Film and Media
The Influence and Portrayals
of the Gospel of John
in Film, Television, and Multimedia
by Glenn Patrick Buxton
One need only look at the beginnings of film making to understand that "[p]ractically as soon as the movies were invented, people were filming Bible stories. So then, as soon as the television started up, the Bible stories flooded on to the Tele. I suppose more people have seen the Bible stories on the Box, than have ever read them in the Book" (John Romer, Testament: The Bible and History). This quote from the conclusion of his outstanding video documentary about the Bible and history carries with it a profound message.
First, Romer understands the power of the electronic medium, which is quite evident in this spectacularly colorful visual walk through history. Second, these visual mediums truly have the power to reach people in the entire world, be they illiterate or learned.
A wonderful place to start one’s study is with a documentary entitled Jesus Christ Movie Star. This piece gives one a glimpse of how difficult it can be to portray Jesus Christ on the screen, as well as a brief sketch of the history of those portrayals from the silent era to the making of this production in 1992.
By the time a production about Jesus Christ is completed and viewed on the screen, the interpretations of the story of Jesus become highly complex and multifaceted. Not only do we have the Holy Spirit inspired interpretation of the story by the evangelist,we have interpretation upon interpretation, as in the case of The Greatest Story Ever Told. In the making of this film, the director George Stevens enlisted the writing talents of the renowned poet Carl Sandburg, who wrote a beautifully woven screenplay that draws from the New Testament Gospels as a whole. The movie opens with a direct quote from John 1:1, and then segues into the nativity from Matthew’s Gospel. The interpretation of Max Von Sydow, the lead actor who portrays Jesus, adds yet another layer. Characters and events are shifted and placed throughout the rest of the film in a dramatic fashion that might even require a scholar several viewings to decipher their biblical roots.
When we speak of teaching, worship, community, advocacy, word, prophetic speech, and outreach in today’s world, we must do so in terms of technologies that can truly accomplish these tasks and callings. We are now waking up to the reality that most people in our society are not in the library reading theology books, many cannot afford tuition to our schools, and sadly, many are no longer attending our liturgies nor reading their Bibles. They are, however, in front of their television sets, surfing the web, and renting videos. We must reach this visually oriented society where it lives and breathes. It is to that end that I present you with my humble study into the Influence and Portrayals of the Gospel of John in Film, Television, and Multimedia.
List of Media Productions related to the Gospel of John
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