• 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.

    Sunday, September 17, 2017

    Daniel dans la fosse aux lions (1905)



    It's been the British Silent Film Festival this week, hosted in my local city of Leicester, so whilst none of the films are (strictly) biblical, it nevertheless seems like an apt occasion to look at some more Silent Bible Films.

    Daniel dans la fosse aux lions is part of Les martyrs chrétiens (dir: Lucien Nonguet, 1905), but it's one of those occasions where it's difficult to know whether one film is being discussed, or three. It seems to have been a tactic favoured for a few years around 1910 (see also the discussion on Gaumont's 1910 Esther and Milano's 1910 San Paolo one).

    The first film in the sequence consists of a lion tamer performing some stunts in the Roman arena, before a cut and we are treated to a procession round the arena featuring two Christians. They bow before the emperor before being strung up on crosses, which largely obscure their bodies from view. In a gruesome finale the lions then tear meat from the crosses moments after a cut has, presumably, switched the bodies.

    This then is the context into which Daniel dans la fosse aux lions is presented - the earliest known adaptation of the story of Daniel in the lions' den being adapted for film. It consists of what appears to be only one shot, although it is at least two, and possibly several more (of course all "shots" in cinema are actually just a series of individual still images displayed consecutively).

    At the start of the film Daniel is lead out and tied to a post, whilst Darius looks down from the very top of the shot, gesturing in Daniel's general direction. Then the gate opens and a lion and lioness enter, the lioness even coming close enough to sniff him. Given the scene that has just been witnessed this would, presumably have been a tense moment for many in the audience. In the opening film the switch is fairly obvious, but here 'Daniel' is clearly real living flesh and blood. Sadly, the tension is then rather wasted by an angel materialising in front of us via via a not particularly impressive double exposure. As the angel disappears, Daniel's chains fall off much to the relief of the still watching Darius. Pausing to give the lions a little stroke he leaves the den via the gates from which he entered. It remains the most daring Daniel in the Lions' Den sequence on film.

    Double exposure was a popular photography trick even before the invention of the movies, so it's no surprise that it was such a popular technique so early in the development of cinema. Conversely, the sight of a man seemingly at the mercy of lions would be a cheaper way for audiences to experience the thrills of lion tamer-type circus skills. Combining both together in this way, probably represents the earliest example of 'the spectacular' in biblical films, which has remained popular in biblical epics through to today.

    The final film in the sequence is Le festin de Balthazar (Belshazzar's Feast) which I wrote about back in 2014.

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