Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination
A Handbook to Jesus on DVD
Jeffrey L Staley and Richard Walsh
ISBN 9780664230319 (0664230318)
Westminster John Knox Press, 2007 (208pp)
Whether you’re a film buff, a Jesus Scholar or simply curious about the ways in which film-makers — and Hollywood in particular — have interpreted and reinterpreted the Jesus story, you have to love this book! Don’t be misled by the cover or the subtitle, however: this is a book, not a DVD, and there is no accompanying DVD or CD-ROM. This absence is the book’s one weakness: it is virtually crying out for a cover disc featuring at least some key movie clips.
Staley and Walsh teach New Testament studies and, as they explain in their preface, this book has grown out of their experience of using Jesus films in both their teaching and their research. The book’s main purpose is to provide a resource for other New Testament tutors, to save them having to go to the lengths Staley and Walsh have had to in preparing their own classes. For each of the eighteen films they examine — full listing below — there’s a plot summary; lists of memorable characters and visuals; notes of key scriptures; comments on the cultural location and genre; information about the director; details of DVD extras and technical features; and an itemised DVD contents list of chapters with timeline and scripture references where relevant.
The film chapters are sandwiched between two complementary chapters, ‘Watching Jesus Films’ and ‘Teaching Jesus Films’ which offer suggestions on how to make the most of the experience, asking dozens of critical questions to help explore the themes the films uncover and the challenges they can raise.
A final appendix — which the authors describe as “the generative heart of our work” — provides ‘A Gospels Harmony of Jesus Films on DVD’ which follows the basic chronology of the Gospels, indicates which films include each Gospel scene and gives the exact point in hours/minutes/seconds at which the scene occurs on each DVD.
To summarise: an excellent resource for anyone keen to explore the life of Jesus as presented in film and the ways in which our culture has chosen to reinterpret the Gospel stories for our times — ways that all too often, as the authors observe, ‘tell us much more about ourselves and American culture than anything about “the real” Jesus’ (Preface, p.viii). No doubt exactly the same can be said with respect to British culture…
1. Watching Jesus Films
2. The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, 1905
3. From the Manger to the Cross, 1912
4. Intolerance, 1916
5. The King of Kings, 1927
6. King of Kings, 1961
7. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 1965
8. The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965
9. Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973
10 Godspell, 1973
11 Jesus of Nazareth, 1977
12 The Jesus Film, 1979
13 Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979
14 The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988
15 Jesus of Montreal, 1989
16 Jesus, 1999
17 The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus, 1999
18 The Gospel of John, 2003
19 The Passion of the Christ, 2004
20 Teaching Jesus Films
Appendix: A Gospels Harmony of Jesus Films on DVD
Phil Groom, May 2008
Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation.