Bible on celluloid

2012-04-06 13:59

The story of Jesus has provided fertile ground for cinema, with the first film being produced as early as 1903 (Passion Play).

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) and Franco Zeffirelli’s miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth (1977), are considered the classics, but it’s the non-traditional approaches that have got people talking.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera was banned in South Africa for being “irreligious”, as was the first film version of the musical.

The film centres on the conflict between Judas and Jesus, and religious groups objected to Judas being portrayed in a sympathetic light.

Rice made things worse when he was quoted as saying: “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.”

He was accused of blasphemy and the film of anti-Semitism for showing most of the villains as Jewish.

Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation painted Jesus as a man with needs and conflicts.

The fact that his temptations included sex outraged many. In Paris, a group of protesters attacked a theatre with Molotov cocktails, and other attacks included graffiti, tear gas canisters and assaults on film-goers.

Purists were outraged by an alternate reality in which Jesus is depicted as marrying Mary Magdalene instead of dying on the cross.

Despite the film being banned and censored in several countries, Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for best director.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Mel Gibson’s 2004 film on the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life was as hugely controversial as it was commercially successful.

There was outrage over the extreme violence in the movie.

Before it even went into production, numerous claims of anti-Semitism were made against it.

After its release, the campaign against the film’s portrayal of bloodthirsty Jews – and counterclaims defending the film – led to Entertainment Weekly naming it “the most controversial film of all time”.

Son of Man (2005)
Although not controversial, Son of Man broke ground and got people talking. Directed by Mark Dornford-May, it was the first South African film to make its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.

It presented the story of Jesus as a contemporary African fable. In the film, Jesus (a black man) preaches peace against the backdrop of civil war – making him a dangerous political force.

Jesus is born in a squatter camp. He meets Satan, who is dressed in black leather, during his traditional Xhosa circumcision rite.

Color of the Cross (2006)
One of the few other depictions of Jesus as a black man, the film portrays his persecution as the result of racism.

Despite a compelling historical argument to support the skin-colour issue, the film was panned for its low budget and poor screen value.

If Gibson had made it, there would most likely have been outrage.

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