Codex

My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!





Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Searches



Archive for the 'OT Film Epics' Category

Bible Movies Galore

26th October 2006

I have been getting behind in my coverage of Bible films. I have watched quite a few recently, but just haven’t found the time to blog about them. Such is life.

There are a number of intriguing Bible films that have just been released or are coming out in the next little while — unfortunately, in most cases no Canadian release dates have been set, so I am not sure when I will have a chance to actually view them.

one_night_king.jpgIn the “just released” category falls Michael O. Sajbel’s One Night With the King (2006; IMDb; Official website). This movie about the biblical Esther has opened to favourable (not amazing) reviews. Make sure to check out the thorough review by Matt Page over at Bible Films Blog, as well as his scene analysis. While no Canadian release date has yet been set, it will be released on DVD on 23 January 2007. You can pre-order it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Sticking to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, I should note the DVD release of the made-for-TV film The Ten Commandments (Robert Dornhelm; 2006; IMDb; Official website). This two-part film was released in April 2006 on ABC to less than spectacular results (see this review). The movie is OK. I was glad to see that it departed from previous films covering the same topic by including a bunch of stuff after the Hebrews cross the red/reed sea — and it even finds space for Aaron as Moses’ sidekick! If I have time I will post a more thorough review in the future. It is available for purchase from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

On the New Testament side of things (you know, that other testament, the small one :-) ), there are two noteworthy films being released this fall.

I am thoroughly intrigued by The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is being released in the United States today. This film is the first historical Jesus film to cast a black actor to play Jesus — which has provided some free publicity for the film (see the Associated Press report). I personally think it will be refreshing considering how many blond, blue-eyed Saviours have been filmed. There is an article on the film in the Chicago Tribune that is worthy of a read and includes interviews with the director as well as Canadian biblical studies scholar Adele Reinhartz (HT Mark Goodacre).

Finally, the birth of Jesus will be the subject of the film The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is slated for a December 1st release. Matt Page has a convenient summary page for this film here.

For a complete listing of films based on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible see my Old Testament on Film pages. An excellent place to visit for news and reviews of Bible films is Matt Page’s Bible Films Blog.


Posted in Bible & Film, Faith & Film, Film, Jesus Films, News, OT Film Epics | 1 Comment »

Ten Things I Hate About Commandments (Very Funny)

1st June 2006

This video is a very funny mock movie preview. Definitely worth viewing! I especially like the Samuel L. Jackson line from Pulp Fiction.

(Comes via Targuman)


Posted in Film, Humour, OT Film Epics | 2 Comments »

50th Anniversary Collection of De Mille’s The Ten Commandments

19th March 2006

DeMille_10Commandments.jpgParamount Home Video is releasing a special 50th anniversary collection that includes both of Cecil B. DeMille‘s films about Moses and the exodus from Egypt (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The main attraction is a new transfer of the 1956 classic biblical epic, The Ten Commandments. This special release also includes, for the first time on DVD, DeMille’s 1923 black and white film The Ten Commandments. The special edition will be released on 21 March 2006.

This special release of the classic biblical epic includes a bunch of extras, including a six-part, 37-minute “making of” documentary, hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 version, and commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments (Vestal Press, 1999; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com) on both the 1956 and 1923 versions.

All in all this looks like a great edition. For a detailed review of the release, check out DVD Times here.

For a complete listing of films based on the Hebrew Bible, please see my Old Testament on Film pages.


Posted in Bible & Film, Exodus, Film, OT Film Epics | Comments Off

King Saul on the Silver Screen: An Early Film about Saul and David

16th March 2006

I recently bought on eBay a DVD with a silent film from the early 1900s about Saul and David. The amateur DVD is entitled, “Early Religious Films” and besides the film on Saul and David, it includes two other early Jesus films. Matt Page over at Bible Film Blog purchased the same DVD and has blogged on the two Jesus films here and here, and the Saul and David film here. As Matt noted in his blog entries, identifying these films is a bit challenging. The distributor who made the DVD from old reels doesn’t have any further information on the films included. In particular, a major problem with the Saul and David film is trying to determine whether or not it is one film or two. Matt thinks what is on the DVD is actually two films, a film called “David and Saul” and another film called “The Death of Saul.” Matt’s summary of this film is excellent and I encourage you to read it. I thought I would offer my own slightly different take on this early film about Saul and David.

Identification

According to my research, in the early 1900s there were four films made that focused particularly on the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel, and his stormy relationship with David. My primary sources for this information are:

  • Richard Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema 1896-1914 (University of California Press, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com)
  • Richard H. Campbell and Michael R. Pitts, The Bible on Film: A Checklist, 1897-1980 (Scarecrow Press, 1981; out of print)
  • Jon Solomon, The Ancient World in the Cinema (Revised & Expand edition; Yale University Press, 2001; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com)

As I piece the various lists together, there are four early films on Saul and David. In chronological order they are:

  • Saul and David. This early American film was directed by J. Stuart Blackton with the scenario written by Madison C. Peters. Produced and distributed by Vitagraph in 1909. [Noted in Campbell and Pitts, 3; Solomon, 5, 166; IMDb]
  • Saul and David [Saül et David]. A French film produced and directed by Léon Gaumont in 1911. [Noted as "lost to the ages" in Campbell and Pitts, 5; Solomon, 7]
  • David and Saul [David et Saül]. Produced by the French studio Pathé-Frères and distributed by their export office C.G.P.C. in 1912. Campbell and Pitts has this film listed as “Saul and David” while IMDb has it as “David and Saul.” In addition IMDb notes this film was directed by André (Henri) Andréani and dates it to 1911. This identification is plausible since Andréani directed many of Pathé-Frères biblical films in this period; the earlier date likely represents its actual production date, while the later date is its American distribution. [Noted in Campbell and Pitts, 5; Solomon, 7; IMDb]
  • The Death of Saul [La Mort de Saül]. This French film was directed by André (Henri) Andréani with the scenario written by Eugène Creissel with Louis Ravet playing Saul. It was produced by Pathé-Frères in June 1912, while its American distribution date is typically listed as 1913. 12 minutes long. [Noted in Abel, 319; Solomon, 7, 141; and IMDb]

The challenge with identifying the film on the DVD is that, based on the intertitles, it appears to be two films spliced together. The first three intertitles include the title “David and Saul” in small print at the top of the frame; then there is a full-frame intertitle introducing “The Death of Saul” while the rest of the intertitles in film have “The Death of Saul” in small print at the top. In addition, while there is remarkable consistency between the two sections in regards to costuming and it appears Louis Ravet plays Saul in both parts, the actor playing Saul’s son Jonathan is different between the two sections.

Matt Page identifies the first part with the 1911/12 film “David and Saul” and the second part with the 1912/13 film “The Death of Saul.” This identification is more than likely correct, since both films are by the same studio. From the discussion in Abel (which is based on the version of the film in the Library of Congress archives), however, it is clear that the “Death of Saul” on the DVD does not include its original beginning. Perhaps that is why excerpts from “Saul and David” were included at the beginning.

What should be clear from this discussion is that figuring out the early history of Bible related films is challenging to say the least!

Analysis

The origin of the film aside, the version that I have consists of two main sections, Saul and David and the Death of Saul. Here is my breakdown and discussion of the two parts (my divisions are based primarily on the intertitles):

David and Saul

This part of the film may be divided into three sections based on the intertitles. It’s camera work is pretty basic, consisting of almost exclusively of stationary longshots.

David-and-Saul_Michal_Given.jpgDavid, conqueror of the Philistines, asks Saul to Keep his Promise [to give his daughter Michal in marriage]
This section is based on 1Sam 18:27 and has David returning from battle, being greeted by a portly Jonathan, and being given Michal in marriage by Saul.

David-and-Saul-Sauls-Jealo.jpgJealous of David’s Popularity, Anger Invades Saul’s Heart.
This section consists of five scenes. The first has Saul in his palace looking out at the crowds who are evidently praising David’s military prowess (inspired by 1Sam 18:7). The second scene, based on 1Samuel 19 (cf. 19:1, 17), shows a confrontation between Saul and a group consisting of Michal, Jonathan, and some others. Saul is evidently asking for the whereabouts of David, but he leaves none the smarter. The third scene shows a dejected looking David and his motley crew of followers at the cave of Adullam (1Sam 22:1-2). Note that Matt Page identifies this scene as “David feigns madness whilst in hiding” based on 1 Sam 21:10-15. The problem with this identification is that the setting is does not appear to be Achish and David doesn’t look too insane (at least he’s not scratching marks on gates or drooling). The fourth scene is very roughly based on 1Sam 22:6-18. It has Saul going to the sanctuary at Nob and confronting Ahimelech the priest about David’s whereabouts (I say only roughly, since in the biblical account the priests are brought to Saul). Ahimelech refuses and is then killed by a nasty looking Doeg the Edomite. The fifth and final scene of this section has Saul and his guard leaving in search of David.

David-and-Saul_David-Hiding.jpgFatigued, Saul Seeks Repose in the Cave where David was Hidden.
This third and final section appears to be cut off prematurely. It is made up of two brief scenes based on 1Sam 24:1-3 (not 1 Sam 23:24-28 as Matt Page suggests). The first has Saul and his guard coming to a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi and Saul going into the cave to relieve himself (for more on the euphemisms used in this passage see my post here). The second scene shows David and his followers within the cave hiding themselves from the approaching Saul.

The Death of Saul

The second part of the film is, as Matt noted, of a higher quality and shows more innovation in camera work. It includes a pan shot as well as some ambitious outside action shots. It consists of seven parts of various lengths.

Saul Decides that the Priests and Other Inhabitants of the City shall be Slain.
This scene somewhat accurately represents the story in 1Sam 22:11-19 where Saul (in his palace) decides to kill Ahimelech and put the entire city to the sword. Interestingly, Abel, in his discussion of the film, mistakenly identifies the besieged city as Keilah (1Samuel 23). This is quite unlikely, especially considering Saul gave up his expedition against Keilah once he heard that David had fled the city.

Jonathan Endeavors to Avert the Massacre.
This section is quite long and involved, consisting of at least seven different scenes. The first two scenes of Jonathan fleeing the palace and warning Ahimelech of the coming massacre does not appear to be inspired by any biblical passage. The next scene has the priest going out and praying for the inhabitants of the city. Then the fourth scene shifts to Saul and his guard leaving the palace. The next three scenes has Saul and his army entering the city of Nob and burning it and putting it to the sword. These scenes employ some of Pathé’s patented special effects of red smoke and small explosions. The final scene of this section shows Saul receiving a written message just leaving the city. The message, which is signed by David, is presented on an intertitle. It says, “O King, know thou that the Philistines have gathered together to do battle with us. May the God of Israel protect us.” This may be based on 1Sam 23:27, though one cannot be sure.

Death-of-Saul_Saul_rallies_.jpgSaul Seeks the Witch of Endor.
This section consists of two scenes based on 1Sam 28:3-8. The first has Saul encamped at Gilboa in fear of the Philistines who are assembled against Israel at Shunem. While the second has Saul leaving camp with two men to inquire of the medium at Endor since the Lord did not answer him. This second scene includes a primitive pan shot as the three men are walking towards Endor.

Death-of-Saul-Samuel-Appear.jpgThe Witch Evokes the Spirit of Samuel.
This section, taken from 1Sam 28:8-25, begins with a scene with Saul and the two men coming to the cave where the witch lives and then there is an interesting close-up bridge shot of Saul going down the narrow tunnel to the cave entrance alone. The scene where the disguised Saul asks the witch to consult Samuel has some interesting camera shots. Samuel appears on the cave wall with a flaming special effect and fade in shot and then later disappears with a straight cut. Samuel’s message to Saul, paraphrased from 1Sam 28:18-19, is included on an intertitle. Interestingly, the next three sections of the film are introduced by intertitles including excerpts of this message.

Seath-of-Saul-Philistines.jpgThy Armies Shall be Delivered unto the Hands of the Philistines.
This section starts with Saul returning to the Israelite encampment, cuts to an amazing scene of the Philistine army rushing the Israelites, and ends with Saul and his army rushing out to meet them.

Thy Sons shall Perish. This brief scene includes a son of Saul coming back from battle and dying in Saul’s arms (if this is Jonathan, then it is a different actor from the first film as noted above), Saul lamenting and then falling on his sword.

Death-of-Saul.jpgThey Sword shall Avenge the God of Israel.
This final scene shows Saul dying — with, of course, the sword handle appropriately protruding from his belly!

Final Thoughts

There are a number of noteworthy things about this early film. First, as perhaps is clear from the various departures from the biblical storyline, that even in the early days of cinema films were interpretations of the biblical story. The scenario writer and director crafted their story with liberty to modify the biblical version as they thought appropriate. Second, what the film chose to focus on is interesting. The attention given to the massacre of the city of Nob and the visit with the witch of Endor likely stem from a number of things, including the simple desire to show off some of the special effects. Finally, I have to concur with Matt Page when he notes, “the most successful biblical films have been those that use less familiar material to challenge our pre-conceptions, or are at least more concerned with trying to explore their protagonist’s motives.” In this regard, I found this film to be quite intriguing.

For a complete listing of films based on the Hebrew Bible, please see my Old Testament on Film pages.


Posted in 1Samuel, Bible & Film, Film, OT Film Epics, Silent Films | 1 Comment »

Update to My Old Testament on Film Pages

7th July 2005

OT on FilmI have made some up-dates to my Old Testament on Film pages. Most of the up-dates are based on an excellent, albeit almost impossible to purchase, book:

  • Richard H. Campbell and Michael R. Pitts. The Bible on Film: A Checklist, 1897-1980. Scarecrow Press, 1981.

This is an excellent resource which I wish I knew about when I was compiling my database of films! (Though I had many which they did not include.)

At any rate, I believe my list is comprehensive — or at least as comprehensive as I can get!

Posted in OT Film Epics | Comments Off

Minor Update to my "Old Testament on Film" pages

19th May 2005

I have made some relatively minor updates and additions to my Old Testament on Film pages based on Herbert Verreth’s manuscript De Oudheid in Film, Fimografie (2003). The changes primarily consist of including some missing directors for silent films as well as adding a few movies.

Posted in Bible & Film, Codex Updates, Film, OT Film Epics | Comments Off

Queen Esther on the Big Screen Yet Again!

12th May 2005

Peter Chattaway has a note on his blog about an upcoming film based on the biblical book of Esther: One Night With the King, starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif (due out later this year). Chattaway further notes a few other movies made about the story of Esther.

According to my count there have been a total of nine films based on the book of Esther. Besides the 1916 silent film directed by Maurice Elvey, the French produced three silent films inspired by the biblical character: Gaumont studios produced two films in 1910: Esther and Mordecai directed by Louis Feuillade and The Marriage of Esther, while C.G.P.C. made another movie called Esther directed by Henri Andréani. In addition, the Dutch director-actor Theo Frankel directed Esther: A Biblical Episode in 1911.

Once we are out of the silent era, there are three other films inspired by Esther (all of which Chattaway mentioned): Mario Bava and Raoul Walsh’s Esther and the King (1960); Amos Gitai’s Esther (1986); and Raffaele Mertes’ Esther (1999).

As a biblical scholar I found Esther and the King quite interesting — especially how they modified the king’s reason for getting rid of Queen Vashti. In the film they have Vashti cheating on the king and actually showing up at the banquet and performing a striptease (see picture of Daniela Rocca as Vashti above right), while in the biblical account she is dumped because she refused to come at the king’s command (Esther 1:10-12). What is perhaps ironic, is that some scholars (such as Michael Fox in his excellent book, Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther (Eerdmans, 2001; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com) suggest that when the king asks her to come before the crowd “wearing the royal crown”, it is implied that she was to come wearing only the crown, i.e., naked. So the striptease in the movie may not be too far off the mark, after all! At any rate, the movie itself isn’t that bad — and it stars Joan Collins as Esther (see picture, above left).

Last and not least, a recent “film” on Esther that I should mention is the VeggieTales production, Esther, The Girl Who Became Queen, that came out in 2000 (and I have watched many times since with my kids!)

For a fairly complete listing of films based on the Hebrew Bible, see my The Old Testament on Film page.

Posted in Bible & Film, Esther, Film, OT Film Epics | Comments Off

New Section on the Old Testament on Film Uploaded

10th May 2005

I have uploaded a new section on The Old Testament on Film to my site (This is the first installment of pages for my Religion & Popular Culture section).

In these pages I have listed over 110 films based on the Hebrew Bible in three separate categories according to their production eras, and within each era films are listed by their release date and director. While I do not think that I have been exhaustive, I am pretty confident that I have been fairly comprehensive. I have also provided a bit of an introduction to each era, as well as links to VHS and DVD editions available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

In creating this list I have been impressed by the sheer number of movies inspired by the Old Testament. While I knew of and have seen most of the “biblical epics” from the 1950s and 60s, I never realized how many silent films were based on the Old Testament — and I certainly didn’t realize how risque many of them were!

As a biblical scholar I have always been fascinated how the screenwriters and directors adapted the biblical narratives and solved some of the critical problems in the biblical text. Many of these films make fascinating hermeneutical studies in and of themselves. It has been a real treat watching some of them for the first time.

Happy viewing!

Posted in Bible & Film, Blog News, Film, Old Testament, OT Film Epics | Comments Off