Sidney Olcott’s Jesus Film

From the Manger to the Cross; or, Jesus of Nazareth
R: Sidney Olcott. B: Gene Gauntier (scenario). K: George K. Hollister. D: R. Henderson Bland, Percy Dyer, Gene Gauntier, Alice Hollister, Samuel Morgan. P: Kalem Company. USA 1912

The first feature length film about Jesus

“(…) film-makers had begun to progress in their thinking from film being a novel form of side-show entertainment, to it being an extension of the theatre, and onto understanding it’s place as one of the visual arts. Hence, whilst the film is still largely shot in middle distance, there are a few exceptions, and we also begin to see some more visually pleasing camera shots, with more interesting compositions. (…)
Even a brief glimpse at the episodes shown in the film show that, as one might expect, this film emphasises Jesus’s actions rather than his words. There are ten or more healings in the film, and the supernatural is in evidence also in a number of dreams, although in stark contrast to earlier films the angelic presence is shown off screen, only represented by a stream of light, or the character’s gaze off screen. This active Jesus closely aligns with that of Mark’s all action Jesus, even though the film is really a harmonisation of stories from all four gospels.
The film was (…) highly controversial. Robert Henderson-Bland, the actor playing Jesus, or Christus as he preferred to call it, claimed that ‘No film that was ever made called forth such a storm of protest’. For some, the offence was based solely on an objection to any cinematic depiction of Christ at all. The medium was increasingly being viewed as depraved, and rotten to the core in some church circles. Perhaps some fo the objections however related to the way the film attempted to wrestle its imagery away from the confines of church tradition. For example, the use of a T-shaped cross, or the composition of the last supper which emphasised how some at the meal ate whilst reclining (Luke 22:14). Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film was it’s omission of the resurrection.”
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog

The Judith-Barabbas Story:

The Shadow of Nazareth – Part 1
R: Arthur Maude. D: Constance Crawley, Arthur Maude, Joe Harris. P: Venus Features. USA 1913
Print: Prelinger Archives, San Francisco

“Shadow of Nazareth is unusual amongst Jesus films because it sits, somewhat awkwardly between films that are primarily about Jesus, and those where Jesus is a peripheral player, making the odd cameo appearance in an occasional scene.
The opening credits give us a clue – only the actors playing Barabbas and the fictional Judith Iscariot (sister of Jesus’ infamous betrayer) are named. Instead of the focus being Jesus it is on these two, whose role and relationship with Judas are pivotal in the events leading to Jesus’s death. Jesus himself is a principal, but in terms of screen time he is far from the lead.
Whilst the full film runs to only a little over 30 minutes, it manages to include a reasonably complicated plot. Judith is very much the principal character, with whom not only Barabbas, but also a pharisee called Gabrias as well as Caiaphas are in love. An altercation between the three men results in both Barabbas and Caiaphas stabbing Gabrias, and then to further blacken the high priest’s character he has Barabbas arrested for the murder. 18 months later and Caiaphas decides that the now imprisoned Barabbas is less of a threat than Jesus and so he persuades Judith to convince Judas to betray him. Jesus is condemned, Judas hangs himself and the liberated Barabbas heads to the nearest tavern.”
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog

More early Jesus films on this website:
>>> Luciuen Nonguet: Lucien Nonguet
>>> Alice Guy: A Feminist View on Jesus Christ?
>>> Louis Feuillade: A Biblical Thriller