My friend Matt Page is starting a series of posts over at the Bible Films Blog on the question of canonicity and Bible films. Among other things, he asks: Is there a “canon” of Bible films, independent of the biblical canon itself? And is there a reason why certain biblical stories get filmed again and again while others go ignored?
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.
The History Channel had a huge hit this year with The Bible, but the makers of that mini-series are taking the sequel to another network, so it’s not too surprising that the History Channel has turned to someone else to make a follow-up of their own. What is surprising is that their next Jesus-themed series will be made by a bunch of horror-movie veterans, including: Eli Roth, director of Hostel (2005-2007); Eric Newman, producer of the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) and the prequel to The Thing (2011); and Scott Kosar, a writer whose credits include the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Amityville Horror (2005). Roth and Newman also co-produced The Last Exorcism (2010-2013).
Deadline says the series is currently called The Lost Years and will look at what Jesus was up to between the ages of 13 and 30. The series will also reportedly fit into the horror genre as it explores “a theory about Jesus’ origins as an exorcist.”
Given the pedigree of everyone involved, this could easily be very schlocky (“Jesus The Teenage Demon Slayer,” as Matthew Archbold puts it). And yet I can’t help thinking that performing exorcisms was a big part of Jesus’ ministry, and that the Jesus-movie genre probably hasn’t paid as much attention to that side of him as it could.
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?