The Passion of Youth (part 2)

2004_03_22 passion.jpgIt’s that time once again to grow out the beard and put on the annual Passion play. Last year the youth group needed a Jesus, and I obliged. This year I’m doing it again.

But what’s so funky about this year is the $300 million Passion. There’s something deflating about performing a weak-kneed, sheets-as-costumes, local-church production of a $25 million movie. When I stagger down the aisle I won’t have quite the impact of James Caviezel. Of course it’s still the Passion. There’s something gut-wrenching about watching teenagers from your church spit on a guy that looks sort of like Jesus and then, worst of all, start shouting “Crucify!” when you’re used to a gentle, quiet sermon.

But as I prepare for the role, I’ve thought a lot about the different passion plays throughout the years. Mel Gibson certainly wasn’t the first (just the first to make $300 million).

I’d like to propose a theoretical Jesus movie night. I say theoretical because it’s unlikely I’ll have time to watch all these Jesus movies before our performance on Palm Sunday. And I don’t know which movies are worth watching and which would be a waste of prime Buffy time.


But here’s some potential candidates for such a movie night:

2004_03_22 1905.jpg1905 – The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: ?
This is the original film version of the Passion. We’re talking old school. So old school it was the first feature length film.

1927 – The King of Kings
IMDb
Jesus: H.B. Warner
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille in the silent era, this is what you call a classic. According to IMDb, DeMille required his lead actors to sign agreements prohibiting them from appearing in other film roles that might compromise their roles as Bible characters. DeMille also banned “un-biblical” activities during filming, including attending ball games, playing cards, going to night clubs, swimming, and riding in convertibles. Apparently it didn’t work as H.B. Warner was involved in a scandal that supposedly resulted in DeMille being blackmailed and paying an anonymous woman to leave the country.

2004_03_22 kingofkings.jpg1961 – King of Kings
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Jeffrey Hunter
From the scant history I can find it seems to be an Orson Welles remake of the Cecil B. DeMille classic. Apparently sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury wrote the narration, though he wasn’t credited. The movie was also jokingly referred to as “I Was a Teenage Jesus,” thanks to the teen-appeal of lead actor Jeffrey Hunter and other teen-movie successes, including I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.

1964 – The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Enrique Irazoqui
A critically acclaimed yet controversial Passion flick, filmed in Southern Italy where Mel Gibson filmed his version.

1965 – The Greatest Story Ever Told
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Max von Sydow
A 195-minute version of the life of Christ, complete with Hollywood cameos-a-plenty! (Pat Boone, Charlton Heston, Angela Lansbury, Martin Landau, etc.) Telly Savalas had the role of Pontius Pilate and shaved his head for the part. He kept the look for the rest of his career.

2004_03_22 superstar.jpg1973/2000 – Jesus Christ Superstar
1973:Amazon.com | IMDb
2000: Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Ted Neeley (’73) Glenn Carter (’00)
The troubling Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that gave Christians everywhere the chance to stand up for Jesus by refusing to play the score in band class. Apparently it’s a blasphemous musical, but part of the popular culture Jesus-bandwagon of the 1970s that saw the early rise of Christian music. I’ve highlighted two movie versions since I have no clue which one would be better. The 2000 version is a modern retelling, but both are chockful of singing. Best line? Caiaphas: “One thing I’ll say for him, Jesus is cool.”

2004_03_22 godspell.jpg1973 – Godspell
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Victor Garber
Yet another musical (not more singing!), this one a trippy-hippy version again set in modern day New York. Of course it did give us the song “Day by Day,” which was heroically reclaimed by dc Talk. The film’s climactic song, “All For the Best,” was filmed atop the then under construction World Trade Center.

1977 – Jesus of Nazareth
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Robert Powell
This made-for-TV mini-series (6+ hours) is a highly respected and detailed overview of Christ’s life from birth to death. Al Pacino was originally considered for the part of Jesus.

2004_03_22 brian.jpg1979 – Life of Brian
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus (Brian): Graham Chapman
It can hardly be a serious passion play with Monty Python, but we need some hilarity in the list. Irreverent? Sure. Offensive? Probably. Blasphemous? I don’t know — haven’t seen it. George Harrison actually financed the movie, thinking it’d be the only way he could see another Monty Python film.

1979 – Jesus (aka The Jesus Film)
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Brian Deacon
This is the classic Jesus film that’s been shown around the world. Apparently it’s incredibly accurate and I’ve heard that it’s the most-watched movie in history (though I don’t know how you verify that). It is the most translated movie in history, available in 717 languages currently, with 250 more in progress.

2004_03_22 temptation.jpg1988 – The Last Temptation of Christ
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Willem Dafoe
Martin Scorsese’s incredibly controversial version, which includes the Christ getting it on and plenty of gnosticism. Consequently, the flick has been banned in several countries. In earlier attempts to make the film Robert De Niro had been cast as Jesus and Sting had the role of Pontius Pilate. The final scene of the movie — where the scene whites-out as Jesus dies — was an accident caused by a faulty camera. Call it divine intervention — though some would then wonder why the whole film wasn’t lost.

2004_03_22 montreal.jpg1989 – Jesus of Montreal
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Lothaire Bluteau
Probably the most contemporary of all rewrites, this film centers on a group of actors putting on an unorthadox Passion play which incites persecution and a real-life passion scenario. This one incites more curiosity than any of the others.

2000 – Jesus
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Jeremy Sisto
Yet another mini-series. Best exchange? Mary Magdalene: Were you a good carpenter? Jesus: It’s a good thing I started preaching.

2000 – The Miracle Maker
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Ralph Fiennes (voice)
What’s a Jesus movie list without an animated entry?

2004_03_22 vampire.jpg2001 – Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Phil Caracas
OK, this is definitely not a passion play. But if Life of Brian didn’t give the needed shot of humor, maybe this one will. You didn’t expect a list of Jesus movies without this one, did you?

2003 – The Gospel of John
Amazon.com | IMDb
Jesus: Henry Ian Cusick
Despite the big news of Gibson’s Passion, this Jesus movie also made it to theaters and did surprisingly well. If I remember correctly, it’s a word-for-word adaption of the Gospel of John.

2004 – The Passion of the Christ
IMDb
Jesus: James Caviezel
The blockbuster Mel Gibson version. Haven’t seen it yet, but it seems like a theater viewing should be the climax of any Jesus movie night. Speaking of divine intervention, lightning struck peole three times during filming — James Caviezel was one of those struck. Gibson has a cameo in the film: the hand holding the nails driven into Christ’s hands. Quite a response to all the anti-semitism claims.

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