Friday, March 21, 2008

The Peoples Front of Judea

If you grew up in a Roman Catholic society, were raised by Religious parents and attended a Christian Brothers School, chances are you've got quite a well-developed taste for a Biblical Epic. Which I was, and I do. And I don't mean any "Ben Hur" or "The Robe", either. They both try to take sidelong looks at the story of Jesus Christ while really just functioning as Costume Dramas with scenes full of big spectacle. No, I mean films about Jesus, that actually feature him as the main character. The problem of dramatising that particular story has always fascinated me, as has the bizarre position anyone raised in the Christian tradition in the Western World must face when having to play the character. Just what kind of motivation could you give yourself before a scene as the Son of God?

This is a quote from an interview where Christian Bale compares the experience of playing Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" with playing Jesus:

Were you ever freaked out by him?

CB: I never was. I could completely switch him off at the end of the day. I slept very well. However, when I played Jesus [in last year's TV movie Mary Mother of Jesus], I had nightmares constantly. I had dreams of blood dripping from the ceiling and my palms.


CB: I don't know exactly, you'd have to explore my psyche. [laughs] With Bateman, there was never any feeling of playing a real character, so he didn't linger at all. With Jesus, there are so many expectations.

Only the expectations of a few billion Christians, Christian. No biggie, don't sweat it.

The story of Jesus is a no-brainer for a film. Its got brand awareness for the marketing men, action scenes - Jesus in the temple! the Romans arrest our hero! Barabbas stirs things up! - lots and lots of spectacle, and a ton of great characters for an eclectic cast to get their teeth into. Despite the seeming piety of the idea, Jesus-movies are frequently more Hollywood Backlot than Holy Land, and that glamour makes them seem both kitschy and oddly seductive. Anyway, Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" is probably my favourite Jesus-movie. But it only narrowly pips Nick Ray's fantastic "King of Kings" (which it rips off shamelessly). As you might have guessed by now, this post is basically an "Easter Vintage Trailer Special". So down to it.

This is more short documentary than trailer, and it hilariously names more or less the entire cast, while also including a couple of classic "IT WAS A TIME OF..." captions. But you don't get any better than Robert Ryan as John the Baptist. Maybe Lee Marvin, but nobody ever thought of that. Except me, and by now its too late. The film is better than the trailer suggests, which I don't think is the general aim of a trailer, but maybe I'm wrong:

When I was a kid, my parents let my brother and I stay up late to watch this film, which was atypical behaviour. Except its looooong, and I fell asleep. But Max von Sydow is the greatest Screen Jesus, for me. And John Wayne has a cracking, legendary line of dialogue. And Donald Pleasance plays Satan, basically. But Charlton Heston is no Robert Ryan. Or Lee Marvin. Was Burt Lancaster busy that week, I wonder? Playing Moses, maybe...
Anyway, Happy Easter:

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