Monday, April 12, 2010

My Top Ten Spiritual/Spring Films Of All Time

1] The Ten Commandments (1956): This Charlton Heston flick directed by the great Cecil B. Demille is by far not only the best of the lot, but my favorite movie of all time - in ANY category. The visuals are unearthly, the dialogue is hypnotic, and the acting is stoic. Wrap it all up in a package to save your soul, and you're all set. (Additional Note: The great Eastern mystic Paramahansa Yogananda, who had a great deal of respect for the teachings of Christ - and who helped to introduce Eastern thought to mainstream America, served as a spiritual consultant on Demille's first, 1926 silent edition of The Ten Commandments ).

2] Jesus of Nazareth (1977): There is no way that this is any kind of "production." Director Franco Zeffirelli had to go back in time and film this thing for real, on location. Because there's never been a better Jesus, in the form of Robert Powell (who was was forced to marry his girlfriend before he started filming this movie, because Zeffirelli did not want the actor "living in sin").  However, the actor would never be seen on-screen least - this side of heaven.

3] The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): The cinematography is ethereal; every frame is a painting - and Max Von Sydow's performance as Christ is haunting.

4] King of Kings (1961): Before the late Jeffrey Hunter was cast as the original Captain (Pike) to pilot the Enterprise in the original pilot (The Cage) for the original Star Trek , he played Christ here as the "hippie Jesus." If this film did anything, it introduced the mainstream youth of the 1960s to religion. Not always a bad thing. (Additional Note: Agnes Moorehead, who played "Endora" on "Bewitched," served as Hunter's acting coach on this film.)

5] The Robe (1953): There's a great line in this movie where Jay Robinson as Ceasar says something like, "Keep that robe away from me. It's bewitched." Years later, Robinson would go on to play Ceasar again in an episode of Bewitched. You gotta' love that.

6] Ben-Hur (1959): Charlton Heston followed up his 1956 Moses-interpretation in the 1956 edition of The Ten Commandments with this film playing a friend to Jesus - just to make sure he covered both the main Old and New Testament stories.

7] The Song of Bernadette (1943): Jennifer Jones, as a young peasant girl who has contemporary visions of the Blessed Mother (of Jesus), gives one of the most consistenly brilliant and realistic in-character performances ever brought to any screen or stage. [On a very personal note, on the evening that I orginally purchased the video for this film in 1995, I had a spiritual experience. It was shortly after my father passed way, and I was seeking answers. So this one night, I awakened at 3 AM, sat right up in bed and said aloud to God, "I love you. I love you. I love you." I then felt compelled to go downstairs and watch the "Song" film - for the FIRST time. I was later stunned when, during one scene in the movie, Bernadette is sleeping and suddenly rises in her bed and proclaims HER love for God in the exact same way: "I love you. I love you. I love you."]

8] Jesus Christ Superstar (1973): Not really the best interpretation of of the Broadway classic, but the music is still as awesome as ever. (And thank you, Miss Vigna, my 6th grade teacher from St. Peter and Paul's Catholic School on Brown Street in Rochester, New York. She had the guts to introducing me and the rest of our class of 1972 to the soundtrack music from the live stage rock-opera on which this film was based).

9] The Sign of the Cross (1932): Around the same time that Cecile B. Demille was working on the original Ten Commandments (before he remade it with Charleton Heston in 1956), he worked on this other religious classic (with Fredric March, Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton) about early Roman evils. Can't be missed - and shouldn't be.

10] The Passsion of Christ (2004): I actually walked out on this movie when it played in the theatres because I deemed it too violent. But director Mel Gibson's own personal passion for getting it done must be revered, not to mention, that like King of Kings before it, this film introduced a beautiful story to a mass mainstream generation who might not otherwise have cared. So, the end justifies the means. I think.


Anonymous said...

The Passion of Christ to me was not spiritual. It is a Sado Masochistic snuff film.

Herbie J Pilato said...

I agree with you, Anon. But again, as I said in the review, it was at the very least a spiritual experience for Mel Gibson (however much we may disagree with his personal life choices and beliefs). That's why I deemed it worthy to be on the list.

Rob said...

One addition to your list should be DeMille's 1928 version of "King of Kings" which many regard as the definitive version.

This very late silent was a major roadshow epic of its day and was one of the few silents that was constantly revived into the sound era.

It was the first time Christ had been depicted onscreen (prior to this we only saw his hand in Ben-Hur or perhaps his reflection in other films) and this fact proved a liability to H.B. Warner's career. H.B. Warner could only be cast in saintly roles such as the High Lama in Lost Horizon until Frank Capra cast him as the besotten Mr. Gower in "It's a Wonderful Life" nearly twenty years later.

This film was so phenomenally popular that churches, religious schools and even Knotts Berry Farm owned prints and would screen them annually during the Easter season. Because of this, many people recall this film more fondly rather than the 1961 widescreen remake when the title is mentioned.

Beautiful transfers of both the roadshow and shorter general release versions are available on DVD from Criterion and come highly recommended.

Herbie J Pilato said...

Thank you for your expert contribitions, Rob!