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Peter T Chattaway

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

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I'm not sure if I'd say it's "the best," but Son of Man, which is streaming on netflix, gave me more new things to think about than most Jesus/Bible movies I've seen.

I've wanted to see that for a long time.

People here love THE MIRACLE MAKER. I don't, but I'm not the arbiter of all that is good in the world, so you might want to check it out.

Unfortunately I lack streaming capabilities. I've got to get in with the times, I know. I'll keep it in mind for when I get my internet talking to my Bluray.

THE MIRACLE MAKER. Is this the star-studded claymation version we're talking about? If so, is it appropriate for a 4-year-old?

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So, you two… in your opinions what’s the ‘next best’ Jesus film out there?

People will bring out the flamethrowers if I say this, but I shall do so anyway.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.

There. I said it.

Second. (But no one around here will be very surprised at that.

The other Jesus films I'd suggest are Superstar and Godspell. down the road a bit, The Miracle Maker. Most of the others you can just plain skip

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THE MIRACLE MAKER. Is this the star-studded claymation version we're talking about? If so, is it appropriate for a 4-year-old?

Yes, and yes. Our family has watched it every Easter without fail for at least half a dozen years, maybe more. We have a four-year-old, a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old who've grown up watching it. I'm sure David, who's now 13, first saw it when he was five or so.

It is also appropriate for grown-ups. I would venture to argue that it is the best critically informed dramatization of the Gospel story. The great Sermon on the Mount montage aside, Pasolini is deliberately uncritical in many ways (e.g., the stylized Jewish hats), and Last Temptation is hardly a dramatization of the Gospel story at all. Same goes for Godspell and JCS. Jesus of Nazareth is critically informed, but The Miracle Maker is better.

Edited by SDG

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I'd go with The Miracle Maker, although unlike Steven, I don't think I've seen it but once since it originally aired on TV. I'm not a big fan of Jesus movies other than Pasolini's. I grew up surrounded by people who spoke in awed, hushed tones about Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, a movie I never cared about. The other big Biblical epic in my household was The Ten Commandments, but I always fell asleep early in that one. It's not a Jesus movie, in any case.

The only movie that captivated me as a youngster was The Wizard of Oz.

I didn't bother to watch more Jesus films until Pasolini's film reinvigorated my interest. I was largely unimpressed by my first viewing of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which I saw as an adult. Later, I watched it again, expecting an overblown "epic," but found myself drawn in and enjoying the film.

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SDG's description of THE MIRACLE MAKER as the best "critically informed" Jesus film has some merit. I'm still not a big fan of the film as a work of cinematic art, though.

On the other hand, THE LAST TEMPTATION's refashioned gospel narrative leaves much to be desired. In no meaningful sense is the Christ of THE LAST TEMPTATION the Christ one encounters in the witness of the apostles. But it has a startling visual power and surreal texture that I find deeply compelling, and there are ways in which it pushes towards things worth examining that other versions, I think, don't even attempt to grasp. Not that I mean to overtake this thread with LAST TEMPTATION talk, since we've been here before 'round these parts.

It becomes clear, when looking over the list of Jesus films, that Pasolini's film is somewhat in a league of its own.

I grew up surrounded by people who spoke in awed, hushed tones about Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, a movie I never cared about.

Yeah, it's not a great movie. Though I suppose I need to revisit it before asserting that with any confidence; it's been quite a while since I've seen it. But the one thing that is interesting to me is that Anthony Burgess did some work on the screenplay (I am a devoted Burgess fan). He went on to do a kind of novelization of the film, MAN OF NAZARETH, that I've been meaning to get hold of for some time, along with his MOSES and THE KINGDOM OF THE WICKED, which were also connected to different films (MOSES THE LAWGIVER and A.D., respectively).

I didn't bother to watch more Jesus films until Pasolini's film reinvigorated my interest. I was largely unimpressed by my first viewing of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which I saw as an adult. Later, I watched it again, expecting an overblown "epic," but found myself drawn in and enjoying the film.

BEN HUR is pretty good. Like all the Hollywood Biblical epics, it's a bit silly in places, but it works pretty well. I have to admit I find some sections of it genuinely moving.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: But the one thing that is interesting to me is that Anthony Burgess did some work on the screenplay (I am a devoted Burgess fan). He went on to do a kind of novelization of the film, MAN OF NAZARETH, that I've been meaning to get hold of for some time, along with his MOSES and THE KINGDOM OF THE WICKED, which were also connected to different films (MOSES THE LAWGIVER and A.D., respectively).

Eh? I've never heard of these. The only novelization of Moses the Lawgiver that I know about is the one written by Thomas Keneally (who is now best-known for writing the book that Schindler's List was based on). And the novelization of A.D. Anno Domini in my possession is the one written by Kirk Mitchell.

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Eh? I've never heard of these. The only novelization of Moses the Lawgiver that I know about is the one written by Thomas Keneally (who is now best-known for writing the book that Schindler's List was based on).

Actually, Burgess's Moses isn't a novel, but a long narrative poem.

I first became aware of these books after watching Jesus of Nazareth for the first time last year. Each book in Burgess's "religious trilogy" corresponds to a screenplay he wrote: Moses for Moses the Lawgiver, Man of Nazareth for Jesus of Nazareth, and The Kingdom of the Wicked for A.D.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Have you read them, Nathaniel?

Alas, I have not. I managed to find a decent used copy of Man of Nazareth, though. Apparently Burgess's script underwent some major changes. The book, however, is entirely his own.

Addendum: There's a brief account of the writing of the script in Franco Zeffirelli's memoir, Jesus: A Spiritual Diary.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Glad you liked my comments above.

In terms of other Jesus films, my top ten list (which I wrote in 2006) is here. I think there are a few that I would definitely drop from that list now, and a few I would be keen to add (the aforementioned Son of Man) amongst them. I'd definitely suggest checking out the other (BBC) Son of Man if you get a chance. I'd second the nod for Miracle Maker, though it takes a few viewings to really appreciate it and stand by Book of Life, Il Messia, Last Temptation, Jesus of Montreal & Life of Brian as odd but good in various ways. The other one I'd probably add on would be the BBC's [i[]The Passion from 2008. And I still just like King of KIngs even though I'm not sure it's really worthy of my affection.

Matt

PS All the stuff on Burgess' books is interesting. Does anyone have them? ANd so either of them contain stills? I think I have the Moses one which has stills and wondered about the others.

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PS All the stuff on Burgess' books is interesting. Does anyone have them? ANd so either of them contain stills? I think I have the Moses one which has stills and wondered about the others.

I ordered them just today. I've seen some of them in libraries, though, and the editions I saw didn't have stills.

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I don't think that I'll fall in love with this one, but I would need another screening to do so, and I'm just not sure I'll get back to it. Here is my rather longwinded Filmsweep Reaction, where I can see why the film is considered a classic, especially in the canon of films about the Gospel. (Matt gets a special mention there, he does such nice work at his blog!)

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Thanks for the mention mate and nice work. If it's any consolation I was tremendously disappointed the first time I saw this (it was about 12 years ago - way, way before I found A&F), but it's since grown on me to great effect. I think watching individual scenes and reading about it really give you a much greater appreciation for it.

Oh and I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim immensely and don't care who knows it.

Matt

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Blu-ray!:

I'm convinced that The Gospel According to Matthew (Pasolini's correctly translated title) can't look any better than this. The dual-layering has extracted every important facet of the film to the new format medium. The bitrate is extremely high and supports the film's thickness and heavy texture. Contrast is well-balanced to present a high level of detail. After all the SD version I can safely say that, comparatively, this MoC Blu-ray is of stunningly beautiful quality. Grain is present, there is slightly more information in the frame, the aspect ratio is tight to the original 1.85:1, damage seems almost non-existent - overall it is far beyond my expectations. I was blown away.

Guess it's time to replace my lasersdisc copy. :(

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Having my first look at the film just now. A nice-looking subtitled version has been posted on YouTube. 

 

I love how we see events that many other Jesus films just leave out. Healing the leper. Walking on water. Cursing the fig tree. I appreciate that there is real anger in the voices of Jesus and John the Baptist when they say angry things (Jesus in other films usually gets the anger sanitized out of him). I love how interactions between Mary and Joseph are presented wordlessly, with slight inclinations of brows and subtle widenings of eyes and barely perceptible trembling of chins. 

 

A comment was made earlier about Salome's dance. In this film Salome is a sweet-faced slip of a teenager, and the dance is a simple, folk dance performed in a white lace dress while holding a bouquet of roses. It's the girl's apparent innocence and purity that impress Herod here ... the complete absence of prurience or seductive intent. So his offer of a gift is an attempt to reward something he sees as incorruptibly good -- and thus it's all the more shocking when she asks for John's head.  

 

It's going to bear several more viewings on my part ... and the fact that the lead actor has posted in this very thread is just gravy. 

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This is a film I'll continue to wrestle with for years to come. It's full of intense contradictions I can't seem to resolve. The realist style and verbatim recitation of scripture have the outward appearance of integrity, but they also suggest the alibi of a filmmaker with no strong interpretative angle on the Christ story. Critics often overlook the fact that Pasolini launched the project in order to demonstrate the affinities between Christianity and Marxism--to use Christ to teach the church a lesson, so to speak. He chose Matthew for its populist qualities. (Mark seemed too crude, Luke too sentimental and bourgeoisie, and John too mystical.) And so we have a Jesus very much like Pasolini himself: revolutionary, anti-establishment, a man of the people, a loner. I think it was Naomi Greene who recognized Pasolini's intellectual solitude in his portrayal of Christ. We rarely see the effect that Jesus' words have on his followers (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, shot in isolating close-ups). And by downplaying the miracles--which he later regretted including at all--as well as shearing the narrative of its eschatological passages, Pasolini deliberately misreads Christ's mission as social, not spiritual. 

Visually, I find it bracing, yet uneven. There are a number of striking images. Yet often the camera seems to have been entrusted to amateurs with poor marksmanship. During the longer speeches in Jerusalem, the visual style grows static, as though Pasolini has run out of ideas. But he does intelligent things with the figure of Christ. His youth, his intense gaze, and his dark robe (which stands out in contrast to the blanched settings) depart from every other interpretation of the character. The landscapes are also shrewdly employed. Once you get used to Jerusalem as a crumbling slab of concrete on a hillside more medieval than ancient, Southern Italy makes a surprisingly verisimilitudinous Palestine. And there's a powerful earthiness--indeed a rich sense of the earth itself--that grounds the film in reality. 

What I finally can't shake about the film is the tragic sense of a nonbeliever trying to access the mind of Christ, yet always remaining on the outside (but coming awfully close). And yet, because the director was also a poet, it's the one religious film I know of that has the power to make Jesus' words seem strange and otherworldly. Of course, it proved only to be a phase. Having gotten Christ out of his system, Pasolini never returned to an explicitly religious subject again.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Nathaniel wrote:
: Critics often overlook the fact that Pasolini launched the project in order to demonstrate the affinities between Christianity and Marxism--to use Christ to teach the church a lesson, so to speak.

!!! I get that many churchgoers who see this film might not tune into that wavelength much, but *critics* have often overlooked this aspect of the film!?

: And by downplaying the miracles--which he later regretted including at all--as well as shearing the narrative of its eschatological passages, Pasolini deliberately misreads Christ's mission as social, not spiritual. 

On a similar note, it has been pointed out that many of the exchanges take place in the outdoors or whatever in this film, whereas in Matthew's gospel they were often located inside synagogues, etc. W. Barnes Tatum also notes that the trial scenes ironically depoliticize the passion story -- this, despite the fact that Pasolini's is supposedly the "political" Jesus film!

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Come on, am I blind or what? This piece of low budget overrated film can't be the best gospel movie ever made. This one for me is ... blasphemy! and stains the 2011 top 100 list. Although we can rescue good acting and the similarities in the way things must have really been spoken at the time of Jesus, the movie is horribly flawed in cinematography, effects and design. Jesus and John the Baptist with the hair and beard well trimmed down, even though they were fasting in the desert? Maybe 100 instead of 5000 people for the fish and loaves miracle? The presence of meat in the Last Supper? And the picture cuts? when the devil is tempting Jesus or with the leprosy miracle which I would do better with a cell phone camera...

When will anybody besides me, notice that someone is taking us for a ride with this movie? Im a practicing catholic and I personally believe there will hardly be a good Jesus life film. Im not sure of the reason why, I just intuit that. If I have to pick one, it would be Jesus of Nazareth. Also, we christians should be the ones judging Jesus life films and if Pasolini didn't make one, then why name it "The gospel according to St Matthew? 

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Hi, Mau--I too would be interested to hear what you found blasphemous in the film, and what criteria you have for calling something “blasphemy.”

Have you read through the whole thread on this film yet? It and the links in it contain many insights into some of the things you mention. That might help you appreciate more what the film is doing, even if that doesn’t change your initial experience. And it might help you understand why this film is spiritually meaningful to others.

To understand the cinematic qualities of the film, I would strongly recommend the chapter on this film in Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film by Lloyd Baugh, who is a Jesuit priest. He argues that it is the quintessential Jesus film and analyzes many of the formal qualities that you mention. The whole book is great. Although the film did fascinate me the first time I saw it, that chapter helped solidify its place near the top of cinematic depictions of Jesus for me.

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Hi there,

I appreciate your attentiveness guys. Well, I read the main themes through the thread and I think they spoke a lot about Pasolini's way of manifesting a maxist/revolutionary Jesus which makes this (correct me if Im wrong) not an actual "Jesus life film". With all the movie defects I already mentioned, I agree this definitely doesn't seem to be a Jesus life story, at least not the traditionally depiction of the life of Jesus held up for almost 2000 years now. I guess I just felt these imperfections as some type of joke somebody was playing on me and thats why I called it blasphemous, especially when it is about the Son of God life were talking about. 

Definitely agree the film has the best Sermon of the Mount performance ever, thats really worth seeing, but come on, can you imagine Jesus taking a shaver or razor to the desert when he wasn't even taking anything to eat there? Don't you think the movie is making him a little vain because of that? And the miracles performed just don't seem to convince anyone about the truth of the Gospel, which was the original purpose of Jesus doing them. I felt similar as when I saw "Immortal beloved", what they did to Beethoven's life... The movie has beautiful usage of Beethoven's music but the story was somehow corrupted...

On 4/12/2017 at 1:53 AM, Rob Z said:

To understand the cinematic qualities of the film, I would strongly recommend the chapter on this film in Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film by Lloyd Baugh, who is a Jesuit priest. 

I'll see if I can check it, thanks for the suggestion.

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