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Jesus of Nazareth

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Hmmm, yeah, we haven't had a thread devoted to this film yet, have we.

Link to my post breaking down the film's use of point-of-view shots.

Link to the thread on portrayals of Jews in Jesus films, which mentions this film a few times.

Link to the thread Alan started on this film two message boards ago, which includes some LENGTHY stuff on that final scene he justifiably complains about here.

Oh, heck, why not quote the relevant bits:

Hopefully this won't sound wet-blanketish, but in his book
, Lloyd Baugh devotes some space to explaining how Zeffirelli, in Baugh's view, "thoroughly banalized" the gospels and pre-digested them for his audience. In Baugh's view, the mini-series doesn't leave the viewer much to think about or meditate on.

[ snip ]

I think you mean the Resurrection, not Pentecost (which doesn't happen until Acts 2), and I believe Zeffirelli himself addresses this point in the book he wrote about the making of the film, actually. The book, translated by Willis J. Egan, was called
and was published by Harper & Row in 1984. I typed out some portions of it several years ago; let me see if I can find them in my files ...

Ah yes, on pages 95-97, Zeffirelli talks about how he prepared and shot a resurrection scene, "But on film it lacked all credibility and veered our project toward the perilous shores of a Hollywood epic." Somewhere along the way, a windstorm ruined his plans, too, I think. Then, on page 115 (and this seems slightly garbled, to me, but it's what I have in my MS Word file): "A few days before the finished print of the film, right there on the deadline, Zeffirelli started to rummage through the hundred and thirty hours of footage in a desperate search for a solution. ... he found a photographic test of Jesus' leave taking of the disciples after the Resurrection, a test shot a Meknes in the apostles' hideaway, forgotten in that enormous heap of material. Suddenly, everything turned around: those few feet of film offered the simplest solution, honest and clear. It is the consoling farewell of Jesus to his disciples and to us all, and his exhortation not to fear, since he is with us for all days until the end of time."

So he definitely ran out of time, and possibly out of money as well. Oh, hey, that reminds me of this rather juicy excerpt from an old article in
Harper's Magazine
by Earl Shorris, called 'A Nation of Salesmen: Cautionary tales from the life of
Homo vendens
' (October 1994, pages 39-54; excerpt taken from pages 49-51):

If the chairman of the board of General Motors hadn't been a religious man, it might never have happened, and the cost to a television production might not have been so dear. The time was the 1970s. As his reign neared its end, the chairman must have realized something about rich men and the eye of a needle, for he agreed to pay, out of the pockets of the stockholders, the entire production and broadcast costs for a television production of
Jesus of Nazareth
. . . .

When Protestant fundamentalists in the United States got wind of the Vatican's veto power over the script, they began a national campaign against the miniseries. Thousands of letters were sent to General Motors promising never again to buy its products if the corporation went ahead with the "papist" project. It fell to the director of public relations, Waldo E. McNaught, to deal with the Protestant protest. After one particularly difficult day, he telephoned me to complain. "The things I do for this goddamned corporation," he began. "Today I was down on my knees praying."

Ever the vendor, taking the role of straight man, I asked, "What's wrong with that?"

And he said, in a voice made tremulous by outrage, "With a Protestant!"

Propelled by fears for the future of American industry, McNaught as well as the chairman's assistant, John McNulty, and I went to London to have a look at the film, which was by then in the form of a rough cut, still lacking some opticals, music, and so on, but with all the voice tracks laid in. . . .

Within moments, the telephone rang. McNaught picked it up in his bedroom. "Shorris," he shouted, "it's for you. It's that dame from NBC."

I answered the phone in the other room. The woman from NBC asked, "How did you like the film?"

"Wellll," I said, dragging out the word, not wanting to offer a comment until McNaught, McNulty, and I had been able to compare notes, "I just got here. We were going to talk."

"It's a piece of s***," the woman from NBC said.

"You think so?"

"Sure, it's a piece of s***, but it'll get great reviews. No critic is going to attack
Jesus of Nazareth
."

"You know more about that than I do."

"Well, I just wanted you to know. We're going back to New York tonight. I'll see you there."

"Sure."

McNaught had been listening on the other phone. He came into the parlor wearing his Alice in Wonderland smile. "It's so good to hear from our benefactors at NBC. And what is your opinion, Mr. Shorris?"

I had made notes about more than a few scenes; the most memorable of them had to do with the scourging of Jesus. Rod Steiger in the role of Pontius Pilate looks at the actor (since forgotten) who plays Jesus and says of this bedraggled, blue-eyed, blond young Englishman, "Ecce homo!" then turns to the camera and explains, "Behold the man." The woman from NBC had been correct about the quality of the film. But that had been clear from the beginning. What I had noted during the screening was a series of anti-Semitic statements, all of them gratuitous.

I made my case to the men from General Motors, saying, as I recall, in a good-humored way that if the film were to be presented without deleting or modifying those scenes, I would never again work for General Motors, nor would I even speak to anyone, meaning them, who worked for the corporation. McNaught raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, mocking my earnestness. McNulty merely nodded. He is a tall man, fair, and with a rather large nose for a leprechaun. "D'ja see anything else wrong?" he asked, Saint Thomas Aquinas speaking in the accents of Ireland and the farthest reaches of the borough of Brooklyn.

"No. I don't think so."

"D'ja see anything wrong with the ending?"

"No. Was there something wrong?"

"Ye-ah," he said in several syllables. "They didn't resurrect 'im."

"Oh, my God!"

He paused for a moment, and then said for the only time in the twenty years that I've known him, "Ahem."

The error, which had gone unnoticed by Anthony Burgess, Franco Zeffirelli, the Vatican, NBC, and even the egg-shaped lord himself, had been spotted by Jack McNulty. At his insistence, the producers reassembled the necessary members of the cast on location in North Africa and filmed a new ending, leaving no doubt that Jesus had been resurrected.

Nothing satisfied the fundamentalists, however. They mounted a great campaign of letters and postcards. Along with the opinions of the woman from NBC and other crtiics, the fundamentalists finally won out. A few days before the program was to be broadcast, Roger B. Smith, heir apparent to the chairman's job at General Motors, totaled up the amount of money the company spent on NBC. Then he called the network. The ironclad contract evaporated, NBC sold the show to Procter & Gamble at distress-sale prices, and
Jesus of Nazareth
went on the air as scheduled, with some emendations and a new, happier ending.

This article was excerpted from Shorris's book A Nation of Salesmen, so who knows, his account of this episode in there may be even more detailed.

If I find or remember any more resources, I'll post 'em here.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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MattPage   

Alan,

Thanks for the Excel file. If you (or anyone else) is interested I can email you a scene guide for pretty much all the Jesus films that are on release (except that Man of sorrows one you turned up the other day). BTW is the version you watched only 3 hours ten minutes long? I have a cut of the film which is 6.5 hours long I believe, and our church library has one that is 4.5 hours long. This seems like a very short cut.

For me, whilst there are a lot of positives with Jesus of Nazareth I find Baugh's comments resonate with me a great deal. I think what drove me into my Jesus film thing (obsession) was wanting to find a version of his ife that portrayed Jesus better than Powell does. The problem is that there aren't really any that are a significant improval. The problems with Powell & Zefferelli are:

1 - He has blue eyes

2 - He...speaks...so....slowly...all...the...way...through. (perhaps the resaon your cut was so short was cos they cut the bits inbetween his words right down)

3 - The film's pace is so slow, not something I'm against normally, but even the six hour version somehow misses out so much.

4 - The nativity scenes take ages. a fourteenth of Matthew, a twelvth of Luke and not covered at all in Mark or John - all in all 4 chapters in 89 chapters of the gospels, and yet it takes a quarter of the run time.

5 - Because of this Zefferelli leaves out lots of stuff he could have included.

6 - Baugh's observation is that the stuff that he leaves out is both the stuff that gives a high view of Jesus, and the stuff that really humanises him. Hence his charge of banal is that it fails to paint adequately either his divine or human side. The resurrection scene that you and Peter have talked about underlines that point

7 - The posh english accent, and wiry never done a days hard labour is a far cry from the working class carpenter / mason the gospels hint at.

8 - Some of the TV-isms spoilt the film a bit. I recently showed the scene where Mary & Joseph get bethrothed, and I remembered Baugh slating the moment when one person turns to the camera and says "beautiful", but when I saw it I couldn't believe how awful that moment is.

um..but yes the look of the film is very good, and it includes a lot of scenes and does them very well. I particularly love the Matthew & Peter prodigal son scene and use that a lot, but there's not much else that reaches those highs.

BTW the other thing that this film does to distance itself from the Anti-semtism charge is place all the blame for the scheming on the shoulders of a fictional scribe called Zerah (played by Bilbo Baggins). This seems historically unlikely. Gibson's history is questionable, but at least it is based on an historic source.

Matt

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Personally I love Zeffirellis depiction of Jesus, yet a comment an aquintance made stands out in my memory whenever I think about the film. He said that the movie is very fine and makes one feel almost devotional, but it is all based on the concept that everybody around jesus somehow knows already that he is the word manifested. IF a human being starts to act the way Zefirellis Jesus does he becomes an instant laughing stock - a bit overdramatic - sort of like Homer Simpson, but way worse: always uttering very deep and significant sayings. Sort of like gee man, give it a break,dont be so pretentious. Seen this way, Zefirellis masterpiece becomes a special kind of comedy.

Thomas A

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MattPage   

Interesting post, cos that's the thing I've always wondered and few fils seemed to have answered , how'd he get so popular?

Matt

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Mark   

Aw, you guys are bringing me down. sad.gif

Zeffirelli's Jesus has a special place in my life because I first saw it as a teenager, and it was largely responsible for my "awakening." Until then, all the Jesus movies I had seen were really hokey - I mean, talk about a Jesus who is so obviously the word incarnate. Most of them stop just short of adorning Him with a halo.

Jesus of Nazareth opened my eyes to the reality of Scripture, how the Son of God could have walked among blind followers. Even watching it as an older adult, and perhaps a more jaded believer, even the weak spots (and there are several, already noted) aren't all that distracting.

I also thought dedicating the first part to Mary and Joseph and the Nativity was a great way to humanize their relationship, and to bring the religious and political culture into which Jesus was born to life.

And the restrained ending really worked for me .... so different from the spectacle of earlier Jesus films.

This is a mostly emotional reaction, I guess, but figured I'd throw in my pennies. (And I just ordered the JofN DVD from amazon.com)

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MattPage   
I agree that Z's Jeez can get a bit spacey from time to time,

I think the thing is that I find it that spacey for a lot of the time.

but please remember that we are speaking about a piece of cinematic art here, not a video chronicle of the life of Jesus.

I think "Z" undermines this defense when he uses tacky TV-isms such as the bit where that character looks directly at the camera and says "Beautiful". But in any case I think its both art and a chronicle of the Life of Jesus rasther than one or the other

Z's approach, choices, and goals are quite different from, say Pasolini's.

Yeah and i think it's those I'm criticising.

There is considerable dramatic license taken throughout the film, for example when Jesus is backlit after predicting his resurrection. The script often amplifies the meaning of the bare Biblical text.

Film allows directors to take license to represent the story however they choose. Gibson chose certain color pallettes, excessive violence, surreal moments (demons for example), etc. Just because a image is presented on the screen, that doesn't mean the director is saying that's how you would have experienced the event had you been there. This artistic license is justified if it serves the underlying story, for example, the backlighting.

Even 'theatrics' are sometimes appropriate in a theatrical presentation on stage or screen. Not always, but sometimes.

Good points and those are the strengths of the film (which I admit I have under emphassised.

Mark said

: Zeffirelli's Jesus has a special place in my life because I first saw it as a teenager,

I think I was even younger and appreciated it, but it also was the thing that spurred me on to search for better versions.

Matt

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MattPage   

Can't believe I've not updated this page recently ::doh::

Firstly, I've posted a podcast about this film here.

It has also just gained a region 2 release of the 6hr version. I review the DVD release (as opposed to the film) here

Matt

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If anything, I thought Jesus of Nazareth was a reasonably reverent film. True that it doesn't go to any extremes with regards to the divinity or humanity of Christ.

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MattPage   

Thanks Peter,

Just the kind of relevant, easy to post, thing I was after to keep my blog ticking over in a busy period.

Matt

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If anything, I thought Jesus of Nazareth was a reasonably reverent film. True that it doesn't go to any extremes with regards to the divinity or humanity of Christ.

Reverent if you like your Saviors on quaaludes. That was the most zonked-out Jesus I've ever seen. I prefer mine non-tranquilized.

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I may have said this elsewhere at A&F (see the links above), but I find Jesus of Nazareth kind of schizophrenic when it comes to the question of "reverence". In some ways, the film goes further than any previous Jesus movie in depicting things "realistically", but then it flips around and goes extremely stagey.

Consider its depiction of the Nativity: first there is the "realistic" scene of Mary going into labour, which I think is a cinematic first (it certainly goes against the Orthodox and possibly Catholic tradition that the birth of Christ was a "painless" affair); and then, this is followed by a scene in which the shepherds come to the stable and slowly ... take ... turns ... describing how the angels appeared to them.

The staginess kind of makes sense when you consider that Zeffirelli has worked on a lot of Shakespeare and opera productions. But were his Shakespeare films as stagey as all this? It's been a while since I've seen them, but I'm guessing probably not. (Especially with Mel Gibson playing Hamlet!)

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I watched this for the first time recently and found it surprisingly irresistible.

Anthony Burgess's screenplay credit was the first shock of the movie, and it helped explain the historical urgency of this particular telling. This is surely the most politically aware of Jesus films, even if it takes artistic liberties here and there (e.g. the mostly fabricated Zealot subplot which all but exonerates Judas). Burgess apparently got the job after Moses the Lawgiver impressed Pope Paul VI. Now I'm eager to see A.D., which completes a kind of Burgess religious trifecta. Has anyone else here seen it?

Zeffirelli is a good middlebrow director, and despite the compulsive zooms and constricting close-ups he brings an authentic Mediterranean earthiness to the whole thing, engulfing the film in atmosphere. Oddly, the most meaningful artistic choice is one that commonly falls under attack, but after finally experiencing it, I found that the decision to set an Anglo Jesus (first glimpsed as an ethereal toddler, then as a child of twelve with the most shocking set of peepers outside of Village of the Damned, and finally as the blue-eyed, silver-tongued Robert Powell) against more Semitic-looking actors conveys his "otherness" in such a practical way that it seems ludicrous to dispute it.

Anyway, even if the six-plus hours is a bit of a slog, it's worth it all for the gorgeous scene of Peter looking longingly at the boat he's just cast off--and will probably never see again--in order to follow Christ. The moment is so well acted (by James Farentino and also by Keith Washington, who plays Matthew) and directed with such poetic clarity that previous qualms shrivel to insignificance. (Maurice Jarre's music--which has been playing on a constant loop in my head--must share some credit here.)

Now I've got to see more Jesus films. I think I'll try to locate a copy of Rossellini's Il Messia next!

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Nathaniel wrote:

: Anthony Burgess's screenplay credit was the first shock of the movie, and it helped explain the historical urgency of this particular telling. This is surely the most politically aware of Jesus films, even if it takes artistic liberties here and there . . .

Politically aware, perhaps. One could argue that other films are more politically engaged, though. One of the criticisms you'll hear of Jesus of Nazareth is that its answer to these political issues is essentially to retreat into a sort of secluded spiritualism. The film came out roughly a decade or so after the hippie movement got started, and I think one can at least plausibly argue that some of those things are lurking in the subtext.

FWIW, if memory serves, Zeffirelli claimed in the official making-of book that Burgess's original script made Jesus a bit too human for his tastes, so Zeffirelli determined to make Jesus more purely/obviously divine.

: Burgess apparently got the job after Moses the Lawgiver impressed Pope Paul VI. Now I'm eager to see A.D., which completes a kind of Burgess religious trifecta. Has anyone else here seen it?

Yep, and I watched it repeatedly in my teens; I even have the novelization, and I might still have the form letter that I got from NBC after I wrote them a fan letter. (I posted a mini-review of the series several years ago here.) It's the one mini-series of the three that was directed by an American rather than an Italian, and it may feel the most conventional and soap-opera-ish of the bunch, especially where the sex lives of the Caesars and other Romans are concerned. But I appreciate the way it tries to integrate the secular histories of the period with the Book of Acts, and a few other things as well.

: . . . an Anglo Jesus (first glimpsed as an ethereal toddler, then as a child of twelve with the most shocking set of peepers outside of Village of the Damned . . .

Beautiful description!

: Anyway, even if the six-plus hours is a bit of a slog, it's worth it all for the gorgeous scene of Peter looking longingly at the boat he's just cast off--and will probably never see again--in order to follow Christ. The moment is so well acted (by James Farentino and also by Keith Washington, who plays Matthew) and directed with such poetic clarity that previous qualms shrivel to insignificance.

Yeah, that's a great moment.

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Politically aware, perhaps. One could argue that other films are more politically engaged, though. One of the criticisms you'll hear of Jesus of Nazareth is that its answer to these political issues is essentially to retreat into a sort of secluded spiritualism. The film came out roughly a decade or so after the hippie movement got started, and I think one can at least plausibly argue that some of those things are lurking in the subtext.

Yeah, after watching Zeffirelli's Francis-as-flower-child biopic last weekend, I'm inclined to agree. I'll have to think about "secluded spiritualism" a bit more. One of the things I appreciated about the film is how strange it makes Jesus's teachings seem to the wise men of his day (although the "banalization of the gospels" argument holds some water, unfortunately).

FWIW, if memory serves, Zeffirelli claimed in the official making-of book that Burgess's original script made Jesus a bit too human for his tastes, so Zeffirelli determined to make Jesus more purely/obviously divine.

That's an interesting tension. I noticed that while Jesus is photographed like a divine being, most of the really spectacular miracles are omitted. Of course, that could also be attributed to budgetary constraints.

I even have the novelization, and I might still have the form letter that I got from NBC after I wrote them a fan letter.

I've got to check out the novelization then! That whole period of Burgess's career interests me.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Nathaniel wrote:

: I've got to check out the novelization then! That whole period of Burgess's career interests me.

FWIW, the novelization isn't by Burgess; it's by Kirk Mitchell. But the novelization does include some elements that suggest the novelizer knew what Burgess was up to, or perhaps had access to some earlier version of the script, or something.

For example, one of the main "fictitious" characters is a Roman soldier named Valerius whose full name, if memory serves, is Julius Valerius Licinius. He's a member of the Praetorian Guard, and thus one of Caesar's top inner circle of bodyguards etc., and he thus gets to be involved in a lot of the stuff that goes on among the Roman Emperors; if memory serves, he is at least tacitly involved in the assassination of Caligula and he may even be the guy who finds Claudius cowering behind a curtain and then proclaims him Caesar. Valerius also happens to fall in love with a Jewish slave girl, and along the way, as he tries to buy the slave girl's freedom, he befriends Aquila and Priscilla (two Jewish Christians who, according to Acts 18, were forced to move to Corinth after Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in the AD 40s; it was in Corinth that they met Paul, but by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in the late AD 50s, Aquila and Priscilla had moved back to Rome because Nero, not Claudius, was now running the show). And then, at some point during Nero's reign, Valerius is sent to Palestine as an assistant to the new governor Porcius Festus -- and when Festus decides to send St. Paul to Rome, Valerius is sent back to Rome as a sort of escort to Paul.

Now, throughout the entire mini-series, Valerius is basically just referred to as Valerius. I don't think anybody ever calls him anything else, unless they are quoting his entire full name. And until I read the novelization, I assumed that Valerius was completely fictitious, full stop. But then... then I read the novel, and I discovered that, in there, when Valerius accompanies Paul on his voyage to Rome, Valerius tells him something like, "Everybody calls me Valerius, but you can call me Julius if you like." And THEN I discovered that there is, indeed, a soldier named Julius who is mentioned briefly, twice, in Acts 27:

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to
a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment
. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

The next day we landed at Sidon; and
Julius, in kindness to Paul
, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There
the centurion
found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also." But
the centurion
, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

So the "fictitious" Roman character Valerius was actually tethered, in a very very slight way, to a passage in the Book of Acts. But the mini-series makes virtually no reference to this connection whatsoever! I don't believe it even includes the shipwreck -- perhaps because that would have stretched the budget too far, or perhaps to avoid redundancy because the mini-series was already alluding to another shipwreck around that time involving one of Nero's attempts to kill his mother.

Anyway, either Kirk Mitchell picked up on this connection all on his own, or one of the mini-series' creators (possibly even Burgess himself?) clued him in on the connection. But the seeds of that connection are definitely there in the film; we DO hear that Valerius' first name is Julius. It's just strange that the seeds were allowed to grow into something recognizable in the novelization but not within the mini-series itself.

Side note: As far as novelizations of Burgess's biblical mini-series go, there was also a novelization of Moses the Lawgiver, but it, too, was not written by Burgess; instead, it was written by Thomas Keneally, who is now best known as the author of Schindler's List. I don't know whether Jesus of Nazareth was ever novelized.

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Porting this over from our thread on Pasolini's The Gospel according to St. Matthew:

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. . . .

Ack. I now see that this is not true: I HAD heard of at least two of these books, since Nathaniel had referred to them earlier in this thread, over a year ago:

Thanks for the info, Peter. You rock. I guess I was thinking of Man of Nazareth and its companion The Kingdom of the Wicked, which were both written by Burgess in tandem with his screenplays. How many novelizations are out there, anyway?

This gets me wondering how common it is for movies or TV shows to receive multiple novelizations aimed at adults. (Quite a few movies, of course, have separate adaptations for different age groups.) I am vaguely reminded of how I discovered a few years ago that Jack Kirby had done a comic-book (or comic-strip?) adaptation of Disney's The Black Hole, which blew me away because I had grown up with an entirely DIFFERENT (and presumably inferior) comic-book adaptation of that film.

I also find myself wondering if Burgess's adaptations were "authorized" by the film's producers and, if not, if he was even allowed to copy over any of the fictitious elements that he composed for the TV shows. Presumably the production company would have had the copyright on that stuff, no?

Also responding to this bit from the Matthew thread:

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.

Yeah, I alluded to this earlier in this thread:

FWIW, if memory serves, Zeffirelli claimed in the official making-of book that Burgess's original script made Jesus a bit too human for his tastes, so Zeffirelli determined to make Jesus more purely/obviously divine.

FWIW, here are the excerpts that I typed up (taken from Franco Zeffirelli (tr. Willis J. Egan, S.J.), Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984) when I was researching this subject in the mid-1990s:

p. 39: As I was determined to make this film rigorously didactic, unfortunately, a conflict arose between my aims and the historical, theological, and mystical reworking of the Gospels that Burgess had prepared.

p. 40: But Jesus had to be interpreted otherwise, in the most orthodox way, with materials emerging from the Gospels themselves.

Unfortunately, Burgess, in his most interesting attempt to set the character of Jesus on a plane more accessible to us today, too freely put mere human words on his lips, a different language quite unsuited for the very purpose he wanted to achieve. Simply in having loved him so much, in having made him so much his own, Burgess ultimately destroyed the charismatic, mystical stature that for me sustained the character of Christ.

Make of that what you will. Oh, and see earlier in this thread for an account of how the Resurrection appearance was added to the film late in post-production. Did Burgess's script have a Resurrection, I wonder? And if so, how did he deal with it? (How does his novel deal with it?)

Incidentally, I had forgotten that I embedded a Google Video of the entire mini-series in this thread a year and a half ago. It still works, though!

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Did Burgess's script have a Resurrection, I wonder? And if so, how did he deal with it? (How does his novel deal with it?)

Well, I've just ordered the MOSES/MAN OF NAZARETH/KINGDOM OF THE WICKED trilogy via Amazon (used, of course), and will get back to you on this once I've read MAN OF NAZARETH.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Did Burgess's script have a Resurrection, I wonder? And if so, how did he deal with it? (How does his novel deal with it?)

Well, I've just ordered the MOSES/MAN OF NAZARETH/KINGDOM OF THE WICKED trilogy via Amazon (used, of course), and will get back to you on this once I've read MAN OF NAZARETH.

So MAN OF NAZARETH was the first of these novels to arrive, and I'm just over a hundred pages in. MAN OF NAZARETH is really its own animal when weighed against the film. The book is much more controversial. For starters, Burgess' book features a Jesus who resists the Jewish canon as it stands, adjuring the priests to "distinguish between the secular jottings of a king" (by that, he means Proverbs) and "those truly holy pronouncements of the book which rise above the daily world and a God who openly claims to Open Theism. And then there's a pre-ministry marriage for Jesus, with a Jewish girl named Sara, which is where the miracle of the wedding at Cana takes place. It's been a long time since I've seen the miniseries, but I don't recall anything quite so provocative in there.

How seriously Burgess intends for us to take all of this is somewhat questionable, too, since our narrator is just another storyteller who has himself inherited oral tradition, and makes note of certain divergences here and there. Our narrator, for example, is somewhat agnostic as to whether or not a choir of angels sang to the shepherds who received the news of Christ's birth, but notes that all the different accounts contain music in some capacity. Burgess is being a bit playful. And Burgess has enjoyed exploring alternate theologies, too, as he did in his novel, EARTHLY POWERS, which details the rise of a new Pope who espouses a less-than-orthodox theology.

What I find most interesting about the book so far is that Burgess has a lot of fun with certain interpretive quandaries about the current gospel texts, and how they use the Old Testament, etc. These characters are situated in places where they too are struggling to make sense of the textual relationships between the Old Testament and current events, which puts them in the center of interpretive problems which are still in discussion.

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And now I've really finished the book. To answer Peter's question, yes, we do get Christ's resurrection (though not depicted, as such, since we experience the event through the eyes of Jesus' followers). We are told by our narrator, however, that he isn't sure he really buys it, or any of the miracles, for that matter. Whether that is a statement from Burgess himself or not, I'm uncertain. He's playing coy throughout, and elsewhere, he goes out of his way to make sure that the story fits perfectly with the accepted Catholic understanding of certain events (during the last supper, Jesus overtly lays out an explanation of transubstantiation, warning the disciples against understanding the Eucharist in any other form), which would seem to be Burgess "towing the company line," as it were.

I have to say, all in all, MAN OF NAZARETH is a pretty awful book. Burgess tells the story without any real imagination or flair--even the more controversial elements, like the Open Theism and Jesus' marriage, are throwaway bits. Not that I advocate hijacking the Jesus story for some outside agenda, as many authors are in the habit of doing, but Burgess' MAN OF NAZARETH has no real point, no real angle from which to approach things. Most of the book is just rote reguritation of the gospel accounts. The epilogue, with its "the moral of the story is 'love one another'" summation, is the final flat note with which Burgess concludes his tale.

Say what you will about Kazantzakis' retelling of the novel, but at least it has some sense of genuine awe and mystery. There was some passion there. Not so with Burgess' version of the tale. I hope MOSES and KINGDOM OF THE WICKED are more interesting.

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Thanks for the review, Ryan.

It would seem that there was a healthy system of checks and balances at work among the four credited screenwriters of Jesus of Nazareth. If Man of Nazareth amounts to Burgess's original vision for the miniseries, I'm kinda glad it didn't make it to the screen. Zeffirell's film is by far the most moving Jesus film I've seen so far.

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Thanks for the review, Ryan.

No problem. I was eager to give some comment on the book, especially since I disliked it so much. It's a major disappointment, since I usually rate Burgess' work so highly, but he really fumbled this one. Even some of Burgess' more minor works--ala TREMOR OF INTENT--have far more imagination and vision on display than his MAN OF NAZARETH.

I'll move on to MOSES and KINGDOM OF THE WICKED as soon as I get them. I understand that they, too, are somewhat regarded as interesting failures, but from what I've read, they seem to be more interesting than MAN OF NAZARETH. (Do we have MOSES THE LAWGIVER and A.D. threads wherein I could deposit my comments on those works once I've read them? I should probably search before asking that question, but I'm feeling a bit lazy at the moment. :P )

Zeffirell's film is by far the most moving Jesus film I've seen so far.

I really do need to revisit it.

At the moment, I'm partial to Pasolini's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, with runner-up position going to LAST TEMPTATION.

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