Douglas Todd, the religion and ethics reporter for The Vancouver Sun, has an article in today’s paper looking at the top five films about Jesus, the top five films with a “metaphorical Christ”, and the top five films “with Christian themes.” I was one of four people he consulted — the others include my friends Ron Reed and Darrel Manson, as well as theologian Marjorie Suchocki, who I have never met — and Todd quotes two of the blurbs I’ve written on Jesus films, including this one on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) and this one on The Miracle Maker (2000). You can read the print edition of Doug’s article here, and the blog version here.
Newest version of Christ Recrucified gets a title that is more upbeat, more friendly to “faith-based audiences”
First it was a 1948 novel called Christ Recrucified. Then it was a 1957 film called He Who Must Die. (Two mini-series adaptations followed, one in 1969 and one in 1975, both using the novel’s original title.) Now comes word, via Deadline, that yet another adaptation is in the works — and this time, it is going to go by the considerably more upbeat title Christ Is Risen.
Deadline says the producers want to target “faith-based audiences”, so this could be another version of the phenomenon we saw a few years ago, when the British Rwandan-genocide movie Shooting Dogs (2005) was renamed Beyond the Gates for religious audiences in the United States.
In Jesus of Montreal, Denys Arcand’s witty satire about a group of actors who put on a revisionist Passion play, the church sponsoring the play sends in some security guards to call off the production in mid-performance. The actors have tinkered with the Gospels too much; their reconstruction of the historical Jesus challenges church tradition at nearly every point, so out it must go. But the audience objects; one woman says she wants to see the end, and the head of security replies, impatiently, “Look, he dies on the cross and is resurrected. No big deal. Talk about slow!”
The scene neatly sums up one of the main challenges faced by films about the life of Jesus: namely, overfamiliarity. Jesus has been represented in paintings, sculptures, and stained-glass windows for centuries; since the invention of moving pictures in the 1890s, he has also been a perennial subject in films and television. All these portrayals tend to fuse together in the popular imagination; audiences think they’ve seen it all before, and they can remain blind to the unique perspective each film sheds on the life of Jesus and his relationship to modern moviegoers.