Jesus Christ Movie Star
By: Phil Hall - BearManor Media, $22.00
Description: The life of Jesus Christ has challenged and inspired filmmakers from the pioneering works of the late 1890s through todays digital cinema.
No other life story has been the subject of so many films, with so many wildly different interpretations.
The big screen Jesus has traveled through multimillion dollar epics and microbudget underground films, recreating the miracles of the Gospels while also advocating for modern political issues.
Moviegoers have seen Jesus walk on water and conquer death, and also break into show tunes and play straight man to a zany Bette Midler.
Films about Jesus have inspired a diverse range of controversies, ranging from a groundbreaking copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison to an intellectual scandal that rocked the 1964/65 New York Worlds Fair to accusations of anti-Semitism against Mel Gibsons distinctive interpretation of the New Testament.
Phil Hall, author of the critically acclaimed books The History of Independent Cinema and In Search of Lost Films and host of the award-winning podcast The Online Movie Show, takes the reader on the most extraordinary odyssey in cinematic studies by tracing how filmmakers from across the years and around the world have sought to fill theaters with the story of Jesus.
Beloved classics and bizarre curios are part of this memorable journey as the light of the world brings illumination through the lens of a movie projector.
Verdict: OK, well, being a deeply religious Christian, which was also my main reason for reviewing this new book from Phil Hall, I was very intrigued by what this book had to offer - both from a religious aspect and a Hollywood slant too, of course.
Starting, as one should, with the main man himself, according to the majority of thoughts on the subject, let alone most all celluloid depictions, Jesus is the most famous blonde-hair, blue-eyed white man that there ever was!
That said, and as we quickly learn from this book, his physical appearance has been portrayed in various ways, but if we really want to take this discussion of his features seriously, we first have to examine his life.
I mean, Jesus does everything under the sun (quite literally, for the most part): walking, healing, among others, but within the Bible, and during these wondrous acts, he is rarely visually described.
Most likely resembling the typical Palestinian, a Jewish man of the 1st century, artists did not take into consideration the historical account of his appearance. Instead, they used their own creative thoughts, one early painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a beardless man with a lamb around his shoulders.
But after the Byzantine Era ended, the Greek-influenced portrayal of Jesus remained, becoming the universal image of Jesus. In the Renaissance Era, artists typically portrayed Jesus with more expressions, gestures, and a linear perspective. His appearance was also a lot more tridimensional, realistic, and colorful than in the Byzantine Era.
That all said, and based on archaeological artifacts, texts, and preserved human remains, researchers can infer these traits about Jesusâ€™s physical appearance: 5 Feet 5 Inches Tall; Brown Eyes; Black Hair; Olive-Brown Skin; Short Hair and a Trimmed Beard.
So, what Jesus Christ Movie Star sets out to reveal is that although no one has actual true knowledge of what Jesus looks like, Hollywood has always opted for his portrayal to be by a Caucasian, speaking flawless English (for the most part).
None of this is could be historically correct, but as we learn from Halls new book, we have to keep in mind that movies are meant to entertain, not to teach history, and images of Christ in paintings or statues, are meant to show a beautiful image; also not to be historically correct.
The book - which one of Halls good friends inquired as to if he was familiar with a film carrying the unfortunate title Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist (First he nails you ... then he nails you!) - obviously had a lot of scope to contend with and so wisely limits its attention to Jesus-centric films created for theatrical exhibition and film festivals.
Also stepped over are those films where the lead believes himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus and those films that focus heavily on the actual birth of Jesus. And thus this quite magnificently written and highly revealing new book encompasses films from all over the globe, inclusive of (most likely) unknown titles from Latin American, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Opening on the fact that when the motion picture industry began to take shape in the 1890s, that many of the earliest productions were about Jesus Christ, it seems we have been viewing celluloid incarnations of the great man for well over a hundred years now.
To give you a quick rundown, the first talking Jesus motion picture arrived in 1933 and was called The Wandering Jew, the photo on the front cover of this book heralds from the 1935 film Golgotha, the first film made in the 1950s was the British production The Westminster Passion Play - Behold the Man, and amongst oh-so many more fascinating revelations revealed in this book, there were three Jesus musicals put on in 1973 alone!
Anyway, and coming full circle, anyone who claims to know what Jesus looked like probably deserves skepticism. His appearance is not really described in the New Testament, mainly because having any pictures of him at all was controversial in the beginnings of Christianity.
However, through this new book Jesus Christ Movie Star, we can examine how people (and by people, I obviously mean Hollywood and such) viewed the appearance of Jesus and thus how his very same appearance has decidedly changed over time.
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