Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jesus on Film — Give Us the Gospel of Mark!

During the course of my preparations to teach last week's Christology class, I came up with an idea. Inspired by both Scot McKnight's little book, Who is Jesus? and Donald Guthrie's big book, New Testament Theology, I decided to read through the four canonical Gospels in a week and underline every name Jesus was ever called or by which He was ever referenced. McKnight and Guthrie both provide deeper and more insightful than normal investigations into the various titles assigned to Jesus in the Gospels and the meanings those titles carried for those who used them. My goal was to read them all in context and in comparison with each of the other Gospels.

Well, as I often do, I bit off more than I could chew and found myself closing in on the end of the week prior to my class having read only Matthew, Mark and the first third of Luke. Thankfully—as many of you likely already know—there is a movie out that is not just based on the Gospel of John, it is the Gospel of John, word for word, no additions, no subtractions. Visual Bible International puts Scripture to film and, preserving the text in full, builds the acting and cinematography around the text. It's the same thing that happens when you read John and imagine how it all played out, only someone else has done the imagining for you and made a really great movie from it. So, instead of watching another episode of Lost or a little more of Ken Burns' mammoth documentary Baseball, we watched The Gospel of John.

I was as blown away by how beautiful of a film it is as I was when I saw it in the theater in late 2003. I remain baffled as to why it was released during the height of the debate over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Almost all of movie-going Christianity (and a good chunk of those who refrain from movie-going) had focused all of Its attention and energy on The Passion, hence almost no one went to see The Gospel of John. If it would have been held six to nine months and released in the late summer/early fall of 2004, I think it would have been infinitely more noticed and appreciated for how unique and powerful it is. I don't have anything against The Passion, I just think the Gospel of John is outstanding and should be on more people's radar screens.

"And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen ..."

And here is why I'm a little down that it is not more appreciated than it is. At the beginning of the DVD there is an ad for a Visual Bible International version of the Gospel of Mark, using the same superb actor and, I would expect, the same disciples and other characters from The Gospel of John, most of whom did a fabulous job. The only thing stated as far as a release date was "coming soon." Not having seen that ad before, I rushed to the computer and tried to find out if it had been released yet, or when it was going to be released. I couldn't find much, but what I could find informed me that the project is pretty much dead in the water since The Gospel of John did not bring in the revenue or attention that all had hoped. There may be some things happening to push the new film project forward that aren't being disseminated via the internet, but it doesn't look good. So, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster in light of my apparently dashed hopes, I encourage you all to buy, not rent, The Gospel of John. It's better than The Jesus Film, a more complete picture of Jesus' life than The Passion and is just a great movie. And then, if you agree that it's great, tell everyone you know about it. And then, with time, just maybe we'll get to see the literary beauty of Gospel of Mark expressed in the same cinematic beauty as was the Gospel of John.


Trader Joel said...

I should check it out...I remember hearing about it.

By the way, how are you liking the Burns Baseball Film? I like it a lot...I have to admit to watching the whole thing a few times...

eric O said...

We are thoroughly enjoying our stroll through baseball's incredibly interesting and amazing history. I'm already calculating at what age I can watch the whole thing with Dietrich. Did you know that they are coming out with a "10th" inning to cover the next decade in the series? I saw an interview with Burns on Amazon about it. It should be a great addition. Last night's gem is a quote from a player whose real name I can't remember but whose nickname was "Ducky" because of the way he ran the bases. In the 30's he was on the Cardinals and in the World Series against Detroit. He had tied the record for most hits in a world series with half a game left to play meaning, obviously, that the record could likely be broken. But in the course of his slide into third on the hit that tied the record, he apparently tried to spike the third baseman. The Detroit crowd got so upset that when Ducky took the field they started throwing eggs, fruit and bottles at him. His comment is priceless. In paraphrase, it goes something like this, "I understand why the fans threw all that stuff at me. What I can't understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place."