The Pasolini-directed movie about St Paul that never was

So many movies have been made about Jesus, and so many of those movies have been mediocre, that it’s sometimes surprising to realize how many world-class directors have tried to get Jesus movies of their own off the ground but never succeeded. The list includes Carl Theodor Dreyer, who passed away in 1968; Gillo Pontecorvo, who passed away in 2006; and Paul Verhoeven, who published a book about Jesus in 2008 and has talked about making a movie on the subject since the 1980s, but is no closer to actually getting the film made now than he was back then.

You don’t often hear about people dying to make movies about Saint Paul, though. But it turns out that one of the best Jesus-movie makers of them all — Pier Paolo Pasolini, director of The Gospel According to St Matthew, which incidentally celebrates its 50th anniversary this year — tried to make a movie about the apostle who took Christianity to the Gentiles, and yesterday his screenplay was published in English for the first time ever.

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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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Faces and close-ups in Pasolini’s Matthew

If you’ve seen as many Jesus movies as I have, then one of the things you cannot help but notice about Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel according to St. Matthew (1964) is its heavy use of close-ups.

Later films about Jesus used their fair share of close-ups, too, of course — partly because many of them were made for television, at a time when the average TV set was still quite small — but Pasolini’s film, which was one of the last great Jesus films to be made for the big screen, is particularly intense in this regard.

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The Bible: fourth episode, first impressions

Alas, there was no Transfiguration in this episode. But there was quite a bit of other stuff that I found interesting, for better and for worse, so here again, as before, are my first impressions.

The pacing, redux. It says something about this show that, when it finally devotes an entire two-hour episode to a single protagonist, it still feels kind of rushed, like it’s over far too quickly and we haven’t had a chance to really get to know anyone.

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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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Top Ten Jesus Movies

They’ve been making films about the Son of God for over a century. Here’s one man’s list of those that ascend to the top of the cinematic pack.

Of the making of movies about Jesus, there is no end. In the first three months of this year alone: Son of Man, which casts a black man as Christ and sets his life in modern South Africa, got positive reviews at Sundance; the makers of Color of the Cross, which also casts a black man as Christ, established a website with trailers for their work-in-progress; and New Line Cinema announced that Oscar nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) will star as the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in a new movie about the Nativity, to be released in time for Christmas.

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