Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

5
Two Recent Classics: Jesus of
Nazareth and The Messiah

Jesus of Nazareth

Franco Zeffirelli 1977 Jesus of Nazareth is different from most of the Jesusfilms treated in this book. It was conceived as a film primarily for television, and as a result, it exists in three versions, two for television -- a shorter version of six and a half hours, usually shown in two parts and a longer version of eight hours, divided into four parts -- and the third, further abridged version, for the cinema. 1 A British-Italian co-production 2 for NBC Television, it was produced by Sir Lew Grade at a cost of $18,000,000.00. 3 With a major music score by Maurice Jarre, a script by Anthony Burgess, and a "starpacked" 4 international cast, it met with immediate success, 5 a long-lasting success when one realizes that in many countries, Jesus of Nazareth has been broadcast twice yearly, at Christmas and Easter, since 1977, and has drawn most respectable segments of the viewing audience on those occasions. Given this exceptional success with the world-wide public, and given its distinctive style, it does not surprise then that from some critics, Jesus of Nazareth has received a very good press: "directed with such restraint, beauty, and obvious sincerity that it stood as something of a revelation in comparison to the many previous versions of the Savior's life," 6 Zeffirelli's film is considered by many "the finest adaptation of Jesus's life ever made." 7

Jesus of Nazareth, probably because of its ongoing popularity with the television public, is also the most widely-marketed Jesus-film ever made. Consider the evolution of the film and of the industry of spin-off products that it has inspired. The film itself was made in three basic versions, the television version of which is regularly re-marketed every Christmas and Easter. The film was also issued in regular video cassettes and then in a didactic video version, subdivided into sections of twenty-five minutes or so, for use in Catholic catechetical work: this latter version spawned a devotionalcatechetical study guide for the cassettes. 8 A glossy and expensive "coffee table book" based on the film was published, with a minimum of text and replete with dramatic photographs, and further, the Burgess-Zeffirelli script of the film "was novelized by William Barclay." 9 Finally, a book of personal memoirs was published by Zeffirelli, "Il mio Gesù", ( My Jesus), his reflections on various aspects of the preparation, filming and post-production work on his Jesus-film. 10 Issued recently in a "Super Best Seller" series and full of superlatives -- those in the book, meant to promote the film, and those on the cover, meant to promote the book -- it is clearly intended as a marketing tool.

-72-

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