As you know, I have been blogging about great movies to watch during Lent. But really, when you think about it, most “religious” movies are pretty bad.
Case in point: King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Jeffrey Hunter as the Son of God. Now when the dual personalities were little girls, we loved this movie. We thought Jeffrey Hunter was the perfect Jesus. Granted, the music by Miklos Rozsa is great and Jeff does have beautiful blue eyes, but really now, this rendition is hardly “the life of Christ intelligently told and beautifully filmed,” as the movie poster promises. The journeyman screenwriter Philip Yordan, who actually won an Oscar for another potboiler Broken Lance in 1955, was way out of his league. The gospel here is presented as a biblical Rebel Without a Cause, strictly trying to appeal to a teen crowd with Jesus as a dreamy all-American quarterback hero.
And as far as actual screen time, Barabbas, memorably played by Harry Guardino as a New York thug, gets way more than poor, sincere Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. The respected Irish actress Siobhan McKenna is just ghastly as the Virgin Mary promising to “intercede” with her son for the lovelorn Mary Magdalen. It is just awful. I must admit that I kind of like Robert Ryan as John the Baptist, who has a certain disgusted look on his face that I can relate to. And he gets all the good lines: (to Herodias, played by the fashion model Rita Gam) “Woman, is not your cup of abominations full enough?” This movie is full of abominations.
Then there’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), the second to last movie directed by the great George Stevens.
It was a major fail for him. It is based on a book by Fulton Oursler who wrote the story of Jesus with the expressed intention of trying to “make it as interesting as a serial story in a popular magazine.” Well, there you have it. This movie is deadly dull and deathly serious, while at the same time poor Max Von Sydow as Jesus is unintentionally humorous as he says his lines with a Swedish accent. “BapTIZE me, Yon,” he says to Charlton Heston (as John the Baptist) who manages to keep a straight face. This movies is chock full of famous actors and actresses in cameo roles–everyone from Pat Boone to Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters got into the act. Even David McCallum, at the height of his Ilya Kuryakin fame, plays Judas. This is all very distracting. One is always trying to figure out who is who. Oh look, it’s Angela Landsbury! Blerg. It is just awful.
There are a few good ones. I really like the Franco Zeffirelli mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which is an appropriately reverent and close adaption of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Anthony Burgess (of all people) did a fine job with the screenplay. There is no “He betook himself to Jerusalem” hokey narration like in King of Kings. He does not try to improve on the scriptures, taking much of the dialogue straight from them and the actors make it work. All the actors are excellent, especially the English actor Robert Powell as Jesus.
To watch the whole thing takes all week, so we better get started!
(The best movie about Jesus is the one where ironically his face is never seen–Ben Hur. This movie deserves its own post, so stay tuned.)
Imperatives, Part 2 of Mysteries of the Incarnation
by Kathleen Norris
Look at the birds 1
Consider the lilies 2
Drink ye all of it 3
Enter by the narrow gate 5
Do not be anxious 6
Judge not; 7 do not give dogs what is holy 8
Go: be it done for you 9
Do not be afraid 10
Maiden, arise 11
Young man, I say, arise 12
Stretch out your hand 13
Stand up, 14 be still 15
Rise, let us be going …14
1 Matthew 6:26. See also Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens.” 2 Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27. 3 “Drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). Norris uses the King James translation here. 4 This stanza is a series of Jesus’s commands from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, King James; also Luke 11:9). 5 Matthew 7:13-14; also Luke 13:23-24. 6 Matthew 6:25, 31; Luke 12:22, 29. 7 Matthew 7:1; Mark 4:24; Luke 6:37-38. 8 Matthew 7:6. 9 Matthew 8:13. 10 “Do not be afraid” – a frequent command by Jesus; for example, Matthew 10:31; 14:27; 17:7; 28:10. 11 The healing of Jairus’s daughter: “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41; also Luke 8:54). 12 The healing the widow’s only son; Luke 7:14. 13 The healing of the man with the withered hand: Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11. 14 Jesus’s healing the paralyzed man: Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26. 15 Jesus’s command to the ocean: Mark 5:39; also Matthew 8:26; Luke 8:24. 14 Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane: “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42). 15 Jesus’s two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; also Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). 16 Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:4.
A dear friend of mine recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land where she visited the (Episcopal) Cathedral Church of St. George in Jerusalem. According to their website, the Cathedral is home today to two congregations: the indigenous Palestinian Anglicans, often called the ‘Living Stones,’ and a community of expatriate English-speaking members. The local Arabic-speaking Anglicans are part of the historic Christian presence here since the time of the first Pentecost:
‘Cretans and Arabs – in our own language we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power’ (Acts 2:11)
The Cathedral remains a focal point for the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East and the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
My friend took a picture of this for me:
How perfect is that? A needlepoint chair pad with the family cognomen! I was very touched. It is indeed a small world, especially in the Anglican Communion. And here’s a Monday morning shout-out to those distant relatives at St. George’s!
“Morning Has Broken” is a popular Christian hymn first published in 1931. It was not written by Cat Stevens, although it is frequently attributed to him. He should be given credit for introducing it to a wider audience. However, English author Eleanor Farjeon wrote the words and it is set to a traditional Scottish tune known as “Bunessan”. According to Wikipedia, the hymn originally appeared in the second edition of “Songs of Praise” (published in 1931). In Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, Percy Dearmer, explains that as there was need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely Scottish tune”. A slight variation on the original hymn, also written by Eleanor Farjeon, can be found in the form of a poem contributed to the anthology Children’s Bells, under Farjeon’s new title, “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”, published by Oxford University Press in 1957.
Eleanor Farjeon (13 February 1881 – 5 June 1965) was an author of children’s stories and plays, poetry, biography, history and satire. She was the granddaughter of the American actor Joseph Jefferson and counted among her friends D. H. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare and Robert Frost. We thank her for writing this wonderful reminder to appreciate the small things (which are really the big things) in our lives and to thank our creator. After all, “this is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
Morning Has Broken
lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon
Morning has broken,
like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning
Praise for the springing
fresh from the word
Sweet the rain’s new fall,
sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall,
on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight,
mine is the morning
Born of the one light,
Eden saw play
Praise with elation,
praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac
Daughter #1 is just coming home for the weekend, but travel is travel…Can’t wait to see her!
As we hurtle through Lent, I realize that I will not get through all the good movies on my Lenten List unless I “bundle”. So today, I will combine a few suggestions for Lenten viewing in the non-openly-religious category.
My dual personality has blogged about this one already, but Cool Hand Luke (1967), directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring the inimitable Paul Newman as Luke, is clearly a suitable story for Lent as Luke is clearly a Christ figure surrounded by disciples, for whom he sacrifices his life. A wonderful movie based on the book by Don Pearce, it won only one Academy Award–for supporting actor George Kennedy, who shines in a firmament of spectacular supporting stars, as a stand-in for St. Peter. There were other nominations (for best actor, music and writing)–but please, no best picture, no best director? What were they thinking? And Paul Newman was down-right robbed that year. But enough said. It was a year for southern lawbreakers. Besides Cool Hand Luke, there was In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde…and the more politically correct films won: In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. A fine example of why I hate awards and award shows.
Chariots of Fire (1981), directed by Hugh Hudson and starring Ian Charleson and Ben Cross as two U.K. track athletes is an obvious choice. It is the story of a devout Christian and a determined Jew competing for places on the British 1924 Olympic team. The story of Eric Liddel and his steadfast faith is an inspiring one and not the usual stuff of late 20th century Hollywood. I loved this movie when I first saw it and still enjoy it immensely whenever I watch it. It was such a surprise when it took home the Oscar for best picture. It seemed like such an underdog that year, but it also won for costume design, music and best writing.
I never need an excuse to watch Shane (1953), because it is probably my favorite movie of all time–or at least up there in the Top Five–but if you are so inclined, it also makes for some good Lenten viewing/discussion. Shane is the story of a weary gunfighter who attempts to settle down with some homesteaders, but ends up sacrificing himself for their good. It is the magnus opus of its star, Alan Ladd, and its director, George Stevens. Neither was recognized by the Academy, although the film received multiple nominations, including best picture. It only won for best cinematography (Loyal Griggs) and, boy, did it deserve that one!
This film has a brilliant screenplay by A.B. Guthrie and is masterfully directed, notable for pacing, suspense and, of course, characterization. The “bad guys” in this western are not so bad really and the “good guys” are somewhat hapless. The chance arrival of the mysterious stranger Shane who throws in with the homesteaders upsets the balance and a really bad guy (Jack Palance), the gunslinger Wilson, is called in. It is important to remember when watching this movie that it has been copied badly ad nauseum, so that the original may appear cliched, when it truly is not a cliche. It is the original, a true classic, filled with wonderful archetypal scenes. Who can forget the arrival of Shane, watched from afar by the boy Joey (“I like a man who watches things go on around. It means he’ll make his mark someday.”), the symbolic conquering of the stump in the yard, the fight in the saloon with Chris (“I was just askin’ about sody pop… pigs and taters and one thing and another”), the prairie 4th of July party, the hilltop funeral where Shane quietly rallies the foundering farmers, the muddy showdown between Stonewall and Wilson, Shane’s fight with Joe and his ride into town, and, of course, the final gunfight between Shane and the cattlemen, and the haunting finale (“Shane, come back!”)? Arguably the best western ever, and John Wayne nowhere in sight! (Please note: Alan Ladd as Shane said, “You speakin’ to me?” long before Robert De Niro.)
All of these movies are good ones to watch with family and discuss with your children. They all include many “teachable moments”.
I took these photos last Friday when daughter #2 and I took a quick walk around the ‘hood.
We are surrounded by beauty! It rained very hard on Saturday and, as a result, most of the magnolia blossoms are on the ground now. They never last too long. Sigh. But everything is greening up nicely, don’t you think?
The other day I blogged about Old Sarum and New Sarum. Here is a picture of the boy at New Sarum (Salisbury Cathedral) in 1989, trying to climb up the grill, apparantly desperate to get into the church. Quelle monkey! He was 2 1/2 and wearing his engineer overalls and red Keds. A fashion plate even then.
The boy was in England for his aunt’s wedding. Here he is with daughter #1. And here they are at the wedding.
The wedding was not at Salisbury, but in the little local church in Titchfield. Lovely.