Sunday, September 28, 2008

they don't make them like they used to

around easter this year, a silent film theater in salt lake called "the organ loft" showed cecil b. demille's 1927 "King of kings." in their promotion, they said that when the lds church was preparing to make a movie about the Savior, the first presidency told the producers to "watch "the King of kings." it's the closest to getting it right." that's certainly enough to pique my interest.
the movie is made and directed by cecil b. demille, one of the great pioneers of early hollywood, of the era when producers were often more of an influence on a film than the director. it was also a time when hollywood was less concerned about box office marketability and when those in power sincerely wanted to tell good stories. this is evident from the opening titles of the silent movie, stating that the movie is a reverent effort to follow the command of taking the Gospel to all the earth.
i'm not looking to write a lengthy review of the movie (editor's note: this kind of turned into one; and if you do want a very good such one, click here), but i do want to say this is great. in light of the above-referrenced first presidency endorsement, it took me a little while to figure out what felt a bit odd about the movie: it really does feel like a church-produced story. or rather, it seems that this has influenced the church's work. certainly, it is most akin to "the Lamb of God", as that is also largely visual, with very little dialogue.
if the thought of this being a silent film makes you loose interest, this may actually be one to help break that phobia.  people generally have a hard time with silent films for a few reasons. one is the terrible "over-acting" that came to early film from theatre and an effort to convey without words. perhaps in respect to the sacredness of the story, the acting is much more subdued and realistic. the role of Jesus (played by h.b. warner, whom you know as mr. gower, the mean shopkeeper that young george bailey works for in "it's a wonderful life") is as good as can be, never melodramatic, never passively dull.
the other cause of silent-film-apprehensiveness is the melodramatic music. the original score had several melodies i recognized from the hymn book, invoking lyrics, associations, and familiarity. the movie comes with two other music options, a modern organ composition and a full-score, both of which are reported to be fantastic. if you are looking to give a silent movie a try, this may be the place to start. (actually, i'd recommend buster keaton, but this is good, too). as a bonus, you get something you usually don't see in silent movies: actual color! the resurrection is filmed in genuine color. who knew?
don't take it as an impeccable source of history, though. while demille was known for his attention to accurate detail, there are some interesting changes, most notably the expanded stories of mary magdalene and judas iscariot: she is well-known reveler of all things worldly, upset that her main squeeze judas has gone of following some Carpenter, while judas is hoping to follow the Master all the way to a possibly-shared kingship. further, several of the events that occur in the movie are not in the generally-agreed chronological order. the majority of the inter-titles are actual scripture quotes (with the references given at the bottom), which helps keep the story grounded in its source text. however,like the out-of-order events, many of the scriptural quotes were out of context (to my knowledge, anyway), but none of these things detract from the story or its impact. the purpose of the movie is not to replace a need to study the bible, but to tell the wonder, the grandeur, the spirit of the Son of Man. in that, they succeed.


Jack said...

You don't have a copy do you? I'd love to see that. I have an affinity for DeMille's films.

--jeff * said...

i don't own it, but it is firmly near the top of my list to get. i'll let you know when it's on the shelf.