The Magnificat, and the politics thereof, in film

vlcsnap-2014-12-25-18h31m18s119Christ is born! Glorify him!

Fred Clark posted a really interesting item this morning, noting that “the true meaning of Christmas” can be found in a poem spoken by Mary not long after she learned that she was pregnant with the Son of God — and he notes that the poem in question has a significant political edge, in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones while the humble are lifted up, and the rich are sent away hungry while the poor are filled.

This got me curious as to how many films have actually reflected the edgier aspects of this poem, which is known as the Magnificat. And the answer is: not many. In fact, there are very few films that incorporate the Magnificat at all, and those that do usually cut out the more politically-charged stuff. Usually, but not always.

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Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings (dir. Ridley Scott, 2014)

exodus-DF-02770Early on in Exodus: Gods and Kings, there’s a scene in which Moses, who is still an Egyptian prince oblivious to his Hebrew heritage, confronts an Egyptian viceroy named Hegep, who is supposed to be building a new city for the Pharaoh but seems to have diverted some of the funds towards his own luxurious lifestyle. Hegep tries to deflect Moses’ attention by pointing to the troublesome Hebrew slaves, and says he needs more resources to deal with them. As proof of how rebellious these Hebrews are, Hegep says, “Do you know what ‘Israelite’ means in their own language? ‘He who fights with God’.” An annoyed Moses replies, “‘He who wrestles with God’. There’s a difference.”

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Interview: The Red Tent director Roger Young on bringing humanity to Bible stories, the four kinds of love in his new miniseries, and getting Ben Kingsley to play a teenager

rogeryoungIt’s quite possible that Roger Young has directed more feature-length Bible-themed films than any other mainstream filmmaker. Cecil B. DeMille made four or five for the big screen — including two about Moses, one about Jesus, one about Samson and one that takes place shortly after the Book of Acts — but Young, who has worked almost exclusively in television, now has seven such films under his belt.

Between 1995 and 2000, Young directed five installments in the Lux Vide “Bible Collection” series, starting with Joseph — which won the Emmy for best miniseries — and continuing with Moses, Solomon, Jesus and St Paul. More recently, he has revisited some of those stories by directing adaptations of Bible-themed novels.

Last year Reelz aired his adaptation of Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, which takes place partly during the ministry of Jesus. And now, on Sunday and Monday night, Lifetime will air his adaptation of The Red Tent, the Anita Diamant novel that tells the stories of Jacob and Joseph through the eyes of their daughter and sister Dinah.

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The Bible and Son of God: just how different are they?

sonofgod-bluray-aIf you’re the sort of person who has wondered just how much overlap there was between The Bible and its big-screen spin-off Son of God, have I got the spreadsheet for you!

It’s still a work in progress, but for now, anyone who is interested can download it from this Dropbox link. The basic idea is this: in one column, I list the timecodes for every scene from the last five episodes of The Bible (with the episode number where the hour would be), and in another, I list the timecodes for every scene in Son of God.

The advantages of this format are twofold: First, you can compare the relative lengths of the two versions of any given scene; more often than not, the movie tightened things up a tad, but every now and then the movie padded things out by adding elements that were missing from the miniseries. And second, because the movie added some scenes, deleted some scenes, and rearranged some other scenes, you can select either column and list all the scenes from one version of the film in the order in which they appeared in that version.

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The Ascension of Christ in film: literalism, symbolism, etc.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians remember how Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. It’s one of the stranger bits in the Gospels — both difficult to understand, given our modern cosmology, and difficult to pull off visually — and most of what we know about it actually comes from the Book of Acts. So it’s not too surprising that most films about Jesus have tended to skip this episode.

Nevertheless, a few films have depicted the Ascension, often by mixing it with elements from other stories in the gospels, and even those that don’t depict it have often made a point of ending on a note that suggests Jesus has transcended this life in some way that parallels the Ascension. Here are a few examples.

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Second impressions: Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

The first time I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, I took six pages of notes, and I watched it with the memory of an early draft of the screenplay lingering in my brain. So I was distracted on at least two levels: by a need to jot down as many quotes and facts as I could, and by an awareness of how the script had evolved. Never mind people who obsess over how the film may or may not have deviated from Genesis; I kept thinking of how the film was deviating from that early script!

Needless to say, I don’t normally take that kind of background knowledge to the theatre when I go to see a movie, and I knew it wouldn’t be fair to Noah to hold that knowledge against it either. I also knew I needed to just sit back and watch the movie like a proper movie, to bask in the drama and let it unfold.

And so, on Wednesday morning, I saw the film a second time. And I can think of no better way to sum up the difference between my two viewings of the film than to say that I didn’t cry at all the first time I saw Noah, but I shed tears on a few separate occasions the second time I saw it. It’s a powerful, powerful film.

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