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Peter T Chattaway

The Jesus Film

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While controversy continues to rage over Mel Gibson's death-of-Jesus film, it seems folks in Britain are catching up to Campus Crusade's Jesus, which was condensed from the Genesis Project's adaptation of Luke and released theatrically (in North America, anyway) back in 1979. (I still have the novelization of this film somewhere. Yes, a novelization of a film based word-for-word on Luke's gospel. Kind of like those novelizations of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, no?) Some interesting anecodtes here.

BBC Four | BBC News | The Independent

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MattPage   

You may mock us for being a bit slow to catch on, but who'se got the documentary on video and who hasn't? tongue.gif

Actually you've saved me a bit of time finding those links, I'm not sure I would have got the Independent one otherwise. I think the Guardian also ran one, but I'm not sure you'll get it online.

Anyway will let you know what i think about it once I've had time to watch it.

Alvy did you catch it.

Kind of Ironic it was shown just a day or two after BillBright dies dontchya think?

Matt

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I wonder why Luke was picked to adapt. Actually I wonder which gospel I'd pick to adapt. Matthew was done about as well as it could be by Pasolini. Mark (my favorite gospel) is pretty brief, has no resurrection appearances and a very strange ending. Luke really seems incomplete without the inclusion of Acts. John is just too esoteric. Godspell, btw, was titularly based on Matthew, but included the Good Samaritan story from Luke.

Of course, one could go the way of most Jesus movies and just rol them all together, but that creates other problems such as a loss of the foci of the evangelists.

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Guest Russell Lucas   
Guest Russell Lucas

Kind of Ironic it was shown just a day or two after BillBright dies dontchya think?

Oh, I'm sure the film is being shown or watched somewhere in the world at all moments of every day, and has been for the past twenty years.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: I wonder why Luke was picked to adapt.

My understanding at the time -- and I was only nine years old, so take this with a heavy grain of salt -- was that Luke was the most "historical" of the gospels, and would be best suited to an ultra-realistic depiction of the gospels (they filmed everything as close as possible to where it really happened, etc.).

In addition, I figure Luke is, of all the gospels, densest with stories and teachings; it doesn't have the long, multi-chapter sermons and speeches of Matthew or John, it has way more data than Mark, it has the longer Nativity story, and Passion Week takes up a smaller percentage of this gospel than it does any of the others, so there's more life-of-Christ stuff you can get in there, before you get to the death-of-Christ stuff.

I wonder if Luke's emphasis on the poor (a theme that is much more pronounced in Luke than in any of the other gospels) was a factor.

: Matthew was done about as well as it could be by Pasolini.

Although Pasolini's film, like Campus Crusade's, cuts out about half of the gospel in question. (And just as Pasolini adds an extra bit of voice-over from Isaiah, Campus Crusade adds a bit from John, IIRC.)

: Godspell, btw, was titularly based on Matthew, but included the Good

: Samaritan story from Luke.

Plus the Pharisee and the tax collector, plus the rich man and Lazarus, plus the prodigal son. FWIW, W. Barnes Tatum also notes that the "dramatic development" of Godspell is more similar to Mark.

Russell Lucas wrote:

: Oh, I'm sure the film is being shown or watched somewhere in the world

: at all moments of every day, and has been for the past twenty years.

I think MattPage was referring to the documentary Selling Jesus and not to the Jesus film itself.

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MattPage   

Darrel Manson wrote:

: I wonder why Luke was picked to adapt.

I've also often heard it said (independently of discussion on the film) that it was the most evangelistic of the 4 gospels, plus its primarily aimed at Gentiles.

Two good reasons from Brights perspective

Matt

PS I was referring to the documentary, just to clarify

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MattPage   

Right saw this last night,so thought i'd pass on a few thoughts.

Overall it was pretty fiar and even-handed. It seemed to have an honest respect for the project eventhough it was not blind to some of its weaknesses. I guess it could easily have been sneering, yet it wasn't (this was reinforced when I watched the documentary that followed that was as much of a "this is my view with a coupole of token 'balancing' comments from Tom Wright" as you could wish to see. )

One thing was that the soundtrack was great. How many documentariescan you saythat about? (OK that's maybe a bit OTT but...) it used the music from Last of the Mohicans - which I love (sorry Stef), a bit of radiohead, adn plenty of sega Ross type stuff. Way cooler than anything The Jesus film project could come up with.

They were also talking about the 15 minute prequel they 've made. Its basically meant to explain why Jesus had to come. You only saw bits of it, but it lookedlike it was mainly on about creation & the fall. It looked like a very very literal production of this, but it's difficult to say (afterall, Huston's opening sequence to "The Bible" has a surface appearance of ultra-literalness but is much more subversive.). Anyway that should be available soon.

One thing that was interesting was that the current director of "The Jesus Film Project" (who was the main person they interviewed) was actually in the orioginal film as a centurion.

Finally it was interesting that they didn't realise the cultural baggage that goes with it. So whilst it was encouraging that they avoided platform preaching cos they recognised how it had too much western bias they genuinely seemed to feel that showing the film removed western culture altogether.

Overall it was very watchable. The perspective of the Huaman rights guy who dislikes people posing as aid workers to get into countries to be missionaries was interesting as well.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: One thing was that the soundtrack was great. How many documentaries

: can you say that about?

Just about anything by Errol Morris comes to mind. smile.gif

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Drsofen   

It's a great question, actually. I would also say LUke, if I was to make a film. But I was impressed with the Gospel of John film that was made recently. I have never *loved* that as literature, but the the film version was very compelling and introduced a lot of robust life into the story of J. and also the men who loved/supported him.

The site has a bunch of stuffon the translation which is interesting:

www.gospelofjohnthefilm.com

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German Vicar Distributes Porn Films by Mistake

Sun Dec 7, 9:02 AM ET

BERLIN (Reuters) -- A German vicar inadvertently supplied his parish with dozens of hard core porn films in an unsuccessful bid to teach people about the life of Christ.

Frithjof Schwesig, vicar in the southwestern town of Lampoldshausen, had ordered 300 copies of a video film portraying the life of Christ as told by the gospel according to Luke.

"In a first batch 20 to 30 videos were distributed and we immediately got a reaction from five to seven people saying we must have given them the wrong film," he said.

"It was a real porn film. Within an hour our staff had collected all the videos. Really, all were withdrawn."

Schwesig said there had been a mistake at the Munich video copying plant and his staff established in a viewing session that night that 200 of the videos were pornographic.

Undaunted, Schwesig said he was pressing ahead with the life of Christ video campaign.

"It's extremely successful," he said.

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mrmando   

Well, I wonder whether there were 200 people who thought they were buying a porn flick and got the Jesus film instead...

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Hmmm. When I was growing up, we would have considered that "Stealth Witnessing" if the word "Stealth" had had today's connotations.

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MattPage   

maybe Him isn't a legend after all :wink:

Actually I'm glad this thread's back cause I had a few questions (probably for Peter but anyone else join in)

I stumbled across a video of the 4 hour boxed set of The Bible:Luke for

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MattPage   

Thanks for the info Peter

: Isn't it weird that they re-did the entire nativity sequence?

Yeah, tho' I did notice in watching bits of Jesus recently that it doesn't always only contain words from the gospels, there are a few additions. Maybe this was part of it (tho' difficult to say without a closer look)

Its interesting as well that both this and the The Passion attempt historical accuracy to such a degree that they use Aramaic, yet both leave a loinclothed white Jesus. Jesus even used a billion scholars to help them out, a charge that Passion doesn't seem to be guilty of.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: Yeah, tho' I did notice in watching bits of Jesus recently that it doesn't

: always only contain words from the gospels, there are a few additions.

Got any examples handy? I believe the two-hour film has a prologue or epilogue that quotes from John and maybe one of the other gospels too, but I'm not aware of any non-Lucan material in the drama itself (if I can call it that).

: Its interesting as well that both this and the The Passion attempt

: historical accuracy to such a degree that they use Aramaic, yet both

: leave a loinclothed white Jesus.

I can excuse Jesus for this because, as of 1979, nobody had ever really done that yet in a life-of-Christ movie, and I wouldn't expect Campus Crusade to blaze any trails there. The Passion, however, is following in the footsteps of The Last Temptation of Christ, which did the nude-Jesus thing in 1988 (not just on the cross, but also in the scene where the soldiers beat him), and of course there was Jesus of Montreal in 1989 as well. So two high-profile films that pride themselves on historical realism have already set the tone, and it is in this context that I find Gibson's film disappointing -- it's a step backwards.

: Jesus even used a billion scholars to help them out, a charge that

: Passion doesn't seem to be guilty of.

smile.gif

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MattPage   

MattPage wrote:

: Yeah, tho' I did notice in watching bits of Jesus recently that it doesn't

: always only contain words from the gospels, there are a few additions.

Got any examples handy? I believe the two-hour film has a prologue or epilogue that quotes from John and maybe one of the other gospels too, but I'm not aware of any non-Lucan material in the drama itself (if I can call it that).

lol. Well the bit I watched last was the resurrection, but I can't remember if that was it, or if I stumbled across a bit before I fast forwarded to that bit. I'll have a check & get back to you.

: Its interesting as well that both this and the The Passion attempt

: historical accuracy to such a degree that they use Aramaic, yet both

: leave a loinclothed white Jesus.

I can excuse Jesus for this because, as of 1979, nobody had ever really done that yet in a life-of-Christ movie, and I wouldn't expect Campus Crusade to blaze any trails there. The Passion, however, is following in the footsteps of The Last Temptation of Christ, which did the nude-Jesus thing in 1988 (not just on the cross, but also in the scene where the soldiers beat him), and of course there was Jesus of Montreal in 1989 as well. So two high-profile films that pride themselves on historical realism have already set the tone, and it is in this context that I find Gibson's film disappointing -- it's a step backwards.

Definitely. But IIRC wasn't Jesus the first film, or at least one of the first to show nails thru the wrists rather than hands?. I suppose nudity would be a stretch...

btw, was thinking about what you said a couple of days ago that

: having a narrator recite the entire gospel means you don't have to re-

: dub all the characters separately for each Bible translation. It keeps the

: series flexible and open to new editions.

One of the things the documentary says is that when they bring the Jesus film into a new language they do re-dub all the characters, and get a load of local people in to do it.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: But IIRC wasn't Jesus the first film, or at least one of the first to show

: nails thru the wrists rather than hands?

I believe it was the first, yeah. Two years before it, Jesus of Nazareth still had the nails going through the palms (though it did have Jesus carrying the crossbeam, and not the entire cross).

: I suppose nudity would be a stretch...

Yeah. You have to introduce these historically-accurate elements one step at a time. smile.gif

: One of the things the documentary says is that when they bring the Jesus

: film into a new language they do re-dub all the characters, and get a

: load of local people in to do it.

Huh. Interesting. I guess that's just for the two-hour version, then.

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MattPage   

MattPage wrote:  

: Yeah, tho' I did notice in watching bits of Jesus recently that it doesn't  

: always only contain words from the gospels, there are a few additions.  

Got any examples handy? I believe the two-hour film has a prologue or epilogue that quotes from John and maybe one of the other gospels too, but I'm not aware of any non-Lucan material in the drama itself (if I can call it that).

Was a bit insomniatic on Friday night so decided to check this one out, and the answer is that yes I was right there is no-Lucan dialogue in the film. I only really checked out the Resurection scene and the nativity scenes. But in the resurrection scene the womenfin dthe empty tomb and see the angels appear and then rush back to the disciples and recount what has happened, whereas as Luke only says that they recounted it if you see what I mean. I left the bit of paper where I wrote the exact words down at home, but I definitely remember that as Peter rushes off to go check one of the women says

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Oh, this reminds me, I just discovered an article from Christian Century a few years back on the making of this film! I haven't read it yet, but it's here.

MattPage wrote:

: Was a bit insomniatic on Friday night so decided to check this one out . . .

And you STILL couldn't fall asleep? smile.gif

: . . . Mary seems to be absent from the rest of Luke’s gospel . . . I was

: surprise that Mary wasn’t included in the women at the tomb as she is

: named in both Matthew and Mark, and it seems reasonably controversial

: (given their theological stance) not to show Mary their.

[ blink ]

Huh. You're right, Luke 24:10 does not include the Virgin Mary in the list of women who went to the tomb and reported what they found to "the Eleven". The text lists the women as "Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them" -- is it possible Jesus' own mother got relegated to being just one of "the others"? This is especially odd given that Luke includes Mary among the people who met at one of the very first meetings of the early church, in Acts 1:14 -- so we know Luke was at least aware of her presence in those early days.

Then again, now that I look at it, I see that Mark 16:1 does NOT put the Virgin Mary at the tomb -- just "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome". Mark 15:47 also says "Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses" saw where Jesus was laid in the tomb. (Do Joses and James have different mothers? Mark 15:40 says "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome" were there at the crucifixion, which would suggest that the mother-Marys in 15:47 and 16:1 are one and the same ... but maybe not?)

For that matter, Matthew 27:61 and 28:1 don't put the Virgin Mary at the tomb either -- just "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary". WHICH other Mary does Matthew mean? Well, 27:56 lists the women at the cross as "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons," so presumbly Matthew is referring to THAT other Mary.

As for John's part, he doesn't put the Virgin Mary at the tomb either -- 20:1 mentions Mary Magdalene only. Though 19:25 does put the Virgin Mary at the cross, at least (finally, SOMEONE does!), as well as "his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."

I could spend the next hour or two trying to sort this out, but work beckons, so I won't. smile.gif

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MattPage   

Ah now I see that my post contains an error.

I assumed that If Luke had included Mary Campus Crusade would have shown her, and skimmed the text very poorly and failed to find her name. Hence I thought she wasn't in the gospel.

And yet when I read the other synoptics, with a bit more care I noticed they included a reference to "Mary the mother of James (and Joses)" and assumed that they referred to the same Mary the mother of Jesus and thatthe gospel writers were using the same technique a occurs at the start of the letter of Jude (where the assumed writer is Jesus's younger brother, but out of reverence calls himself Jude...a brother of James).

So I'd assumed that Matt and Mark's reference was to Virgin MAry, but somehow missed Luke's.

That still raises the question of why the film didn't interpret it that way, particularly as they had 2 different actresses to chose from.

Matt

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Peter T Chattaway wrote:

: Oh, this reminds me, I just discovered an article from Christian Century a

: few years back on the making of this film! I haven't read it yet, but it's here.

Whoa! I finally read this, and MattPage, our questions are answered!

Campus Crusade was in the middle of a national media campaign in 1976, promoting the slogan "I Found It!" on billboards, bumper stickers and lapel buttons, when an unexpected opportunity arose to realize Bright's longtime goal of making an evangelistic movie. Knocking on Bright's door at Campus Crusade headquarters in Arrowhead Springs, California, was producer John Heyman.

[ snip ]

Heyman, whose Jewish family left Germany for England before Adolf Hitler took power, had a grandiose plan of his own: to put all the Hebrew and Christian scriptures on film. His Genesis Project had already filmed verse-by-verse 22 chapters of Genesis and the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke for what he called the New Media Bible. The series of 15-minute films, in which the actors' words in Hebrew and Aramaic are muted under a voiceover narration in English, were designed for educational purposes. "People tend to know what their preacher says the Bible says, or what Billy Graham says the Bible says," Heyman said in later years, "but few have ever read it sufficiently to know what it really says."

But the New York-based Genesis Project, founded in 1974, was a costly one. It was unlikely to make a profit or even survive unless church folks began to see the value of a cinematic version of the Bible.

Heyman and Bright decided to seek backing for a feature film on Jesus that would be suitable for showing in theaters. Heyman hoped that the revenue would offset his investment and help publicize the Genesis Project. Bright saw an opportunity to make a pioneering evangelistic tool.

[ snip ]

Upon returning to Israel for filming, however, they had to reshoot Genesis Project's start on Luke because the actress who played Mary was no longer available. British actor Brian Deacon was picked to portray Jesus, but all other actors in the movie were Yemenite Jews, "because their facial features have changed least over the past 2,000 years," said Eshleman.

Thing is, if Mary does NOT appear in Luke's gospel after chapter 2, then you still have to wonder why they felt the need to re-shoot that bit -- maybe just because they had changed the creative team on the film and they wanted to keep things stylistically consistent.

There is some very interesting stuff in that article about some of the bitter business disputes aruond this film, BTW. The article is nearly three years old, though, so I don't know what the state of all that would be, now. Plus it seems Campus Crusade has been going all George Lucas on the Jesus film and has been cutting it down and shooting new footage, etc.

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MattPage   

Thanks for the link & excerpts Peter

I was a bit confused by you here tho:

: Thing is, if Mary does NOT appear in Luke's gospel after chapter 2, then

: you still have to wonder why they felt the need to re-shoot that bit

when the article said : "His Genesis Project had already filmed verse-by-verse ...the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke" Am I missing something?

As for the Yemenie Jews. I remember Leon Uris's book Exodus talks about them, and how they've lived in this pocket of isolation for 2000 years before the re-birth of Israel. Very interesting stuff.

The thing is though with this claim is that it means I always find myself watching it disbeliving the producers when they say that. e.g. She looks far too English to be a palestinian / yemmenite Jew. etc. The afro headed Angel in the full version of the gospel surely isn't for example.

As for the Lucas-isms, I know the BBC documentary said that they had now added on a short film t the start to contextualise it - it seemed to be about creation, (tho I wasn't sure whether it was about creation or creationism - they showed you enough to be suspicious without showing you enough to be able to be sure).

Also I read an article that had interviewed Deacon and said how still today he gets some very Daniel Columbe-esque reactions which as a humanist / agnosticay atheist he finds quite weird.

The actual added text btw is

"Listen the stone was rolled away, we entered and the body of our Lord was gone"

"Two men appared like angels shining like the sun and said "Why do you seek the living amongst the dead"

(and then some stuff I didn't get and frankly couldn't be bothered)

"Peter, you must believe us"

Oh and I also noticed at the start of the filmed version that the announcement about the census is put on the soldiers lips

Which reminds me it would seem then that the process went a bit like this

First two chapters filmed. Whole of Gospel filmed. 2 hour cut made using new footage for cinematic release, and then at some point the full version was released with the original nativity scene instead of the re-shot one.

Oh and by the way I noticed you get a quote in to. Does this reflect wat you actually said in any way?

The 1979 Jesus shares a commendable trait of Jesus films in recent years, opined Peter T. Chattaway in a sweeping analysis in the March/April 2000 Books & Culture. "From the silent era to Zeffirelli, the Jesus of mainstream films was, depending on the director, paternalistic, austere, or just a little too detached," he wrote. More recent Jesus films are down-to-earth, Chattaway said. They "have underscored the humanity of Jesus without compromising his divinity or even, in some cases, the exact wording of the text," he said, citing Heyman's production in particular

One final point I noticed that (the actor who plays) Zecaraiah appears in the Simeon scene.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: I was a bit confused by you here tho:

What I mean is, if they had already shot the first 2 chapters of Luke, and if Mary does not appear in Luke's gospel again after that point (which is something I have not yet checked), then I wonder why they had to re-shoot those chapters just because the actress was unavailable.

: Oh and by the way I noticed you get a quote in to.

Yeah, that was kinda how I found this, actually -- when I discovered that one of my movie reviews was at findarticles.com, I did a vanity search on my last name to see what else would come up, and found this.

: Does this reflect wat you actually said in any way?

Yup!

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MattPage   

What I mean is, if they had already shot the first 2 chapters of Luke, and if Mary does not appear in Luke's gospel again after that point (which is something I have not yet checked), then I wonder why they had to re-shoot those chapters just because the actress was unavailable.

My guess is that they wanted to dramatise it a bit, so I noticed that in the eraly scenes of the film, A soldier actually reads out the notice about there being a census, so I guess they wanted to make that whole bit a bit more workable as film.

either that or they just felt that they needed to lose the Angel with the Garber-esque hair halo.

Matt

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