Religion and comedy in the Sam Kinison biopic

Five years ago, I wrote a short blog post noting that HBO was developing a biopic on Sam Kinison, the Pentecostal preacher turned politically-incorrect stand-up comic.

Now, today, comes news that this project, which already had a few producers attached to it, finally has a director and an actor — and it turns out nearly everyone involved has mixed religion with comedy in one form or another in the past.

First, one of the producers is Tom Shadyac, director of Bruce Almighty (2003) and its sequel Evan Almighty (2007); more recently, he has documented his own personal spiritual quest in a film called I Am (2010).

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Black Nativity — the teaser is now online

Fox Searchlight has posted its first trailer for Black Nativity, the upcoming Kasi Lemmons adaptation of the Langston Hughes musical. As with the pictures that were released two months ago, the focus here seems to be on the modern-day scenes, but we do get what appears to be a taste of the “dream sequence” that re-tells the story of Jesus’ birth. See the trailer and a couple key images below.

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Christmas musical Black Nativity releases its first pictures

Four years after I first mentioned that a film version of the Langston Hughes musical Black Nativity was in the works — and three months after cameras finally started rolling on the adaptation — we now, at last, have some images from the film, courtesy of USA Today. Alas, all four of the pictures in question seem to be set pretty firmly within the real world, so we’ll just have to wait to see the “dream sequence” that re-tells the story of the birth of Jesus. The article that accompanies the new images does describe at least one part of that sequence, though:
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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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Samson and the upcoming Bible mini-series

For just over a month now, the History Channel has been releasing a series of clips and trailers to promote their mini-series The Bible, which premieres March 3. The promotional campaign started, appropriately enough for mid-December, with a couple of Christmas-themed ads, and it has since moved on to clips and images from other parts of the Good Book.

Today my fellow Patheos blogger Rebecca Cusey posted one of the first images of Samson, who is played by British actor Nonso Anozie. And, as you can see, this Samson looks a little different from the Samsons you might have seen in earlier films or TV shows.

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Saints, Sinners, and Salvation

The Terminator franchise — including the new Terminator Salvation — is full of religious imagery, much of it ultimately embracing hope for mankind.

Whenever people ask me what my favorite Christmas movie is, I tell them it’s The Terminator — and I’m only half-joking.

The film, which celebrates its 25th anniversary later this year, is not exactly a religious movie or even a holiday movie on any obvious level. It’s an R-rated sci-fi action film with plenty of violence, a fair bit of profanity, and a sex scene that was standard fare for modestly-priced B-movies of that time. And yet, there is something about the storyline, written by director James Cameron, that has always brought the Nativity to mind.

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Review: The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke, 2006)

The Passion of The Christ was an independent movie, paid for entirely out of Mel Gibson’s pocket. The Prince of Egypt was an animated film that emphasized the common ground between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Last Temptation of Christ was a low-budget art-house flick based on a heretical novel.

You would have to go back at least as far as King David, the mid-1980s box-office flop starring Richard Gere, to find another live-action movie produced by a major Hollywood studio and based directly on the Bible. And you would have to go back even further — to the bathrobe epics of the 1960s, at least — to find a mainstream biblical movie that was as blatantly Christian as The Nativity Story.

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Nativity Story producers, writer look beyond the Christian “niche”

LOS ANGELES, CA — It has been over 20 years since a major Hollywood studio made a live-action Bible movie for the big screen. The last such movie was King David, with Richard Gere, and it was regarded by many as a disappointment — both for the revisions it made to the biblical story, and because it flopped big time at the box office.

The few Bible-related films that have come out since then have tended to be either self-financed independent movies (e.g., Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) or low-budget art-house flicks (e.g., Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which was based not on the Bible, per se, but on a controversial novel).

But that will all change December 1, when New Line Cinema — the studio behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy — releases The Nativity Story, a dramatization of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The virgin birth, the miraculous conception of John the Baptist, the visitations of the archangel Gabriel, the shepherds, the Magi — it’s all here, more or less as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

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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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Filmmakers seek to inspire audiences with The Nativity Story

LOS ANGELES, CA — It has been nearly three years since The Passion of the Christ proved there was an audience for biblical movies with a strong Christian theme. Now, Hollywood is finally beginning to catch up — and what better way to follow a film about the death of Jesus than to make a film about his birth?

The Nativity Story, which comes to theatres December 1, is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, a former production designer who made her directorial debut three years ago on Thirteen, an Oscar-nominated, R-rated film about the troubled relationship between a teenaged girl and her single mother. Hardwicke followed this with Lords of Dogtown, a dynamic look at several legendary skateboarders in the 1970s.

Sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll were all prominent features of Hardwicke’s first two films, so it might seem like a stretch that she would then go on to tackle a rather pious account of the virginal conception of Christ. But the film does star 16-year-old New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes, who became the youngest best-actress Oscar nominee in history two years ago for her performance in Whale Rider; and Hardwicke says the new film actually fits quite nicely with her previous youth-oriented movies.

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