Al Pacino taking his Salome movies to the UK in September

A film that I’ve been waiting almost a decade to see… is going to be screened in England later this year.

The first time I wrote about Al Pacino’s plan to make a movie about Oscar Wilde’s Salome — mixing behind-the-scenes footage with dramatized sections of the play — was in April 2006, only a year or so after I started this blog. At the time, the film was going to be called Salomaybe?, and it was set to star Pacino as King Herod, Kevin Anderson as John the Baptist and Jessica Chastain as Salome. (This was five years before The Tree of Life and The Help put her on the map.)

Then, in March 2007, the film was in post-production.

Then, in February 2009… the film was still in post-production.

Shortly after that, I went on a bit of a blogging hiatus that lasted about three years, until I joined Patheos in 2012. But apparently the film was eventually finished and it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, under a new title: Wilde Salomé.

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Jesus walks on water in new Son of God clip

The story of Jesus walking on the water appears in three of the canonical gospels — not, as you might think, the three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) but, rather, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. I have no idea why Luke’s gospel leaves this story out, but it’s not too hard to see why life-of-Jesus movies have skipped this episode for the most part.*

For one thing, it’s more brazenly supernatural than some of the other miracles, which could be a turn-off to some of the more skeptical or liberally-minded audience members. Also, it’s kind of hard to visualize what it would have looked like, exactly, for someone to walk on water — especially when there was a storm raging all around him and stirring up the waves. Until the rise of CGI, it might have been too difficult to film a version of this scene that would have looked half-way plausible.

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Bible movie of the week: The Big Fisherman (1959)

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Big Fisherman (1959), one of the more obscure Bible movies ever released by a major Hollywood studio.

As far as I know, the film, which was originally distributed by Walt Disney’s Buena Vista division, has never been officially released to home video, at least not in North America. But I had read a bit about it in books on the history of Jesus movies — the title refers to the apostle Peter — and I was intrigued by the information I found at the Internet Movie Database.

For one thing, the film is based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who also wrote The Robe, which 20th Century Fox turned into a much more famous film in 1953. For another, it seemed that this film might rely on the secular account of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist given to us by Josephus, which no other film I could think of had ever done.

And what did the apostle Peter have to do with any of this? I had no idea, but I was curious to find out.

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The latest attempt to film all four gospels word-for-word

Every now and then, someone embarks on a quixotic quest to film the entire Bible, word for word. In the 1970s, the Genesis Project got as far as filming the books of Genesis and Luke, the latter of which was condensed into the Jesus film that is now distributed by Campus Crusade. More recently, there was the Visual Bible, which produced adaptations of Matthew and Acts in the 1990s and then, after a change of ownership, an adaptation of The Gospel of John in 2003.

Yesterday I came across what seems like a more modest project: an attempt to film all four gospels under the collective title the Lumo Project.

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The naked Christ in film: birth, death and resurrection

“The Word became flesh,” according to John 1:14, but that flesh has been hidden, for the most part, in movie portrayals of Jesus. At certain key points in his life, history and even tradition would dictate that Jesus ought to be depicted nude — and there are good theological reasons for doing so. But films have tended to shy away from nudity in their own portrayals of those parts of the Jesus story.

There are some obvious reasons for this reticence, of course, starting with the fact that film, for much of its history, has been forced to skirt around images of nudity in general, and images of male nudity in particular. Plus, when a film does show someone’s nudity, it does not merely show you the character’s nudity; it shows you the actor’s nudity, as well, and the knowledge that you are seeing an actor’s naked body can sometimes distract you from the character. This is especially true when the character is meant to be an embodiment of divinity like Jesus.

There have been at least three significant exceptions, though — three films that each depict the nudity of Jesus at a different key point in his story.

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The Bible / What works and what doesn’t in the ambitious mini-series

It’s common these days for each new episode of a TV series to begin with a montage that sums up all the relevant plot points from previous episodes. So it was only natural that, when the History Channel aired its five-part mini-series The Bible over the month of March, all but one of the episodes began with narrator Keith David intoning, in his deep baritone voice, “Previously, on The Bible…”

All of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in that one phrase. Produced by Mark Burnett (a TV mogul best known for unscripted “reality” shows like Survivor and The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey (who once starred in Touched by an Angel), the mini-series rushes through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in ten hours — though it’s more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks — and it zips through the stories so quickly that you barely notice when they are compressed even further in those opening sequences. But the mini-series also makes a point of emphasizing the continuity between Bible stories in a way that is quite rare among Bible films, and in a way that sometimes allows individual stories to shed light profitably on others.

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