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Visual Bible - Acts

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Picked this up on Ebay for not much at all last week, and it came in the post yesterday, so I caught a glimpse of the opening 5 chapters

The first thing that struck me was the tagged on prologue. Matthew as I recall had no such added on "this is the person who wrote this book" feel, and in fact really only promoted its theory that the gospel was written by the similarly named disciple, by visual means, occasionally fading between the narrating Matthew, and the disciple years earlier, a wry smile by the older actor at certain points etc. But nothing like they show here where we are introduced to a boat in a storm (no Master and Commander), and then we need a doctor, and lo and behold here's Dr Luke - he wrote the gospel and acts and was a friend of Paul. Given that there's far from universal agreement that the author of these two letters / accounts was Paul's friend, and that its unclear whether Luke was a doctor, certainly whether he was one who responded to "is there a doctor in the boat type requests as we have here" this all seemed a bit silly. The later Gospel of John oulls back from this, putting an opening title to get it off the anti-semitic charge, and closing on the young John's face and such, but never presenting it in quite such a black and white way. I think I remembered likeing the way it actually gave the film the same sense of mystery about the full identification of "the disciple whom Jesus loved" as the gospel, but I can't remember for sure.

The next thing I noticed was that whilst Bruce Marchiano (who played Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew ) retained a cameo (?) as Jesus at the start many, if not al the disciples were played by different actors. This film does seem to be trying to be a sequel, rather than a separate entity like John. Its feel and particularly the use of the same actor as Jesus seem to support that theory, even though the other actors are different. Most noticeable was the change of Peter. In the original he was played by a terrible actor, but he did manage to convey something of the uselessness of the Peter that comes acroos in the gospels. But here not only have they replaced this actor (and there's many reasons why they could have done this, unavailability and realising he couldn't act chief among them), but they've also replaced the type of actor. No longer is is he feeble and stupid, now he is charismatic, a leader of men, confident, smily and so on. He's also older, which of course carries a conotation of beung wiser, and more authoritative.

Now this might be a deliberate attempt to show some of the anacronism between the gospels and Acts (maybe Luke shows Peter more positively I can't remember) but I was looking forward to seeing how this actor changed to become the Peter of Acts an the early church. Even locating a radical turn around as a result of pentecost would have been something, but Pentecost seems to have little effect on him, other than giving him an opportunity to preach. Perhaps I expected too much.

Acts continues the process Matthew started of trying to model the early christ movement even more into the image of the promise keepers. So there's even more hugging and inane laughing. whereas in Matthew this at least seemed to be Jesus trying to bring them oput of their shells a bit, here its just imposing cheesy Christian man type Christianity onto the early church. Aside from the general feel there's also the choosing of the replacement disciple, where Joseph conratulates his rival in his victory in the style of a disappointed oscar nominee, and is then comiserated by both the bloke who tossed the coin (Ok I exaggerate but what did go on here), the victorious Mathias and the other nearby. Perhaps worst of all is when in Acts 5 the disciples are released after a flogging And skip away laughing! This certainly wasn't a flogging in the mould of The Passion. The other bit that grated with me was the part where Peter's shadow heals someone. The (perhaps fals) impression I got of this from reading Acts was that Peter's movement is experiencing growth, and he is more pressed, both physically but also for time. However, his anointing is being accelerated accordingly so that even as he walks past people they are healed. Instead here they take a ridiculously literal approach, taking away (what was at least implied to me) the sweep past and the amazing healing, and reducing it to an alternative method of praying for someone that allows for a full hug later on. In other words the means of conveying what is going on (the growth an popularity of the church) becomes the event in itself.

The special effects, or rather the weak scope used to depict some of the more supernatural elements. Would have loved to see what Pasolini would have done with some of the material in these first five chapters, such as the ascension, or the tongues of fire. (In fact Rosellini did do an Acts IIRC - has anyone seen it?). Here they are terrible. Jesus's ascension is so poor it exposes the shallowness of my vocabulary. I'm not sure how else one could film it, particularly given that you have committed yourself to a trite Jesus and a literlist interpretation anyway, but there are surely other ways. Any ideas? (A low cloud, a God shot or a Jesus POV shot). Similarly the tongues were disappointing. very literal on the one hand, but a level of effect equivalent to a high school play.

Perhaps most disappointingly was the way the story chooses to cover the Annias and Saphira story by narration only, with the visuals returning to the boat where Luke is telling (rather than writing?) the story. I'm much puzzled by this story to be honest, I guess I'm not alone in finding the most popular explanation (that God killed them for lying) a little strange given he didn't step in to stop Hitler. I also find the texts lack of explanation for their deaths (it notes only that they dropped down dead) a little understated. I've heard others suggest that actually the dropped down dead because one of the disciples killed them. As with the popular explanation, this dosn't really sit easy with me, but the alternative (that both happened to die of natural causes) seems to beg why they were so terrified that that such an unlikely event happened, and thus pushes the question back to where we started. i.e. they were either terrified about how God would treat them, or about the apostles. So it was a bit disappointing that this was bypassed, particularly given that the most literal rendering of this would require no special effects at all. Perhaps they decided that it was too contraversial to impress on people with an image, perhaps they tried it a few times, and failed and budget didn't allow for more takes. Who knows, but I remember feeling disappointed when Matthew similarly copped out of key passages such as the men in their tombs being resurrected when Jesus dies / is resurrected. Can't remember if John does this as well.

So all in all interesting, but as expected fairly weak. nevertheless I find that even these poor productions help me nengae with tthe original material in fresh ways, and realise my own presuppositions.

Matt

PS - I'm going to start a new film on accents in Bible Films.

(including a terrible ascension sequence - although how would you film it),

Edited by MattPage

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Might as well quote the relevant portion of the Book of Acts movies review I posted to the Gospel of John thread:

- - -

There have been well over a hundred films about the life of Jesus, and a handful of high-profile movies, from The Sign of the Cross to Quo Vadis?, have detailed the persecution of Christians in Rome some 35 years later. But the dramatic transition Christianity made between those two points -- from a marginal Jewish sect to a thriving, if persecuted, community in the seat of Gentile power -- has received scant attention even from Christian filmmakers.

Into this void steps Acts, the second book to be adapted for The Visual Bible. (The first was Matthew.) Like the aborted Genesis Project of the 1970s, the minds behind this South African venture hope to film the entire Bible in the next two decades, using the New International Version as their script. Says the press kit in bold, coloured letters: "No scriptwriter's liberties. No interpretations. No dramatic license."

This, of course, is not quite true. All performances are, by definition, interpretations, and this is doubly true for films, which determine how we see the actors and their work. Every camera angle, every dissolve, every cut is an interpretation of some sort. And, in any case, Acts does take some licenses, most obviously in the prologue which introduces Luke (Dean Jones) and the shipbound patients to whom he tells his story.

But once that story begins, Acts stays true to its text indeed -- so true, in fact, that Luke interrupts with a "he said" or a "she asked" every time someone speaks! It's a risky approach, especially for a book of Greek history that, typically, alternates between pithy summaries and long speeches. Moreover, Acts bristles with references to a wider social and historical context that need explaining for a modern audience: it's one thing to know that Paul took a vow and shaved his head, but if we don't know what that means, what do we learn from seeing it acted out? On the other hand, for those who tend to miss such fleeting passages, seeing them visualized does work as a sort of memory aide.

In that sense, Acts is a nifty resource for Sunday schools and home Bible studies alike. But even so, I question its interpretive value. For a film that emphasizes joy and smiles -- sometimes ridiculously so, as when Luke chuckles over the "sharp dispute" concerning circumcision, which was a bitterly divisive issue in the early church -- it is strange to hear Peter's witty "we're not drunk!" retort (Acts 2:15) sound so flat. Director Reghardt Van den Bergh is so busy tucking giggles into the more serious scenes, he tends to miss the humour that is already there. . . .

- - -

One thing I didn't mention there is that Peter is played by James Brolin, who went on to marry Barbra Streisand and to play Ronald Reagan in that controversial TV-movie, etc. BTW, Matt, you make some interesting observations regarding the change of casting for this character -- older connotating wiser, etc.

MattPage wrote:

: Acts continues the process Matthew started of trying to model the early christ

: movement even more into the image of the promise keepers. So there's even

: more hugging and inane laughing.

Heh. You noticed that too, eh?

Re: sick people being healed by Peter's shadow, I have discussed and debated this with a few people, and I myself am not convinced that Acts is saying anything more than that people TRIED this as a method of seeking healing -- I don't think Acts comes right out and says that this method actually WORKED. But I do know some people who interpret the passage that way.

: (In fact Rosellini did do an Acts IIRC - has anyone seen it?).

No, but I would love to -- if his Messiah is available in North America now, perhaps this will be, too.

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: Acts does take some licenses, most obviously in the prologue which introduces

: Luke (Dean Jones) and the shipbound patients to whom he tells his story.

You know I must have read those comments before, but it still caught me by surprise

:: promise keepers

: Heh you noticed that too

Well it grated with me in Matthew, and is definitely turned up in Acts, but I use promise keepers probably only cos I've heard you use it in ref to these films - it did seem to hit the nail on the head so well.

: it is strange to hear Peter's witty "we're not drunk!" retort (Acts 2:15) sound so

: flat. Director Reghardt Van den Bergh is so busy tucking giggles into the more

: serious scenes, he tends to miss the humour that is already there. . . .

OI remember me and a friend laughing at this one hen I was just a kid. My first appreciation of bible humour.

Re: sick people being healed by Peter's shadow, I have discussed and debated this with a few people, and I myself am not convinced that Acts is saying anything more than that people TRIED this as a method of seeking healing -- I don't think Acts comes right out and says that this method actually WORKED. But I do know some people who interpret the passage that way.
no time to find the ref, but it also talks about hakechiefs being touched and that working in that case so I suspect the same is true here. Interesting perspective - demonstrates again ho much we read in.

: One thing I didn't mention there is that Peter is played by James Brolin

Know the name form , ahem, Friends

Matt

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Well I finished trawling through this so I thought I'd post a few further observations

Firstly I was surprised to see some interesting camerawork during Stephen's speech. There were a few 180 pans which were quite interesting, and felt a bit out of place with the fairly non-noticeable camerawork on display elsewhere.

One thing that surprised me that I half commented on above, is where the biblical text gives a specific direction, but the "visual" version of it clearly doesn't do it. I noticed this particularly in two places. In Acts 9, Peter gets "down on his knees and prayed" according to the text, but in the film he just stands there and prays. I wouldn't normally object with this kind of literalness, but if you're going to set your stall out, as VB have done, to include everyword of the text (including the he saids which I noticed get moreprevalent towards the end of the film), and even go as far as to claim that your version includes "no interpretation" then when such rare stage direction is given in scripture, it seems odd to ignore it. The other occurence of this was when Peter is freed from jail in Acts 12 and the film says "then Peter said to himself", but in the film he grabs a passerby (who doesn't really look like he's thinking "nutter") and says it to him. Can't for the life of me work out why they did this (at least you could argue that for the "knees" one above the actor forgot and they couldn't afford to re-shoot.

anyway...

There's a latter scene where they behead James, and there's a shot of the crowd who celebrate as if there teams' just scored a goal ( / home run to win the "world series"). Universally they all put there hands in the air and cheer, having been still and silent just before. It was a terrrible terrible moment artistically, but theologically it's just awful as well. Again for a film that says it offers no interpretation then it somehow adds to the text the following:

1 - That he was beheaded

2 - That anyone else knew about it

3 - That this was done publically

4 - That they let Jews stand and watch

5 - That the Jews were all of the same opinion

6 - That the Jews were overjoyed to see their countryman killed by a pagan

7 - That if you were pleased to see someone die you would celebrate

8 - That if you would celebrate you would do it with so little meaning.

This touches on a further point that the Jews really don't come well out of this at all. Partly they didn't use the techique that ther latter Gospel of John uses by translating "The Jews" as "The Jewish authorities", partly cos only the murderous Jews dress in traditional Jewish costume, partly cos they snarl there way through the whole fim, and partly the scene described above. That celebration sceen really did seem like it was straight out of a pre-WWII bit of propaganda.

The promise keepery-ness carried on, at one point laughs about how he was tortured - no doubt it was hilarious. There was a real "ah the good old days" feel to it. "If only I wasn't preaching to you guys I could be back on the rack" about sums it up.

One detail I did notice was in Acts 20v4. Luke is wandering around late at night reciting the book to himself (as you do). Eventually he gets out his scribe's roll and starts to read out the next bit. Its Acts. He reads as far as verse 4 and then stops, and makes a correction, and carries on. Now my first instinct was that this might be linked to where he joins Paul. Perhaps he is scribbling out his own name. So I checked my bible and it is preceisely this point where the story moves on from 3rd person to 1st person (i.e it changes from being "He did this then they did that" to saying "we did this and that"). But then I stopped, rewound and watched again and actually he pauses in the middle of reading someone's name, he basically says "He was accompanied by Sopater (pauses and makes alteration) son of Pyrrhus from Berea". Now it was just happened that I was checking it in my greek interlinear literal bible , and the word son is actually in brackets there - if you chek various translations its about 50/50 as to whether the "son" is in there.

So to cut a long story short it looks like they did this deliberately to reflect ahy sometimes its son, and why others it isn't. Seems weird given the comments on ignoring direction in the test to be this soecific, and maybe I'm giving them credit where its no due, but, and I realise this maks me out as a geek, and in a minority of one, but, I found it interesting (and I couldn't sleep and needed something to help me get there.

Finally the epilogue. Again this is very interpretational - not in the text at all, and whether Paul survived and was freed after the imprisonment at the end of the gospel is highly debateable. But it did give them time for a nice hug uniting former co-workers, Paul and his biographer and not end on such an ambiuous note (which really makes me wonder how Mark will end.

Btw way Acts spans about 30 years, but Paul aes only about 10 from start to finish.

Well there you go. Hope its at least of interst to Peter who said he might be doing a write up on Acts films soon (is that in light of the release of Paul from the Bible Collection?)

Matt

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Don't you ever change, MattPage. smile.gif

It's been so long since I saw this film (IS it a "film"?) that I don't remember most of the details you raise here, but they all sound like the sort of thing that film would do.

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Hey Peter,

I've noticed from your journal that you've just watched Paul the Apostle - Is that the Lux Vide one? How was it? I'm thinking of importing either it or Peter and Paul as background ref material for my "Theology of Paul" module that I'm studying. How did it compare?

Also did you say somewhere that you're doing an article on Acts films? Who's it for? How's it going?

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: I've noticed from your journal that you've just watched Paul the Apostle - Is that

: the Lux Vide one? How was it?

I was thinking of starting a new thread for that film. I'll link to it when I do.

EDIT: Here ya go! http://artsandfaith.com//index.php?showtopic=2846

: I'm thinking of importing either it or Peter and Paul as background ref material for

: my "Theology of Paul" module that I'm studying. How did it compare?

Oh, I think Peter and Paul is probably a lot, lot better -- though I say that as one who hasn't actually watched that film in some time.

: Also did you say somewhere that you're doing an article on Acts films?

Not as such, no -- I was mainly planning to write up a review of Paul the Apostle in the course of which I would comment on these other films. If the Lux Vide film had been a whole lot better, I might have tried to make a bigger article out of it, but as it is, I think it warrants just a small-ish review of its own self with maybe a sidebar listing some of the earlier films. We shall see.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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