An African Jesus / Reimagined as a political activist.

sonofmananafricanjesusThe story of Jesus has become so familiar to us that we sometimes fail to grasp just how shocking, disturbing, or ultimately motivating it really is. Even films designed to take us back to first-century Judea can tend to come across as soothing or reassuring, which hardly matches how the apostles would have experienced those events. Sometimes it takes a radical reimagining to get us to really think about the implications of that story, and how it might be applied to our present-day reality. And one of the most interesting such reimaginings — certainly in recent years — is Son of Man, a South African production that depicts Jesus as a political activist working in a war-torn modern African country.

Like most independent foreign films, Son of Man has kept a relatively low profile — it didn’t even come out on DVD on this continent until four years after it premiered at the Sundance festival in 2006 — but it can now be streamed on Netflix in the U.S., and it has attracted a fair bit of attention in some circles. The conversation surrounding the film is now further illuminated by Son of Man: An African Jesus Film, a collection of 16 essays that look at the film within the contexts of African culture and the Jesus-film tradition as a whole.

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The Prodigal Son: three filmed interpretations (and more)

Today was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in Eastern Orthodox churches, and once again, I found myself thinking about how our gospel reading for the day had been handled in different films.

The parable of the prodigal son appears just once in the Bible, in Luke 15, so of course it is featured in the word-for-word adaptation of that gospel produced by the Genesis Project in the 1970s. And just as the Genesis Project dramatizes some of the other parables while Jesus recites them, so too it dramatizes this one. You can watch the relevant sequence by clicking here.

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The Publican and the Pharisee: four filmed interpretations

Today, in Orthodox churches, was the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It’s the day when we read the parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the Temple to pray; while the Pharisee spent his prayer bragging that he was a great and righteous man, the tax collector begged for God’s forgiveness — and it was the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, who “went home justified before God.” And so the parable reminds us that we need to pray in humility, and that it is not our place to judge our fellow human beings.

We read this parable on this day to remind ourselves that Lent is only a few weeks away, and that we should approach the season of fasting and prayer humbly, without judging our fellow churchgoers (or, indeed, anyone else). And, naturally, as I pondered this parable, I began to think about how it has been handled in film.

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One controversial Jesus movie turns 25, another turns 40

Two movies about Jesus, both of which were quite controversial in their day, are celebrating major anniversaries this month.

First, there is Jesus Christ Superstar, which premiered in New York City 40 years ago yesterday before going into general release on August 15, 1973.

I don’t appear to have written all that much about this film over the years, though I did write the following about the 25th-anniversary edition of the soundtrack in an article for BC Christian News that was first published in 1999:
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Credits where credit is due in Bible films

I recently watched Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) for the first time in years, and I hope to write something about it soon. But one detail caught my eye, and got me curious to see if it was part of a trend that might have popped up in other Bible movies, too.

Specifically, I was struck by the writing credits that appear during the opening titles. The film gives credit to four different screenwriters, which is fairly typical — no doubt there were other writers who worked on the film without credit, too — but the film also goes on to specify not just that it is based on the Bible, or on a particular book of the Bible, but that it is based on particular chapters within that book.

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The National Film Registry picks Parable

My friend Darrel Manson reminds me that the National Film Registry announced a few weeks ago that it will add another 25 films to its archives — and that one of the films chosen for preservation this time ’round is the 1964 short film Parable, which featured a clown as a sort of Christ-figure nearly a decade before Godspell (1973).

The National Film Registry indicates that it chose the film partly because it represents a much larger and older tradition of Protestant non-theatrical films, and partly because this particular film, which was produced for the New York World’s Fair, was somewhat controversial and thus historically significant. Here is the Registry’s blurb on the film:
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