Tuesday, August 23, 2005

That Jesus film

If you are interested in Jesus films, one of life's little mysteries is how the Jesus film (John Krish & Peter Sykes, 1979) can be so successful as an international tool of evangelism when it is so bad. On Filmchat Peter Chattaway points to an interesting piece in last week's New York Times:

Putting Jesus in Every Mailbox
By SHAILA DEWAN
Warren Smith, the publisher of an evangelical Christian newspaper in Charlotte, N.C., compares the movie "Jesus" to the jawbone of an ass.

That is, it does not matter if the movie, a 1979 box office flop, has a gooey soundtrack and a British voiceover, or if the actor who plays Jesus breathes noticeably as he lies in the tomb. If a weapon as unlikely as a jawbone can slay an army, as the biblical story goes, then "Jesus," direct-mailed on DVD to every household in Mecklenburg County, N.C., can offer salvation.
Not so sure that having a British voiceover can be held against it. I'd never even noticed. Is it British? Isn't it Richard Kiley and isn't he American? There are some nice stories in the article, including this:
A turning point came when a doctor in Birmingham, Ala., Robert Cosby, bought 1.7 million copies and mailed them in 1998 to every household in Alabama, although he "wasn't very impressed" when he saw the film.

"I mean, it was a nice film," Mr. Cosby recalled the other day, speaking by telephone from his home. "I would say it was moderately good."

The mailing included Mr. Cosby's home address and telephone number. One day, he said, he found a copy of the video in his front yard with a note that said, "Jesus has returned."
Peter Chattaway has a link to Martin E. Marty's comments and to several other useful bits and bobs, with additional comments. Something new to me:
Hopping on to yet another tangent, I saw this film on the big screen when it was brand new, and I bought a copy of Lee Roddy's novelization that still occupies a prominent place on my Jesus-movies bookshelf. That's right, a film whose big selling point was that it was for the most part a word-for-word adaptation of the Gospel of Luke was novelized.
And if you don't own a copy yet, you can pick one up on Amazon for $0.01! An offer not to be missed, surely.

Peter also refers to an article in Christian Century by John Dart on The Making of Jesus -- the Motion Picture and I have added that to my page on the Jesus film.

4 comments:

steph fisher said...

'a film whose big selling point was that it was for the most part a word-for-word adaptation of the Gospel of Luke was novelized'?

surely that's proof for celebration with scrambled eggs and champagne!

Rob Bradshaw said...

Thanks Mark,

As someone whose job is to provide follow-up for responses evangelistic outreaches I agree that the Jesus film is rather dated, although it continues to be successfully used internationally. Agape in the UK now offer those wishing to do the "Jesus Video Project" a choice between the original Jesus film and the documentary style presentation: "So, Who is This Jesus?" presented by Russell Boulter (formerly of "The Bill" and "Casualty").

Further info on the DVD is available here: http://www.deo-gloria.co.uk/res_switj-dvd.htm

Regards, Rob

Whit said...

I've never seen it. I think I'll send my 1 cent to Amazon so that I can put in my 2 cents.

Ben Myers said...

"One of life's little mysteries is how the Jesus film can be so successful as an international tool of evangelism when it is so bad" -- good point. And perhaps the success of many other forms of mass evangelism is equally mysterious. But I suppose God can speak even through Balaam's ass....