Sunday, February 16, 2014

So many Jesus movies, so little time

An assignment this week for my Passion Narratives is to watch a movie that includes the passion of Jesus, and to critically analyze it.

This is how that would look on the SATs:
Child : candy store :: Emmy : Jesus movies

I have been a lover of Jesus movies, and musicals, and theatrical productions for so many years.  A theater troupe came through my Episcopal congregation when I was, perhaps, eight? -- and they did a reenactment of the Passion, including the whipping and the crucifixion, in the middle of our sanctuary, and I was so enraptured by it that I crawled forward, down the center aisle, clinging to each pew in turn and unable to take my eyes off it.

This is probably one of those "don't do this to your child, it scars them for life" kinds of issues, but it was the start of a long love affair for me -- of signing up for Garden Shifts on the night of Maundy Thursday, driving with my parents to church to stay and pray for a midnight hour in the flower-filled narthex as a remembrance of the disciples' inability to stay awake; of my teenage solemnity each Holy Saturday, dwelling in the heartbroken quiet of the women's mourning after Jesus' death, waiting for the joy of Easter; my high school devotion to watching Jesus and the Shroud of Turin every Good Friday, and listening to Jesus Christ Superstar, till I went to college and began to realize all the theological and scriptural issues that particular musical raises.

I love these movies and musicals.  Because they're a perfect encapsulation of the difficulty of telling the passion story; because they're done with care, knowing their sensitive content; because public response to them is so telling; because, in the end, I do what I do because I believe there is something to this story of a dead Jewish teacher that is more than a moment in history.  

So the question now is only... which one will I watch?

For obvious reasons.  ALAS ALAS FOR YOU LAWYERS AND PHAAARISEES.  Godspell (if I remember correctly) bases itself most heavily on Matthew's version of the story, which is one of those inherent choices in turning "the Jesus story" into film -- do you stay close to one gospel, try to harmonize them, pick the most dramatic scenes from all four?  This one is great.  But, drawback:  clowns.  I do not like clowns. 

Jesus Christ Superstar 
For other obvious reasons.  Could Mohammed move a mountain or WAS that just P.R.?  I used to have a lot of scriptural issues with this movie/musical, especially with the hyper-sexualization/romanticization of Mary Magdalene (NOT AN ACTUAL PROSTITUTE, GUYS), but as I've gotten older *adjusts reading glasses* it's become less important.  I really value what Superstar did in re: Judas Iscariot, who in Matthew's gospel is actually very repentant of his actions and usually gets left as a bad guy.

Jesus: The Miniseries 
Not to be confused with the Bible Miniseries that came out last year.  This one's from 1999.  I will probably watch this because it is my favorite.  It stars Jeremy Sisto as Jesus and Gary Oldman as Pilate and Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene (still a prostitute), and it takes massive liberties with the source material, and John the Baptist speaks like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and it's not very well known and I can't explain why but I just really love it.

Speaking of:  Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ 
Nope.  Saw it in college.  Wrote a paper on it in college.  Not doing it again. 

Jesus of Montreal 
Also saw this in college.  Geeked out then.  Would probably geek out more now.  It's a Canadian film from the late 80s about a theater troupe putting on the story of the Passion, and they reinterpret it with historical accuracy which gets them in trouble with the church, but the extra neat part is that the members of the troupe are actually modern metaphors for Jesus, Peter, Mary Mags (a prostitute) and Mary the Mother, and it is just so really neat.  I would probably watch this one for this paper except I shockingly don't own it.  And the seminary library and the local library copies are both out.  I just ordered it from Amazon but it won't arrive till after the paper's due.  Still.  So great.

The Last Temptation of Christ 
I have never seen this.  I want to.  So it's in contention with the Miniseries version.  I will slog through tomorrow's snowstorm over to the seminary library and grab it.

1 comment:

  1. If you have Netflix, you could also enjoy The Gospel Road, a retelling of the Passion story by Johnny Cash, featuring original songs by him, June Carter Cash, John Denver, and Kris Kristofferson. I didn't watch it, but I think a true Jesus film completest would want to see this one.