Matt Thorne finds some insight amid the waffle
T&T Clark Companion to the Bible and Film
Edited by Richard Walsh, Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 465pp, £89
According to Richard Walsh, the editor of this book, we are living through a golden age of biblical film. Alongside the films themselves – and the examples he gives in his introduction are Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, both released in 2014 and neither of them much loved – there is, he suggests, a flourishing in the field of biblical film criticism.
The origins of biblical film criticism are, he argues, as old as film itself, because as soon as film-makers began to put religious imagery on-screen, some form of exegesis was required. Initially, he suggests, this concern was primarily homiletic, and the criticism, or at least commentary, was taking place even as the films were being made. He points out that early silent productions not only had religious advisers shaping the film, but also that the films themselves were often accompanied by explanatory lectures, drawing attention to the geographical, historical or cultural background elements of the film.
Walsh’s somewhat silly opening question – “How significant was [Mel] Gibson?” – indicates just how seriously he takes the Australian actor and director’s film The Passion of the Christ. It is the success of this film, it seems, that has made this book possible, and Walsh is keen to point out that it hasn’t always been an easy ride for those in his field. He considers “the fields of theology and religious studies” as “the often uncongenial parents of biblical film studies”. Extending his analogy to breaking point, he argues that “post-structural analysis, semiotic analysis and other ideological approaches” are biblical film studies’ “older siblings”.
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