With Easter just around the corner, Facets Features spotlights a variety of films that look at the last days of Jesus Christ, from the early days of cinema through the present.
From the Manger to the Cross (Sidney Olcott, 1912) - The Kalem Company reenacted their passion play for the camera, resulting in this, the first Biblical epic to be filmed in the Holy Land.
King of Kings (Cecil D. De Mille, 1927) - De Mille's opulent Hollywoodization of the New Testament, with casts of thousands, in its original silent (with music track) re-incarnation. The first in a series of grand biblical epics for De Mille that showcases the director's love of visual splendor and his strong spiritual conviction.
The Robe (Henry Koster, 1953) - Richard Burton won an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, whose life is changed when he wins Christ's robe while gambling.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964) - Undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements by iconoclastic Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Gospel According to St. Matthew is a moving, quasi-documentary recreation of the life of Christ that takes "the greatest story ever told" and fuses it with neorealist aesthetics.
The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens, 1965) - One of Hollywood's most humongous productions offers the best and worst of the epic production and is a must-see precisely because of that. Max von Sydow's performance as Christ is superb--perhaps the best ever done for the screen--and the film's slow pace and solemn nature can really work for the patient viewer.
Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli, 1970) - Italian director Franco Zeffirelli's impassioned interpretation of the life of Christ. British novelist Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) wrote the screenplay.
Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973) - The words and music of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber find a home on film in this innovative retelling of the life of Christ. Features an Academy Award-nominated score.
Godspell (David Greene, 1973) - The international hit musical was brought to the screen in a version that seems as sincere as its counter-culture fashion sense is dated. This modern interpretation of the Gospel's teachings includes the beautiful hit song, "Day by Day."
The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988) - Scorsese's powerful adaptation of the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis generated unwarranted controversy when first released. Those who protested the film (many without actually seeing it) for its depiction of Christ's human temptations failed to notice the overt and sincere spirituality Scorsese brought to his work.
Jesus (Roger Young, 2000) - The life of Christ, including his biblical resurrection, is dramatized in this epic production, originally broadcast on CBS television. Jeremy Sisto plays Christ and the supporting cast includes Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate.
Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004) - Mel Gibson's chronicle of the last twelve hours in the life of Christ sparked controversy upon release, with divided audiences either heralding the film as a divine revelation or admonishing it with charges of anti-Semitism and historical inaccuracy. All arguments aside, this is a powerful account of physical brutality and punishment, with a surprising abundance of blood and gore.
For more, search Facets’ selection of religious features and epics, here.
- Phil Morehart