The Star of Bethlehem and other silent films

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.)

Politicians, profanity, and the prickly pundits.

I tend not to get into politics all that much at this blog. But I couldn’t resist noting a certain recent item.

Apparently Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson said today that he would not vote for John McCain if McCain were the Republican party’s candidate for the presidency. Among Dobson’s reasons? McCain “has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.”

In response, Ross Douthat at remarks:

Finally, attacking McCain for his tendency to use “foul and obscene language” seems like the purest form of social conservative self-parody. Particularly given the Bush Administration’s record on that front.

No kidding. In addition to the episodes mentioned in those two articles that Douthat links to, there was also that famous moment, pictured above, when Bush flipped a camera his “one-fingered victory salute“.

The reason I bother bringing this up in a film blog at all is because I saw a pro-Bush propaganda film called George W. Bush: Faith in the White House (2004) at the local film festival four years ago, and I can remember the audience whooping with glee at many points during that film — not the least of which was the scene in which the narrator says that Bush spent his wayward youth “smoking, drinking, cursing,” followed by the scene in which Bush’s Uncle Bucky says that Bush, following his conversion, “stopped chewing and cussing and became a totally disciplined guy.”

I frankly don’t care if Bush or McCain or anyone else uses colourful language; I’ve been known to use it once in a while myself, and I think I’m in pretty good company on that score. But it is striking to see how a certain segment of the American Christian population needs to persuade itself that “cussing” is only what “bad people” do, and how that same segment of the population not only turns a blind eye to the “cussing” that “good people” do but actively promotes the falsehood that they don’t actually do it!

CT Movies picks 2007′s “critics’ choice awards”

Last week, CT Movies posted its list of the ten “most redeeming” films of the past year. Today, we posted “The 2007 Critics’ Choice Awards” — and, as one of the participating critics, I am happy to say that I not only love some of the finalists myself, but I at least like all of them, to one degree or another. That isn’t always the case!

(Though I would disagree with the claim that the musical remake of Hairspray “never takes itself too seriously” — if only because the pious, stuffy civil-rights song is oddly out of sync with the rest of the movie’s fizzy anarchic spirit. If it weren’t for that, or the miscasting of John Travolta in the role created by Divine and Harvey Fierstein, this film would be higher on my own list of faves. And I say all that here and now because I never got around to blogging or reviewing the film when it first came out.)

Each of us CT Movies critics also got to write a blurb on one film that we wish had made the list, so I picked Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary that I have not otherwise reviewed. (It didn’t come to Vancouver until just before Christmas, and it played here for only one week, and I’m probably lucky that I found time to see it at all!)

Crystal skull sightings! We have two pictures!

Warning: There be spoilers here — visual spoilers, even.

In real life, crystal skulls are shaped like human skulls, and some people like to speculate that these skulls might be the product of alien civilizations. But that’s too indirect for George Lucas — who has already said that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be more like a “science-fiction movie” than any previous film in this series — so, to judge from a few photos that came out over the last few days, it looks like Lucas has gone ahead and based his newest movie’s supernatural artifact on an extra-terrestrial skull. Apparently, in Lucas’s world, aliens didn’t just make the crystal skulls, they are the crystal skulls.

First, Action Figure Insider posted this image on Friday, taken from a brochure put out by toymaker Takara Neduke:

And then, today, posted this:

Now, it has been a long, long time since I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but I am wondering if what we see in these images squares with that rumour we heard a few months ago.

FEB 9 UPDATE: Hollywood North Report has the complete toy brochure; click on the photo below for a larger version:

FEB 12 UPDATE: posted this “alternative cover for the comic” tonight — and it, too, features the skull:

FEB 17 UPDATE: MTV Movies Blog has a photo of the Lego version of the crystal skull that appeared at this week’s Toy Fair:

MAR 10 UPDATE: The newest poster gives us our best “officially sanctioned” look at the crystal skull to date:

MAY 1 UPDATE: Official Pix has a few new photos for sale:

MAY 3 UPDATE: The new trailer also gives us a quick glimpse of the skull, but part of it is always just out of frame:

Canadian box-office stats — February 3

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Rambo — CDN $3,210,000 — N.AM $29,798,000 — 10.8%
27 Dresses — CDN $5,610,000 — N.AM $57,115,000 — 9.8%
Juno — CDN $9,780,000 — N.AM $110,263,000 — 8.9%
Untraceable — CDN $1,700,000 — N.AM $19,451,000 — 8.7%

The Bucket List — CDN $5,640,000 — N.AM $67,671,000 — 8.3%
Cloverfield — CDN $5,840,000 — N.AM $71,974,000 — 8.1%
Meet the Spartans — CDN $2,190,000 — N.AM $28,332,000 — 7.7%
There Will Be Blood — CDN $1,420,000 — N.AM $21,146,000 — 6.6%
The Eye — CDN $648,926 — N.AM $13,000,000 — 5.0%
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour — CDN $411,519 — N.AM $29,000,000 — 1.4%

I think I might still have one of these.

I can remember going to McDonald’s with my dad after seeing Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) in the theatre and getting a movie-themed Happy Meal — the one with the transporters on the front, I think. (It’s the one on the top left in the video below.) I believe I might still have the Happy Meal box somewhere among my still-packed items here, and if I’m lucky, I might still have the plastic communicator with comic-strip roll that came with it.

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Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

One thing I did not know, until I read this item at tonight, is that ST:TMP was the first movie to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in. Learn something new every day.