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Peter T Chattaway

The Jesus Film

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MattPage   

I see that, according to the IMDB, the narration in the original 1979 film was provided by Richard Kiley -- which is interesting, since he also played Matthew, the narrator, in the Visual Bible's first film. He just might be the only actor who was involved in BOTH major word-for-word film projects.

Ah - good spot

Matt

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Y'know, something else occurred to me while watching this film. When Jesus takes the scroll to read from it in the synagogue, he kisses it first -- and this is very, very much like the way the Orthodox venerate the gospels, the icons and the cross, etc. I found I was struck by how this very Protestant film had captured an aspect of Jewish liturgical practise which is actually still practised in many churches to this day -- and I wondered if the Protestants who made this film ever asked themselves why this practise had been abandoned in their churches. Y'know, I've been attending an Orthodox church for over a year, but (with just one exception) I have never really "venerated" anything, because I don't want to ACT like an Orthodox Christian until and unless I actually decide to take the plunge and BECOME one. But seeing Jesus "himself" venerate something in this film does make it easier to visualize doing it myself some day. I find that kinda interesting.

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MattPage   

What's annoying is that I wouldn't mind a copy of this on DVD, although I wouldn't pay a great deal for it, and yet millions are just goona end up getting thrown out. If anyone knows of one going begging....

Matt

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MattPage   

Ages ago, Mike H said

I'll probably add the upcoming Judas to the list and maybe catch up on some of the others at a more relaxed pace. Good heads up on the apocalyptic angle on Arcand: I'll have to keep that in mind as I look into his other films and then maybe revisit Jesus of Montreal.

Thanks for tips and encouragement. And thanks be to the malleability of the web I will continue to tinker with this stuff, and maybe add a few more movies.

Not sure whether Mike's still about, but if so, I just thought I'd post a reminder to add some stuff to your site. It would be good to read them.

Matt

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MattPage   

This is a little late in the day, but here's the link to the thread where we discuss the original film and the 2004 documentary about it.

Matt

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Bumping this topic to link to the film's website, where it can be viewed/heard in a dizzying number of languages. (The version there includes the new intro, which-having loved this movie as a child-I'm not adjusting to very well...)

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David Smedberg wrote:

: Bumping this topic to link to the film's website, where it can be viewed/heard in a dizzying number of languages. (The version there includes the new intro, which-having loved this movie as a child-I'm not adjusting to very well...)

Oh wow. How long has the movie HAD this new intro?

I'm not sure if the intro represents a creationist worldview or not. On the one hand, it presents a rather literalized Adam and the Fall (though when the narrator mentions "the woman", all we see is the man, which is kind of amusing), but on the other hand, the ripped-from-ST:TNG opening suggests that the stars and planets existed BEFORE planet Earth did, which is not how Genesis 1 describes the sequence of Creation.

And all that "God has to judge us" and "God has a plan to help us escape his judgment" stuff just points up, once again, how evangelical theology tends to make God look powerless and desperate for a loophole like Ahasuerus. (What's more, the new intro makes the weird claim that Abraham somehow learned about the need to sacrifice lambs as a temporary covering for sin as a result of the episode where God told him to sacrifice Isaac ... but that wasn't what the Isaac episode was about AT ALL, and it's clear from the text that Abraham and his kin were ALREADY in the habit of making burnt offerings.)

I do rather like the animation they use for depicting the formation of Adam before he comes to life, though.

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Just a quick note to say that I've been informed that a 35th-anniversary edition of the film is coming to Blu-Ray (and select theatres) in 2014 -- and apparently it will have a brand new score, by a new composer.

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Writing up a blog blurb about the 35th anniversary...

 

It pleased me to find out that one of the co-directors, Peter Sykes, cut his teeth making horror movies, including To the Devil a Daughter, with Richard Widmark and Christopher Lee:

 

Is there an historical lesson for Christians interested in the arts? Perhaps not every project, whether professional, educational, or personal needs to be overtly Christian. Perhaps it is okay to participate in a discipline for the purpose of learning one’s craft so that when one has the opportunity to make a “Christian” project, one also has the skills and experience to make it competently.

 

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Fun fact: the new intro that was added to this film about a decade ago, featuring scenes from the Old Testament, features a guy named Darwin Shaw as Adam. A few years later he went on to play the first guy killed by Daniel Craig's James Bond in Casino Royale, and now he's played the apostle Peter in The Bible / Son of God. (Link to my interview with Shaw -- though I regret to say I did not make the connection to *this* film until after the interview had already happened, as the Jesus film does not appear on Shaw's IMDb filmography, per se.)

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Simeon and Anna go to the movies.

 

The Simeon scene in the Jesus film is embarrassingly trite, but the Simeon-and-Anna sequence in the Genesis Project's longer four-hour word-for-word adaptation of Luke is... interesting, to be sure. (And even there, it isn't strictly word-for-word -- they eliminated most of Anna's back-story!)

 

It's also interesting to see that the Genesis Project's Luke features two shots of Mary in a mikvah during her purification ritual -- and in one of them, we see her bare back as she rises from the water. This is immediately obscured by a dissolve to the next shot, but still: what other film (besides Jean-Luc Godard's Hail Mary, which was set in the present day) has ever even *hinted* at the nudity of the Virgin Mary?

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Just came across a couple of interesting news items from back in the day:

 

An Associated Press story from November 1979, in which producer John Heyman expresses dismay that the Jesus film was being distributed by the same studio (Warner) that was distributing Monty Python's Life of Brian, and that both films were playing simultaneously in some multiplexes. Heyman, who at that point had made word-for-word adaptations of Genesis and Luke, also says he plans to finish adapting the entire Bible by 1992.

 

A People magazine story from March 1980, in which Heyman says that his adaptation of the Bible will be done by *1993*, and that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, of which he had spent $17 million by that point. (In the end, no other books from the Bible were adapted.) Heyman also talks about how he used to be "quite a swinger" after his mistress-cum-fiancee left him for Sidney Poitier. Also:

 

The project that currently commands Heyman's energies had its inception some 11 years ago, when the late Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion approached the actor Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) about setting up a biblical research institute in Jerusalem. Topol called in Heyman, and they talked enthusiastically about filming the Bible. They then joined forces with an American group that wanted to produce a series of half-hour films called, improbably, The Best of the Bible. The institute never materialized, but by 1974 the Genesis Project was under way, on a scrupulously non-sectarian basis. "To do an honest, scholarly, dispassionate work," explains Heyman, "we couldn't align with any one denomination." (He also decided that recognizable stars would be a distraction, and has cast only one: Topol as Abraham.)

 

Topol's performance as Abraham begins around the 29-minute mark in this video:

 

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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On 1/20/2004 at 0:39 AM, Peter T Chattaway said:

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.

Bit of a tangent here, but the other day I discovered this article from last year that touches on the history of Yemenite Jews -- who were apparently converts to the faith after the rise of Christianity, not descendants of the ancient Hebrews:

- - -

Before Islam: When Saudi Arabia Was a Jewish Kingdom
One of the key, but often forgotten, players in Arabia at the time was the kingdom of Himyar.
Established around the 2nd century CE, by the 4th century it had become a regional power. Headquartered in what is today Yemen, Himyar had conquered neighboring states, including the ancient kingdom of Sheba (whose legendary queen features in a biblical meeting with Solomon).
In a recent article titled “What kind of Judaism in Arabia?” Christian Robin, a French epigraphist and historian who also leads the expedition at Bir Hima, says most scholars now agree that, around 380 CE, the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism.
The Himyarite rulers may have seen in Judaism a potential unifying force for their new, culturally diverse empire, and an identity to rally resistance against creeping encroachment by the Byzantine and Ethiopian Christians, as well as the Zoroastrian empire of Persia.
It is unclear how much of the population converted, but what is sure is that in the Himyarite capital of Zafar (south of Sana’a), references to pagan gods largely disappear from royal inscriptions and texts on public buildings, and are replaced by writings that refer to a single deity.
Using mostly the local Sabean language (and in some rare cases Hebrew), this god is alternatively described as Rahmanan – the Merciful – the “Lord of the Heavens and Earth,” the “God of Israel” and “Lord of the Jews.” Prayers invoke his blessings on the “people of Israel” and those invocations often end with shalom and amen.
For the next century and a half, the Himyarite kingdom expanded its influence into central Arabia, the Persian Gulf area and the Hijaz (the region of Mecca and Medina), as attested by royal inscriptions of its kings that have been found not only at Bir Hima, just north of Yemen, but also near what is today the Saudi capital of Riyadh. . . .
According to Christian chroniclers, around 470 (the date of the Thawban inscription), the Christians of the nearby city of Najran suffered a wave of persecution by the Himyarites. The French experts suspect that Thawban and his fellow Christians may have been martyred. The choice of the early Arabic script to commemorate them would have been, in itself, a powerful symbol of defiance. . . .
The growing outside pressures ultimately took their toll on Himyar. Sometime around the year 500, it fell to Christian invaders from the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum.
In a last bid for independence, in 522, a Jewish Himyarite leader, Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar, rebelled against the puppet ruler enthroned by the negus and put the Aksumite garrison to the sword. He then besieged Najran, which had refused to provide him with troops, and massacred part of its Christian population – a martyrdom that sparked outrage amongst Yusuf’s enemies and hastened retribution from Ethiopia. . . .
Through Christian and Muslim rule, Jews continued to be a strong presence in the Arabian Peninsula. This is clear not only from Mohammed’s (often conflictual) dealings with them, but also from the influence that Judaism had on the new religion’s rituals and prohibitions (daily prayers, circumcision, ritual purity, pilgrimage, charity, ban on images and eating pork).
In Yemen, the heartland of the Himyarites, the Jewish community endured through centuries of persecution, until 1949-1950, when almost all its remaining members – around 50,000 – were airlifted to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. And while they maintain some unique rituals and traditions, which set them apart from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, no one would doubt that they are indeed, the last, very much Jewish descendants of the lost kingdom of Himyar.
Haaretz, March 15, 2016

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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