“The Story of Ruth”: Fox 1960 CinemaScope spectacle plays up the issue of idol-worship in presenting a maternal ancestor of Jesus

In the 1950s, 20th Century Fox promoted the spectacle genre after it premiered Cinemascope in 1953 with Llyod C. Douglas’s “The Robe”.  I saw it at the old Jefferson in Falls Church, one of the first “neighborhoods” to be converted to wide screen, and, yes, I cried at the end.

The Story of Ruth”, directed by Henry Koster, appeared in 1960 and is somewhat lower keyed than earlier spectacles, yet the film, with very crisp cinematography, makes the ancient world of the Judges in the Bible look interesting.

Ruth, as we remember from Sunday school perhaps, was the humble woman who became an ancestor of David and therefore eventually Jesus Christ himself.

But the film adds a lot of material in the beginning to the Old Testament book “Ruth” which is complicated enough in all the migrations and family ties.  “The Story of the Bible” by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1936, a favorite of my late father (p. 143, Chapter 10), and Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, 1939,  Story 21, p. 196, “The Young Woman Who Forsook Idols to Serve God”, give the details with some variation.

The film starts with presenting Ruth (Elena Eden) as an idol worshipper, preparing a Moabitess girl Tebah (Daphna Einnhorn) to be sacrificed to the pagan god Chemosh.  Quickly the film presents the obvious dilemma:  idols can indeed have clay feet and break, and, well, and idol is only what you see;  beauty is only skin deep.

The complications of the story, as the film returns to the Biblical text, involve Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and worshipping the one god Jehovah, accepting poverty and returning to Judah out of family loyalty, and gleaning in the fields.  Accepting the charity of others becomes part of moral purification.  The film covers how easily inherited wealth can be lost, and also the idea that men were expected to marry widowed family members.  At the end, Ruth turns down a man she does not love, as a good man named Boaz (Stuart Whitman).

Back around 1952, public schools were allowed to have religious classes after school, and I can remember confessing “I have idols” in writing in a note to the teacher.

“Boaz” happens to be the last name of a prominent libertarian writer and officer at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.  In the film, the character seems to be the most respectful of all of the liberty of others.

There are several newer versions of the story, as one from Pure Flix.

Name:  “The Story of Ruth”
Director, writer:  Henry Koster
Released:  1960
Format:  CinemaScope (slightly wider than the usual anamorphic today)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  123
Rating:  PG
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Pinterest

(Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

“The Case for Christ”: a journalist (Lee Strobel) becomes Christian after a rigorous “fact check” of the Resurrection

The Case for Christ”, directed by Jon Gunn, is based on journalist Lee Strobel’s own autobiographical book.

Lee (Mike Vogel), a graduate of the University of Missouri journalism school, in 1980 was working as a high profile crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  His wife Leslie (Erika Christiansen) congratulates him as a “published author” for “Reckless Homicide? Ford’s Pinto Trial”  (I had owned a Pinto myself in the mid 1970s in New Jersey).  Remember, this was in the days just before the PC (like the TRS80) as available, and writers still used typewriters. Self-proclaimed atheists, they seem to be doing a good job as parents of a young daughter.  Vogel is also working on a complicated story about a shooting of a policeman, with informants and other crooked cops and fall guys – which will turn into a major subplot worthy of the Innocence Project (or maybe of Andrew Jenks’s new series “Unlocking the Truth”, Oct. 29).

One evening at a restaurant, daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) nearly chokes on a cookie in a restaurant. The movie doesn’t explain why the parents didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver (there’s an example of it in my first “Tribunal and Rapture” novel document where a Christ-like young man rescues a child at a Texas barbecue).  But a nurse Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell) appears and saves the child with the maneuver.  Leslie believes, with a little prodding from Alfie, that this is a miracle from God, and begins to attend church and is baptized.

Lee goes on a journalistic voyage to look at the real evidence for Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and his Resurrection.  One of the most interest aspects of the evidence is the number of eyewitnesses (up to the time of Pentecost), and of the ability to track actual original handwritten documents almost to the time of Pentecost. (The movie points out that the Koran would not be written for another 500 years.)   He e travels to California to talk to a med school professor about the evidence that Christ really died.  In the meantime, his marriage almost falls apart. At times, the film takes on the adventurousness of an Irving Wallace novel (like “The Plot” or “The Prize”).

What he winds up is a journalistic “proof beyond reasonable doubt” based on witness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.

Vogel would eventually become a pastor and major best-selling author of Christian books. ‘

Had I lived at the time of Christ and been one of the 500 witnesses, the experience would have defined my own intellectual world.  That still fits in to my modern idea of cosmology.

The movie seems to be more about whether faith must become personal.  But what I find difficult is the faith required to accept the vulnerability involved in really serving other people with their “real needs” and letting them be important.  That takes real hands on skill, not intellect.  It gets personal.  It’s more subtle than the collective faith you see in praise services.

But what I want to see is someone live up to the ideal that Christ created – whether another young Clark Kent (even “alien”) or a filmmaker like the second (reincarnated) Danny of “Judas Kiss”.

Name:  “The Case for Christ
Director, writer:  Joe Gunn, Lee Strobel
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, Alexandria VA, fair crowd
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  PureFlix
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, April 14, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

 

“Last Days of Jesus” gives a new theory on the politics of the Crucifixion

The documentary “Last Days of Jesus”, from Blink Films (114 minutes, apparently an Australian produce, no director named) aired on PBS last night and will air numerous more times until Easter.

The film advances an interesting theory about the political struggle that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  The documentary style is one of narration with actors.  A UNC religion professor gave a lot of commentary.

It starts by tracing the boyhood of Jesus, and showing the remains a of a stone house in Nazareth that suggest that Joseph and Mary were economically better off than generally believed.  Jesus developed the skill to become a building contractor.

But as a young man he was always are of his mission, and as in the Bible, his personal epiphany came from meeting John the Baptist.

When Jesus was a teen, a political struggle in Rome developed that would have a bearing on how his own life would end.  This had to do with the rise of a young man and soldier with Shakespearian ambitions, Lucius Aelius Sejanus.  Apparently he arranged the poisoning of political rivals and became the top confidant of Tiberius, who even wanted to build a city in his name on the Dead Sea.  When he became deputy emperor, he became somewhat friendly with the Jewish establishment in the Holy Lands because he wanted stability. But a few months before Jesus’s Passion, he was summoned by the Roman Senate, expecting a “promotion” but instead was imprisoned and executed for the murders.

The Sadducees, as a conservative sect of Judaism at the time, emphasized the written law of God and were somewhat unpopular with the people in the various towns around Jerusalem.   The Pharisees, often reviled I Sunday school as wanting to be heard “for their much speaking” were actually somewhat populist in some sense.  (I mention the Pharisees at the opening of the last story in my “Do Ask. Do Tell III” book, that is, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”;  I’ll take this up soon on my DADT Notes blog.)

In the meantime, Herod had wanted to become viewed as “King of the Jews”.  He liked working with Sejanus.  After the execution of Sejanus (the political scandal somehow remind me of the 2016 elections) perturbed the political climate in such a way that Herod and Pilate were affected, as well as the relationships among the various religious groups.  Herod had even supported the idea of a separate religious “kind” (that is, “two kings”).  That also upset the political situation of Judas, among the disciples, in particular.

The film supposes that “Palm Sunday” really happened in the fall, and that Pilate took some time before deciding to jail Jesus, who would not be crucified for several months.  The political story of Judas many vary somewhat from previous accounts (like the 2006 NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas”). It may even bear on the plot ironies surrounding a short film called “Judas Kiss” embedded in the controversial 2011 gay science fiction film by that name (the lead character Danny (Richard Harmon and then Charlie David), a filmmaker, is presented as having a Christ-like charisma but yet is troubled by a certain paradox).

The film notes that writers in the first centuries may have avoided mentioning Sejanus out of fear and self-censorship, so his narrative did not make it into the New Testament.  Sounds familiar?  Like Trump’s battle with journalists?

PBS program link.

PBS DVD sales link.

Modern view of Nazareth, wiki.

(Posted: Wednesday, April5, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT)

“Finding Altamira”: discovery of prehistoric cave art in Spain in 19th century triggers a science v. religion controversy

Finding Altamira” (2016), directed by Henry Hudson, about challenging religious precepts with science, something quite daring in the 19th Century.

In 1879, explorer Marcelino Sanz de Sautuloa y de la Pedrueca (Antonio Banderas), an amateur explorer, investigates a vaguely known cave in northern Spain.  His daughter Maria (Allegra Allen) notices the prehistoric paintings and in time makes the discovery known.

The local Catholic church establishment sees this as a threat, as personified by the Monsignor (Rupert Everett).  Pretty soon Marcelino is pilloried and “unpopular” in a way common today for people who don’t go along with their peers.  This film certainly seems timely given Donald Trump’s populist strategy and his apparent disdain for science as privileged and elitist.

There is plenty of dialogue about the tension between individualistic rationalism and the ability to “love people”.  There are lines to the effect, that God made the world, and created it for his own glory; to maintain otherwise (including questioning the virgin birth) is anathema, to demand excommunication from the church.  Even Picasso would see this as “decadent”.  Marcelino’s wife, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani) challenges the monsignor, saying she will place her husband before God but not before “you”.

The cave art is thought to be 35000 years old, maybe Neanderthal.

The piano music background includes Mozart (Sonata 15), Scarlatti (who draws comment), and a transcription of the Prelude to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.

The film has some interesting animation sequences of the bison in the drawings as the child dreams.

Wiki picture from cave.

Wiki picture of Bilbao, east of caves, which I visited in April  2001.

Name:  “Finding Altamira”
Director, writer:  Henry Hudson
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD 2017/3/28
Length:  93
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn
Link:  official;   NY Times

(Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

“The Shack”: Christian film with a sci-fi plot line and charismatic messiah figure

The Shack”, directed by Stuart Hazeldine, is a Christian film set up as a road science fiction adventure, so to speak.  It also has a slow, expansive, narrative style.

The film is based on the self-published best seller Christian novel by William P. Young   I guess the novel provides a lesson in how self-published authors can make themselves popular and actually sell books.

The film has an extensive prologue about the abusive father or central character Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), before settling on present day, where Mack has adjusted in life and is raising a good family with three kids near Portland, OR (much of the actual filming was in British Columbia – but  the film has outdoor scenes near Multnomah Falls and Mount Hood).

He takes the family on a camping trip.  In a boating accident, his son Josh (Gage Munroe) almost drowns but is brought back quickly by CPR.  But in the meantime, his daughter Missy disappears.  Soon there is overwhelming evidence that she was murdered by an unapprehended pedophile in an abandoned shack near the camp.  Mack goes into grief and his ability to function interpersonally or carry on his marriage stumbles.  He wants justice.  The film doesn’t mention John Walsh and America’s Most Wanted, but it would fit.

One snowy day he finds a bizarre handwritten note in his mailbox inviting him to go back to the shack. He arranges to do so, taking a gun and a friend’s pickup.  A bizarre series of events ensues:  a near miss with a crash with a rig, and then, in the frozen shack, he stumbles and falls.  He first sees a deer, and then seems to recover.  When he goes out into the woods, the weather suddenly warms and the snow disappears, and he meets a charismatic stranger “Jesus” played by Israeli actor Avraham Aviv Alush.

He returns to the shack, which is now suddenly repaired and furnished, with other comforting people, especially “Papa” (Octavia Spencer) and later Male Papa or “God” (Graham Greene).  In the ensuing sequence (about 45 minutes), Jesus takes him through miracles, like walking on the water.  He is also placed in a position of playing “judge”.  There is a climatic scene in a field where the departed are depicted as columns of light, as a view of a hollow heaven or the afterlife.

“Jesus” is slender and attractive (maybe about 40), and would be viewed as desirable, for example by old fashioned gay male values.   There is an inherent problem in asking a major character (and the audience) to believe that a charismatic young man is actually Jesus, or some sort of supernatural entity, or maybe a kindly extraterrestrial alien.   It’s more believable when the protagonist has gone on some sort of unusual pilgrimage (or “Way”) to reach the destination.  Is “Jesus” different from other charismatic young adult male characters in other sci-fi (such as young Clark Kent in “Smallville” or Will in “The Dark Place”, which presents this sort of character in a gay drama).  I mentioned this in my review of “A Cure for Wellness” on Feb. 20, comparing it to my own story, “Ocelot”.

The “return” to the “real world” is a bit corny and not that satisfying, unless you want a merely religious explanation for what has happened, and for the repair of Mack’s soul.  I would like to see more.

Bonus music: Franz Liszt: “St. Francis Walking on the Water”, second of the “Two Legends” for piano solo.

Multnomah Falls. Multnomah Falls, Oregon (I visited in 1996).

Chart.

Name: The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
Director, writer:  Stuart Hazeldine, William P. Young (novel)
Released:  2017/3/3
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2017/3/3, afternoon, small audience
Length:  132
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Lionsgate, Summit, Windblown Media
Link:  movie, book

(Posted: Friday, March 3, 2017 at 10 PM ESY)

(Picture: Near Tioga Pass, CA, mine, 2012)

“Apostle Peter and the Last Supper”: church film actually poses a challenge in the science v. faith debate

Sometimes Biblical dramas produced explicitly for churches do pose real questions about how faith applies today, and how people could view Biblical narratives in comparison to their own modern lives.

Apostle Peter and the Last Supper” (2012, directed Gabriel Sabloff) presents an elderly Peter (Robert Loggia) in jail, a few days before his own crucifixion, giving his jailer about his own time with the real physical Jesus, including the Last Supper.  A deleted scene on the DVD actually shows the Ascension, also.

The “back story” is about the life of the apostles following Jesus on his journeys, witnessing his miracles, and them coming down to the climatic Last Supper.  The young man Peter (Ryan Alosio) certainly experiences upward affiliation for Jesus (Bruce Marchiano), and wonders how Jesus can be so sure that Peter will deny him, and that at least one other disciple will betray him with the “Judas Kiss”.  There are a few brief moments where Jesus appears supernatural in the flesh.  Life is quite communal; there is no intinction.

The men had apparently given up “normal” economic and family life the follow Him around, behavior that in the modern world would seem insecure and immature for a young adult male, who ought to be raising his own brood.  I’ve been in that situation myself.   (But some of the disciples were married.)

The Last Supper scene is indeed intimate. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, as if Jesus were showing and experiencing humility.  I did wonder, why was Peter’s leg hairless?  He was still a young man.

In thus ancient world, at a special time, all knowledge comes from religious authority, and there is no opportunity to map it onto science as we know it today. “Following me” could be appropriate in their world when it would not be in ours.

Imagine if a teen Clark Kent like in “Smallville” really does exist, maybe as a twenty-something now.  You would have to see it to believe it; there could be no Doubting Thomas.  Even then, it would be hard to make “Him” credible;  in social media it would be seen as part of the fake news aggregation.  Clark Kent might well stay off social media.  There could be a risk that if he tried to get a following, the group would become a cult.

In the modern world, there is a schism in what we are asked to believe, compared to what an “I” in the ancient world could experience.  A personal relationship with “Him” still seems abstract. But it was not so for Peter, even if he “denied” Jesus momentarily to avoid taking an unnecessary “bullet”.  For the disciples , to become apostles, they had seen and lived it.

I call to mind an incident in 1979 in west Texas, at a camping weekend sponsored by MCC Dallas, when a particular young man put his arm around me and stated I was lost and tried to “recruit” me to follow “Him”.  But “He” was still invisible, and no longer personal.  But the young man at the camp was all too personal.  What if one really could return to the original setting of Resurrection?

In fact, there is a 1969 novel “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock that sets up this dichotomy with tike travel; I vaguely remember reading the paperback while living in Dallas in the 1980s.

I’ll add that in the 2011 gay sci-fi film “Judas Kiss”, the title refers to a short film made by the character Danny about his abusive father, but I don’t recall the real connection to Judas.

It has always struck me that Jesus, as depicted in the past, was always shown as a young man who would be seen as perfect by conventional gay male values.  Perfect for upward affiliation, except from the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose so he panders Jesus.  Jesus was seen as someone who would never be desecrated, until He allowed the crucifixion to pay for our sins.  But then, he “came back”, in perfection, and rose to the Heavens in perfection.  Today that’s the stuff of UFO’s and science fiction.

If a “Clark Kent” really exists somewhere (even in “Kill Bill 2”) it could mean the end of time, for us at least.

Note the meaning of the terms “apostle” and “disciple”.

The film was shot around Malibu with Italian money. But a lot of the scenery looks constructed. The DVD has a 20 minute “Behind the Scenes” and 11 minutes of deleted scenes.

Name:  “Apostle Peter and the Last Supper
Director, writer:  Gabriel Sabloff
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix DVD
Length:  93
Rating:  PG
Companies:  PureFlix
Link:  NA

(Posted: Friday, February 3, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

“Silence”: Catholic priest missionaries track through persecution in 17th Century Japan

Martin Scorsese is said to have taken a quarter century to craft this meditation on Catholic Christian evangelism in 17th century Japan, “Silence”. The spiritual message is heavy-handed, and rather reminds me of Mel Gibson’s work.

Yes, Christians make a lot of international persecution today, but the movie makes a fairly strong comparison to religious persecution today in the middle East, especially by ISIS.

The plot line for this 161-minute film that seems like a stage play (based on the novel by Shusaku Endu) is rather simple.  Two young priests, who seem emotionally close (you wonder if they would have been c a couple a few centuries later) from Portugal, Rodriques (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) make the sea voyage from Holland to Japan and then enter the country surreptitiously, trying to find a colleague Ferreira (Liam Neeson) left behind years ago.

The local powers-that-be persecute Christianity in Biblical ways, seeing it as a political threat. There are water crucifixions, upside-down burials, and at least one beheading.  Christians are challenged to defend their faith ritualistically in the face of certain death, usually by slow torture.  I no longer relate to the idea of surrendering all to prove your faith to qualify for the hollow heavens.

Rodriques is quite articulate on matters of faith.  Eventually, he loses his friend and encounters the elder colleague, and that will create an existential change in the direction of his life.

The film was shot near Nagasaki, Japan, and in Taiwan.  As ratification for the film title, there is no music during the end credits.

Name:  “Silence”
Director, writer:  Martin Scorsese
Released:  2016/12/25
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/1/11
Length:  161
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (Vantage, Independent)
Link:  official

Wikipedia image, Nagasaki in the 19th century.

(Posted: January 11, 2017 at 10 PM EST)