Back in the ’90s, when I was first getting into life-of-Jesus movies in a big way, I made a point of tracking down every movie I could on the subject, no matter how obscure — and one of the films I found was The Star of Bethlehem (1912), a silent film produced by Edwin Thanhouser. Originally three reels long, all that survives of the film now is a single 15-minute reel, which Thanhouser’s grandson released on VHS over a decade ago, along with some of his grandfather’s other films — and to judge from the Thanhouser website, all of these films have been available on DVD, too, for some time now.
I was reminded of The Star of Bethlehem yesterday while reading this article on the Thanhouser DVD series by Michael Barrett at PopMatters; referring to this film in particular, he writes:
The Star of Bethlehem (1912) is the Nativity story. After the busy opening at Herod’s court, with dozens of scantily-dressed extras filling the background, most of the film follows the three wise men through the desert, where they constantly point up toward the effect of the large superimposed star. Cut down from its original three reels, it doesn’t compare favorably with From the Manger to the Cross, released the same year by the rival Kalem Company, but that six-reel epic was shot on location in Jerusalem. Anyway, the Thanhouser version shows that Cecil B. DeMille didn’t invent the cinematic contrast between piety and flesh in the same movie.
It has been a while since I watched the videotape which includes this film, but I am tempted to dig it up. And I should probably take another look at the other silent films on that tape, too. And if money were no object, I would definitely buy the DVD.
(Hat tip to dwhudson at GreenCine Daily.)