Mary Goes to the Movies / How the mother of Jesus has been portrayed through a century of filmmaking.

Making a movie about Jesus is difficult enough. Anyone who would dramatize the life of Christ must strike a fine balance between his full humanity and his full divinity, and many filmmakers have erred on one side or the other. But at least the Scriptures give us ample data to work with, and at least there is broad agreement across church boundaries that Jesus was, and is, both divine and human.

But making a movie about Mary poses even thornier challenges. The Bible says little about her life, so dramatists who focus on her life — such as the writer and director of The Nativity Story, which opens Friday — must invent whole aspects of her story from scratch. Even more daunting, for filmmakers who want to reach as broad an audience as possible, is the fact that different churches have strongly different views on Mary.

Was she as fallible as any other human being? Or was she free from the stain of sin? Did she bear any other children? Or did she remain a virgin throughout her life? Should Jesus ever be shown correcting her, possibly even offending her? Or, as the mother of Jesus, should she offer him any guidance and possibly correct him?

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Review: Paul the Apostle (dir. Roger Young, 2000)

Numerous films have been based on the Gospels, but few have been based on the Book of Acts. Even when filmmakers make a point of depicting stories from across the Scriptures, the early church tends to get left out; a typical example is the otherwise excellent series of British-Russian animated films that began with Testament, a collection of nine half-hour episodes from the Old Testament, and ended with The Miracle Maker, a feature film about Jesus. As finales go, the death and resurrection of Jesus are pretty hard to beat.

Thankfully, some filmmakers do explore the work of the apostles once in a while. The best examples to date are probably the 1985 mini-series A.D., which does a marvelous job of depicting the joy that animated the Jerusalem church but gets increasingly sidetracked by secular history and fictitious love stories between soldiers, slaves and gladiators the further it moves into Gentile territory; and the 1981 TV movie Peter and Paul, starring Anthony Hopkins, which takes superb advantage of the autobiographical information in Paul’s epistles.

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Videos tell story of early church / Strengths and weaknesses in dramatizing New Testament church

There have been many films about the life of Jesus, and a handful of high-profile movies from The Sign of the Cross to Quo Vadis? have detailed the persecution of Christians in Rome some 35 years later. But the dramatic transition Christianity made between those two points — from a marginal Jewish sect to a thriving, if persecuted, community in the seat of Gentile power — has received scant attention even from Christian filmmakers.

Into this void steps Acts, the second film from The Visual Bible. (The first was Matthew.) Like the aborted Genesis Project of the 1970s, the minds behind this South African venture hope to film the entire Bible, using the New International Version as their script. Says the press kit in bold, coloured letters: “No scriptwriter’s liberties. No interpretations. No dramatic license.”

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