, at least, was discussion of Thecla "apostle and protomartyr among women" (sorry no ref.). Having served under a female church leader for about 13 years now, I've done a lot of research into women in leadership and I was astounded that I'd never really heard of her. I can only imagine that as the sources I looked at came at the issue from a evangelical-ish perspective, their perceived opponents would be unlikely to be swayed by such extra-biblical examples. But then perhaps I just wasn't paying enough attention. After all, it's from the 2nd century work 'Acts of Paul and Thecla' that we get the description of Paul as being "of a small stature with meeting eyebrows, bald [or shaved] head, bow-legged, strongly built, hollow-eyed, with a large crooked nose". On the other hand, the film makers point is precisely that women such as Thecla have been marginalised. Indeed at times this appears to havehas been a deliberate act. In Thecla's case Beckford visits a fresco of her and Paul where someone has scratched off her eyes and her right hand. We can see just enough of her hand to tell that it was in the traditional pose signifying that the person in question was a teacher. Yet again there's a whiff of conspiracy in the air.

    This can all feel rather like Beckford is trying to attack the church, and in particular the Roman Catholicism. These days there's (rightly) a strong emphasis on church unity, such that many outside the Roman church perceive an attack on them as one on all Christians. At the same time, though, today's Catholic church is very different from that in the periods that Beckford is examining, and many of those in the protestant tradition tend to forget that this very tradition only came into existence because of objections over very similar issues.

    At the heart of Beckford's philosophy is an ideology that is suspicious of power, particularly in the church. In his essay 'Find the Power' he explains
    We need to be suspicious in the best sense of the word. This means that we approach a biblical passage believing that there are hidden power-dynamics at work within the text that we need to decode. To find the hidden power dynamics the reader has to 'read against the text', that is to consider who gains and who loses from the particular way that a passage is presented an understood.1
    Once this is understood it becomes clear why Beckford approaches these subjects as he does. "Jesus aims to empower the 'little people' of his day" and this seems totally out of keeping with the power and dominance of the church over much of the last 2000 years.2So Beckford is significantly different from the array of other documentarians trying to knock the church, not least because of his repeated claims that he is a Christian and that all of this is personally meaningful for him. Essentially, he's trying to reform the church, rather than damage it, whilst at the same time trying to engage and challenge those who have rejected traditional Christianity precisely because of issues such as these.

    It's fitting, then, that the film's final section moves away from such conspiracy-esque theories to look at what it means to be a disciple today. Having travelled all over the Mediterranean region, Beckford now finds himself on the streets of inner city Leeds meeting workers from the Joanna Project. These women, he insists, show us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus today. Their work with prostitutes is what faith is all about - reaching out to ordinary people rather than trying to build an empire. It's an inspiring conclusion and perhaps the strongest part of the film.

    It's hard to know where Beckford will go next. Having revisited so many of these issues over the last few years it's difficult to see what's left for him to explore. Nevertheless he does seem to have the knack of finding new material, and, clearly, there is very much still an audience for it.

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

    1 - 'Find the Power', Robert Beckford, pp. 42-43 from "Reading the Bible", Howard Ingham et al. (eds.) SCM Press (2006).
    2 - 'Find the Power', Robert Beckford, pp. 42-43 from "Reading the Bible", Howard Ingham et al. (eds.) SCM Press (2006).

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    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Bad Lieutenant to be Remade

    Abel Ferrara's 1992 film Bad Lieutenant is to be remade by director Werner Herzog featuring Nicholas Cage in the lead role. Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Cinematical are all carrying the story which was announced at Cannes. There have been various cries of dismay over this one, not least Jeffrey Overstreet who, given Herzog's beliefs, wonders what he will do with the original's "profoundly spiritual conclusion". It will be interesting to see how that pans out as the producer of the original, Edward R. Pressman, will be responsible again this time, and star Nicholas Cage has already sabbotaged starred in two remakes of classic 'spiritual' films (Wings of Desire and The Wicker Man).

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    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    'The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth'
    Nottingham Univ. Conference with Geza Vermes

    Nottingham University will be holding a two day "workshop" looking at Pope Benedict XVI's recent book 'Jesus of Nazareth'. Amongst others, the conference (which starts 4pm on Thu. 19th June) will feature papers from Geza Vermes, John Millbank, Archbishop Javier Martínez, Markus Bockmuehl, and Mona Siddiqui.

    The Nottingham University website which links to a call for papers, a poster, a provisional programme, plus a list of invited speakers, and a booking form which includes details of prices. The price for those not associated with Nottingham University will be £35 or £20 for students. I've not read Ratzinger's book yet, so I need to get a move on; I'm thinking about going on the Friday.

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Echoes of the Bible in Tokyo Story

    Tokyo Story (1953) is perhaps the most celebrated film of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. As the film is set in, and was the product of, Japanese culture it's clearly not based on the Bible, and where religion features in the film it's Shintoism that is being considered rather than Christianity. Nevertheless, as I watched it last night I was struck by a couple of echoes of scripture that I wanted to discuss briefly.

    The story, such as it is, revolves around an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to catch up with some of their family. They had 5 children, their daughter Kyoko still lives with them in Onomichi; their other daughter, Shige, has married and lives in Tokyo; Koichi, now a doctor, is also in Tokyo with his wife and 2 children; Keiso lives in closer-to-home Osaka; and lastly Shoji died during the war leaving his widow, Noriko, alone.

    Once in Tokyo they are confronted with their children's disinterest - only Noriko goes out of her way to make their time in Tokyo special. Having been shunted off to the highly unsuitable Atami, they decide to return home. On the way the mother is taken ill, so then stop with their son in Osaka before continuing back a day or two later. Shortly after the mother dies, but even then she is treated with a degree of indifference.It's fairly clear that the film is not particular intended to evoke stories from the Bible. The fact that is does so for some viewers is merely a coincidence based on the universality of this story and those we find in scripture. Such is the nature of good art: the perspective the viewer brings to it is significant, and it enables him/her to reflect on that perspective and what has formed it. It can shed new light on an issue, and in this case, not expecting such a dialogue can catch a viewer unaware helping them view a story from an unexpected angle.

    I found myself constantly mulling over two stories from the Bible as Tokyo Story meandered towards its climax, both of which relate to the way that Noriko the daughter-in-law plays the role of a true daughter in contrast to her husband's siblings.

    The first of which is the story of Ruth. Whilst Noriko's father-in-law is still alive, her husband has been killed, and both her and her in-laws clearly have a great love for each other. There is particular devotion between the two women which is touchingly portrayed. The Bible is very upfront about the devotion Naomi and Ruth show for each other, but, as a result, it leaves little room for the subtler nuances we find here.The other story that came to mind was that of the Good Samaritan. The parable is so well known to most churchgoers that it requires serious reworking to restore its original punch. The recent Oscar winner Crash did this very well. Here the comparisons are much less low key, but the same emphasis is present - those who treat you well are not necessarily those you might expect. Noriko acts an example for us all.

    I loved the subtlety and humility with which this film explored it subject. In honesty I struggled to stay awake, and briefly nodded off at least once, but, as I'm getting older I find that the quality of a film rarely correlates to my ability to keep my eyes open. Indeed, often the fact that a film doesn't rely on fuelling my adrenaline, but offers me a more honest and realistic exploration of life is a mark of its quality itself.

    Roger Ebert's review is, as always worth checking out, and there are a couple of other reviews of it at The Guardian as well.

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    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Sins of Jezebel (1953)

    1953 was perhaps the year that more hokey Bible films got made than any other. Sure there was The Robe (although some would say that was evidence enough), but it also saw the release of Salome, Slaves of Babylon, Queen of Sheba and Sins of Jezebel. The Robe aside, it's immediately obvious that these other films revolve around an exotic leading lady. As is so typical of the genre, it's difficult to work out whether the film is really about sex or saintliness.

    Anyone hoping that Sins of Jezebel was about the former rather than the latter will come away very much disappointed. The film never lives up to the tacky allure of its title. True, leading lady Paulette Goddard was the girl who had stolen Charlie Chaplin's heart, but that was twenty years before this film's release. By the time Jezebel was playing in cinemas the girl was now very much a middle aged woman whose career was fading rapidly.

    For an actress who was so closely associated with Chaplin's iconic figure 'The Tramp', and co-star in his best known film, The Great Dictator, Jezebel marked a new low. Whilst she's supposedly at the centre of a love triangle, neither of her leading men look particularly interested. Furthermore, the film is so pious that Goddard has little more to do than deliver the cheesy dialogue in the hope that someone might notice her flutter her eyelids.The film itself seems like a halfway house between a Sunday school film and a DeMillean biblical epic. At times it seems like a lost episode of The Living Bible series: it's awfully preachy, features lamentably wooden acting and tea-towel grade costumes. Elijah marches on and his whole manner is reminiscent of that particular series' portrayals of Old Testament heroes.

    In other places, though, it borrows from Samson and Delilah. I've already mentioned the love triangle, but the extremes with which the plot goes to to make this happen and the way jealously becomes the motivating factor for the femme fatale's actions, which then spurs the plot on is straight out of the 1949 classic. There's much earnest grabbing of arms and starring deep into one another's eyes, and the nagging sense that even if the Bible didn't exist, substantially the same film could still have been made.

    But there's also an interesting relationship between this film and a later DeMille film, which just seems a little too coincidental. The film opens with someone narrating the creation story from Genesis 1. As this progresses it becomes apparent that this opening shot is a close up on a painting, which the camera then pans across to illustrate the story. When the story has reached its climax the camera zooms out and a man in a suit and clerical robe steps into the frame to deliver a speech. He talks about the Ten Commandments, and Israel's idolatry, and as he does so he paces around, pausing momentarily by models of Moses's stone tablets or a model idol.Anyone familiar with DeMille's 1956 version of The Ten Commandments will recognise this sequence right away. That film starts with DeMille stepping out from behind a curtain to address the audience at length, and had initially been publicised by a ten minute trailer where DeMille strolled around his artefact-laden office.

    This character soon gives way to the opening credits which after a brief establishing shot of Ahab's palace moves inside to focus on an angry Elijah. The film is keen throughout to underline the link between these two preachers. Not only are they linked by this sequence either side of the credits, but also in the film's closing moments. There the modern day preacher announces that "there will always be the voice of an Elijah ... and when he is done he shall pass on his mantle to another". As he turns to leave he picks up a walking stick which bears an uncanny resemblance to Elijah's staff.

    The portrayal of Elijah is somewhat bombastic. There is little of the biblical character's humanity that is so skilfully illustrated in Kings. Indeed the entire sequence where he prays for his own death before hearing God speak afresh has been chopped. All this Elijah really does is stride on and off screen chastising his countrymen. It's hardly a surprise, then, that the film comes off like St. Paul's clanging bell - a one note production that is shiny on the outside but empty on the inside - it's as devoid of subtlety and comprehension of it's audience as its hero.The film's other main hero is Jehu, and by contrast his character's narrative arc is more interesting. Initially close to Ahab, he turns his back on his pious girlfriend for Jezebel, only to rebel against both her and Ahab towards the end of the film, and take a band of followers into the mountains. There, Jehu is anointed (by Elijah not Elisha as Kings has it), and returns to capture the city.

    There are a handful of changes to the biblical narrative. Chief amongst them is Elijah's conflict with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, where the contest is ultimately about who can make it rain, rather than who can bring down fire from heaven. It also conflates Obadiah and Naboth which works well and gives the film it's most interesting character.

    Overall, though, this is the only feature length version of this story that is available on DVD, and whilst it's not particularly well done, it's noteworthy for its apparent influence on DeMille's 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. There's a scene guide below. As there's a lot that extra-biblical so it's not that long.
    Creation & Preacher's intro - (Gen 1 & 2)
    Ahab prepares to marry Jezebel - (1 Kings 16:31)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    [Extra-Biblical Episode] - Ahab and Jezebel marry
    Ahab builds Jezebel's temple - (1 Kings 16:32)
    Elijah predicts a drought - (1 Kings 17:1)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    Contest on Mount Carmel - (1 Kings 18:16-40)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    "Naboth" confronts Jehu - (1 Kings 18:13)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    Naboth tried and killed - (1 kings 21:1-16)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]
    Elijah confronts Ahab - (1 Kings 21:17-24)
    Death of Ahab - (1 Kings 22:29-38)
    Jehu Anointed - (2 Kings 9:1-13)
    Jehu kils Jezebel - (2 Kings 9:30-37)
    [Extra-Biblical Episode]

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    Thursday, May 08, 2008

    On set photos for Year One

    Quint at Ain't it Cool has posted some pictures from the set of Year One. There's not much to go on really (except that there will be real camels), but it's interesting seeing this film progress.

    There's also a fuller cast list up at IMDb, which includes characters named Adam, Eve, Cain, Seth, Abraham and Isaac. So it's pretty much certain that this is a book of Genesis comedy, albeit from an unusual angle:
    Jack Black - Zed
    Michael Cera - Oh
    Olivia Wilde - Princess Inanna
    June Diane Raphael - Maya (as June Raphael)
    David Cross - Cain
    Juno Temple - Eema
    Oliver Platt - High Priest
    Christopher Mintz-Plasse - Isaac
    Hank Azaria - Abraham
    Gabriel Sunday - Seth
    Vinnie Jones - TBA
    Marshall Manesh - Slave Trader
    Harold Ramis - Adam
    Gia Carides - The Queen
    Rhoda Griffis - Eve (rumored)
    Eden Riegel - TBA
    Rick Overton - Sodom Officer Rick
    Paul Scheer - Bricklayer
    Matthew Willig - Marlak (rumored)
    Z. Ray Wakeman - Obidia
    Ted Ferguson - Royal Acolyte
    Chris Ranney - Merchant

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    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    LA Times on Jesus Spirit of God

    Jeffrey Fleishman of the LA Times has written what I think is the longest article yet on the Iranian Jesus film Jesus Spirit of God (a.k.a. Mesih or The Messiah). There's also and accompanying video file and a brief entry by Fleishman at the LA Times Blog.

    There are a few interesting comments on this one. Firstly, it's the first time I recall the actor playing Jesus, Ahmad Soleimani-Nia, being discussed at length. Apparently he's been in character for 7 years as director Nader Talebzadeh "never knows when he might shoot new sequences for the film".

    Secondly, Talezadeh seems more evangelistic in this piece than previous articles have suggested. For example, the recent Breitbart article which quoted him as saying he wanted the film to "make a bridge between Christianity and Islam, to open the door for dialogue" and so on. Here, though, he claims to "pray for Christians" and says that "They've been misled. They will realize one day the true story."

    Finally the soon to be released TV series of Jesus Spirit of God will apparently run to 1000 hours. That sounds like a long time, but, as Peter Chattaway notes, that's only as long as twenty-two 40-45 minute long episodes, or a series of West Wing if you will.

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    Biblical Studies Carnival XXIX

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    I've been enjoying all the DIY I've been doing over the bank holiday weekend so much* that I forgot about this month's Biblical Studies Carnival. Jim West has done a great job which had me clicking on to some of the highlighted posts far more than I usually do.

    Tyler Williams will host next month's carnival, and you can read more details about these carnivals, at his Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

    *This should be read with very heavy sarcasm indeed, though it's beginning to look we might get our new house finished soon. Now if only we could sell the old one...

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    Monday, May 05, 2008

    Gresham Interview, Jesus' Son

    My interview with C.S. Lewis's adopted son Douglas Gresham, who now works as a co-producer on the Narnia films franchise, is up at Ship of Fools. I should probably add that the phrase "sexing up Narnia" is nothing to do with me. That said, given the subsequent release of the film's new TV trailer which shows Caspian and Susan kissing (see FilmChat) although, I can't say I'm particularly unhappy with my editor's choice of words. Incidentally, (and it might be slightly inappropriate to mention this given that Narnia is a family film and Susan is meant to be a child), but given all the flirting and kissing Caspian and Susan are getting up to I can't help but wonder about th unintentional implications of the above shot of Susan handling Caspian's weapon. Put it another way, if this still was of two adults, and was discussed in a gender studies class, one reading of it's subtext would no doubt be very much to the fore.

    Moving swiftly on, my new review of Jesus' Son is also up now over at rejesus.

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    Friday, May 02, 2008

    Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light)

    One of Ingmar Bergman's lesser themes was children and family, be it the Jester's family in The Seventh Seal and Dr. Borg's reflections on his childhood in Wild Strawberries (my review though it's currently unavailable) to name but two. So it's somewhat ironic that his films present me with such a dilemma: on the one hand I love so many things about them, but at the same time being an exhausted newish parent means that whenever I watch them it's a very real struggle to stay awake .

    Winter Light is not a Bible film, although two of it's stars later took leading roles in Bible films (Max von Sydow as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Ingrid Thulin as Miriam in Moses the Lawgiver). Yet, in many ways, it's a meditation on Christ's suffering in the short time before his death, and various parts of scripture are quoted throughout, whether as part of liturgy, or just in the ensuing conversation. Its leading man is Tomas Ericsson, the pastor of a small church who wrestles with his doubts about God's perceived silence.

    The film opens towards the end of the Sunday morning service, and proceeds in almost real time throughout the rest of the day. The service itself takes around ten minutes of the comparatively short runtime (75 mins), and quotes words from various parts of scripture - the last supper from the gospels, the priestly blessing from Numbers and so on. There's a deft comic touch to these opening scenes, provided primarily by Olof Thunberg's organist, whilst they simultaneously introduce themes of being distant from God, and going through the motions of religion even though faith has well and truly moved on.
    Following the service two people seek and audience with Ericsson - his sexton, who must wait until later in the day, and Karin Persson, who is seeking to persuade her husband Jonas to open up about his struggles. On the surface, Jonas is primarily troubled by China's march towards the nuclear bomb, but the real issue is that he is deeply disturbed by the apparent absence of God - the very question which oppresses Ericsson so. Ericsson attempts some words of comfort, but ends up blurting out about his own lack of faith. Persson leaves, and, moments later, is discovered to have shot himself in the head.

    Persson's sad demise is surrounded by Ericsson's discussion with Märta Lundberg. The two had been living together following his wife's death, but now their relationship lies in tatters. Lundberg's love for Ericsson remains, albeit in a somewhat distorted fashion, but he has realised that he still loves his wife. Thus Lundberg's failure to match up to her has left him despising her instead. Whilst their discussion appears to clear the air, there seems little hope that their relationship has any kind of future.One of the things I love about Bergman's films is their lighting, and the areas of brightness and shadow that so enliven his compositions. Of course this film's title specifically draws attention to the light. so it's no surprise to find one luscious shot after another. Even if Bergman's images didn't move I could still look at them for hours (provided, of course, that I managed to stay awake). Here the light almost seems to function as an extra character, such as when early on in the film the light through the window suddenly intensifies. There's a clarity about the outdoors in this film which contrasts with the darkness found inside the church. It's not that the great outdoors offers any greater sense of hope - indeed it is outside where Persson takes his own life - but it does seem to provide a sense of clarity which is absent from the murky atmosphere in the church.

    Yet, as the film draws to a close, its only glimmer of hope comes from the possibility that in going through the motions of religious practice we might touch something deeper. When the sexton is finally given the chance to talk to his pastor in the vestry it is simply to offer his reflections on Christ's passion. As a man who has suffered much physical pain he cannot see how that was Jesus's greatest challenge. No, his mental torment as he was betrayed by his friends and faced with God's silence must have been the hardest part. Whilst outside the church is all but empty, the sexton's quiet observation, couched in everyday language rather than Bergman's more typical conversational philosophy, gives Ericsson the motivation to push on through and perform one more act act of worship.

    It's not an easy film, then, nor one that could be said to be in any way uplifting, but at the same time it's clear that Bergman had not yet abandoned all hope, and he at least offers himself the possibility that hauling oneself off the tarmac one more time might bring a brighter, if still difficult, future.

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