Alfonso Méndiz talks about the Bible in film at an international theology symposium
The dean of the Faculty of Communication Sciences at UIC Barcelona, Alfonso Méndiz, delivered a talk entitled “The Bible in Film” at the 36th International Theology Symposium, which this year focused on “The Bible as the world’s mother tongue”. The symposium took place at the University of Navarra.
During his presentation, Dr Méndiz highlighted the appeal that Bible stories have always held for the American film industry; stories which continue to capture the imagination of big-name producers and filmmakers. Examples include films such as Noah, directed by Darren Aronoksky and starring Russell Crowe and Emma Watson, and the blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott, with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. Both stories sparked sufficient interest to be worth a risky investment –over $130 million in each one– and proved sufficiently interesting to audiences to draw a large number of spectators: both earned more than twice their total cost.
Méndiz also explored other aspects such as faithfulness to and creativity with the original text and provided a broad look at how the image of Jesus –the character about who the greatest number of films have been made– has evolved throughout history.
Following a series of highly respectful and almost devotional films during the initial silent film era (1895-1915), films which included scenes that were easily recognisable to audiences –the Annunciation, Birth in Bethlehem, Flight to Egypt, etc.–, there came a second period in which new arguments were developed to take over from where the gospels left off and create a story with a beginning, middle and end (1915-1950): Christus, by Giulio Antamoro; the first Ben-Hur, by Fred Niblo; and Behold the Man, by Julien Duvivier.
“In the third stage (1950-70)”, continued Dr Méndiz, “Hollywood began making blockbusters, with famous stars, huge sets and thousands of extras: Quo Vadis (1951); The Robe (1953); the remake of Ben-Hur (1959), with Charlton Heston; King of Kings (1961); Barabbas (1961) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1964)”. According to the dean of Communication Sciences, this is the period in which “the figure of Jesus becomes distant, priestly, solemn, as if constantly emphasising his godliness”.
The ensuing years saw “a break from what had been seen up to that point, with a revolutionary image of Jesus: a social and political messiah who clashed with authorities, had doubts about his own identity, had trouble believing he was God”: Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and The Last Temptation of Christ are the most representative films from this period.
Lastly, Alfonso Méndiz discussed the late 20th century period, “in which a new, more accurate and balanced image of Jesus appeared on screen: Jesus who is both God, because he works miracles and preaches about redemption, and man: friend to his friends, concerned about those who follow him, attentive to the apostles, children and the sick. A Jesus who laughs, who loves and experiences what it means to be human”: this is the period of The Miracle Maker, The Passion of the Christ, The Final Inquiry and the miniseries Jesus.