Wednesday, October 5, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0049 - The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ (1906) aka. La Vie du Christ (Alice Guy, 1906, France, 33m, BW)



The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ (1906) 

aka. La Vie du Christ  

(Alice Guy, 1906, France, 33m, BW)


Introduction

The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ (1906)

Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Anatole Thiberville
Starring: Unknown
Run Time: 33 Min

Initial release: January 1906 (France)
Director: Alice Guy-Blaché
Cinematography: Anatole Thiberville
Costume design: Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset
Production design: Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset, Henry Ménessier

The life of Jesus Christ.  One of the first films to have actors walking in and out of screen. This early extravaganza film used had over 100 extras and in 1906 was the biggest hit that French filmmaking had ever seen. It was Gaumont Film Company's big blockbuster. Most scenes in this early film has all the action taking place in front of a still camera. However, one scene "Climbing Golgotha", includes a early innovative sweeping pan shot. At the time this film was made, it's director/producer, Alice Guy, was also the head of Gaumont film production.




Alice Guy-Blaché

Alice Guy at the end of the nineteenth century.
Born     Alice Guy 1 July 1873
Saint-Mandé near Paris, France
Died     24 March 1968 (aged 94)
Wayne, New Jersey, United States
Nationality     French
Occupation     Filmmaker, director, screenwriter, producer, actress
Years active     1894–1922
Spouse(s)     Herbert Blaché (two children)

Alice Guy-Blaché (July 1, 1873 – March 24, 1968) was the first female pioneer in early French cinema. She is revered as the first female director and writer of narrative fiction films, and is seen as a great visionary who experimented with Gaumont's Chronophone sound syncing system, color tinting, interracial casting, and special effects.


Early life and education

In 1863 France, Alice's father, Emile Guy – an owner of a bookstore chain and publishing company in Chile – married Alice's French mother, Marie Clotilde Franceline Aubert, shortly after they were introduced through mutual family friends. The couple returned to Santiago, Chile, soon after the wedding.

In early 1873 Marie and Emile lived in Santiago, Chile, along with Alice's other Chile-born siblings and her father. However, they traveled the seven weeks by boat to Saint–Mande – a city near Paris, France – for the birth of their fifth child, Alice Ida Antoinette Guy, on July 1, 1873. In her autobiography, Alice refers to this plan as her mother's last attempt to make sure "one of her children should be French". Her father returned to Chile soon after her birth and her mother was quick to follow. This left a young Alice entrusted to her elderly grandparents in Carouge, Switzerland until the age of three or four. She then left to join her parents in Chile, where she learned Spanish from the family's indigenous Chilean housekeeper, Conchita.

At the age of six Alice was sent back to France to attend school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on the Swiss border. Alice's siblings were also sent away as soon as they were old enough to travel. The overall sentiment amongst French residents at the time was that French Jesuit schooling was the only proper form of education. But her father's chain of bookstores went bankrupt while Alice was overseas, resulting in her and her second-youngest sister moving to a more affordable school. Soon after this, Alice's eldest brother died at the age of 17. Their father, struck by business woes and old age, died in 1893.[3] Following her father's death, Guy trained as a typist and stenographer – which was a new field at the time – to support herself and her newly widowed mother. She landed her first job at a varnish factory. A year later, 1894, she began working with Léon Gaumont at 'Comptoir général de la photographie'. Léon Gaumont would later take over and head the company.


Gaumont, France

In 1894, Alice Guy was hired by Léon Gaumont to work for a still-photography company as a secretary. The company soon went out of business but Gaumont bought the defunct operation's inventory and began his own company that soon became a major force in the fledgling motion-picture industry in France. Guy decided to join the new Gaumont Film Company, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking spanning more than twenty-five years and involving her directing, producing, writing and/or overseeing more than 700 films.

Although she initially began working for Léon Gaumont as his secretary, she was quick to find the advantageous aspects of her job. She began to learn the business by becoming acquainted with myriad clients, relevant marketing strategies, and the company's stock of cameras. She also met a handful of pioneering film engineers such as Georges Demeny and Auguste and Louis Lumière.

Alice Guy and Léon Gaumont attended the "surprise" Lumière event on March 22, 1895. It was the first ever demonstration of film projection - an obstacle that Gaumont and the Lumières (as well as Edison) were racing to solve. They screened one of their first films, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, that only consisted of a simple scene of workmen leaving the Lumière plant in Lyon.

It was then that Alice Guy realized the true potential of film. She was bored with the idea of captured film only being used for the scientific and/or promotional purpose of selling cameras in the form of "demonstration films". She was confident that she could incorporate fictional story-telling elements into film. She asked Léon Gaumont for permission to make her own film on her own time and he granted it. There is scholarly speculation surrounding the dating of her first film because of the speculation surrounding Léon Gaumont's permission. Joan Simon, writer of The Great Adventure: Alice Guy Blachè, Cinema Pioneer claims that she proved herself to Gaumont through her impeccable secretarial skills. Simon discusses another relevant argument: film's unforeseen commercial potential and Gaumont's poor understanding of the true potential of visual narrative fiction led to that "yes" and her prolific career. Guy and her inexperienced enthusiasm may not have as readily been green-lighted if narrative film was fully understood as a profitable enterprise. However, it was her remarkable background in different cultures and languages, along with what Guy would refer to as her "fertile imagination", that truly launched her into film.

Alice Guy's first film, and arguably the world's first narrative film, was called La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) in 1896. It is a humorous story of a woman growing children in a cabbage patch. There is speculation surrounding the actual date of the film and different historians have argued about the dating and the labeling of it as 'the first narrative film' because of its extremely close release to another catalogued Gaumont film and other narrative-esque films from Méliès.

From 1896 to 1906, Alice Guy was Gaumont's head of production and is generally considered to be the first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. She was probably the only female director from 1896 to 1906. Her earliest films share many characteristics and themes with her contemporary competitors, such as the Auguste and Louis Lumière and Méliès. She explored dance and travel films, often combining the two. i.e. a couple of hand-tinted dance films set in Spain, Le Bolero performed by Miss Saharet (1905), and Tango (1905). Many of Guy's early dance films were popular in music-hall attractions such as the serpentine dance films – also a staple of the Lumières and Thomas Edison film catalogs. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. In addition to this, she was one of the pioneers in the use of audio recordings in conjunction with the images on screen in Gaumont's "Chronophone" system, which used a vertical-cut disc synchronized to the film. An innovator, she employed some of the first 'special effects' including using double exposure, masking techniques, and even running a film backwards.


Solax

In 1907 Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché who was soon appointed the production manager for Gaumont's operations in the United States. After working with her husband for Gaumont in the US, the two struck out on their own in 1910, partnering with George A. Magie in the formation of The Solax Company, the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America. With production facilities for their new company in Flushing, New York, her husband served as production manager as well as cinematographer and Alice Guy-Blaché worked as the artistic director, directing many of its releases. Within two years they had become so successful that they were able to invest more than $100,000 into new and technologically advanced production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey, when many early film studios in America's first motion picture industry were based there at the beginning of the 20th century. It was mentioned in publications of the era that Guy-Blaché placed a large sign in her studio that read: 'Be Natural'.


Post-Solax

Alice Guy and her husband divorced several years later, and with the decline of the East Coast film industry in favour of the more hospitable and cost effective climate in Hollywood, their film partnership also ended.

Following her separation, and after Solax ceased production, Guy-Blaché went to work for William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service. She returned to France in 1922 and, although she never made another film, for the next 30 years she gave lectures on film and wrote novels from film scripts. She was all but forgotten for decades. But in 1953, the government of France awarded her the Legion of Honor.
Personal life

Alice Guy-Blaché's marriage meant that she had to resign from her position working with Gaumont. Looking for new beginnings, the couple immigrated to New York where Guy gave birth to her first daughter, Simone, in 1908. Two years after giving birth, Guy became the first woman to run her own studio when she created Solax. During this time, Guy was pregnant with her second child, but it did not stop her from completing at least one to three films a week. To focus on writing and directing, in 1914 Guy made her husband the president of Solax.

There is scholarly speculation that Solax went bankrupt because Herbert Blaché's unhealthy competition with his wife and a need to promote himself over her and her flourishing work. But writer, Alison McMahan, argues otherwise in her essay "Madame Blaché in America," and discusses Herbert's poor stock investments that resulted in the family's financial hardship. Both Herbert and Alice approached the Seligman bankers for aid. Seligman agreed to purchase 51% of the company's shares with the stipulation that Solax turn their protégée, Catherine Calvert, into a star - she would later go on to have an affair with Herbert Blaché. However, shortly after taking the position Herbert Blaché started his own film company to elude the creative control of the Seligman bankers. For the next few years the couple maintained a personal and business partnership, working together on many projects. The relationship between the two did not last long. In 1918 Herbert Blaché left his wife and children to pursue a career in Hollywood with another one of his actresses.

Following this, Guy directed her last film in 1920, during which she almost died due to the Spanish Influenza. By 1922, Blaché and Guy were officially divorced, prompting Guy to auction off her film studio while claiming bankruptcy. After losing her studio, Guy returned to France in 1922 and never made a film again. Following her bankruptcy and divorce, Guy was not able to continue to make a living making films. Alison McMahan argues that she temporarily isolated herself following the divorce and loss of Solax because of embarrassment. She had been outspoken about her and her husband's relationship as the exemplary model of a business partnership.

In 1927, Guy returned to the United States in an attempt to retrieve some of her old work but was unsuccessful. In 1930, Léon Gaumont published the history of his company with no mention of any production history before 1907. This upset Guy, prompting her to write a letter to Gaumont, after which he agreed to change the documents. However these changes were never published. The rest of Guy's career and life was dedicated to her children, specifically her eldest daughter Simone, with whom she spent much of her later years.

Alice Guy-Blaché never remarried, and in 1964 she returned to the United States to stay with one of her daughters. On March 24, 1968 Guy died at the age of 94 while living at a nursing home[15] in New Jersey, and she is interred at Maryrest Cemetery.


Memoir

In the late 1940s Alice Guy-Blaché wrote an autobiography, and in 1976 it was published in French. It was translated into English in 1986 with the help of her daughters, Roberta and Simone Blaché, and film writer Anthony Slide. In the collected essays, Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer, Joan Simon discusses the importance of Alice's personal written recollection in her essay The Great Adventure: Alice Guy Blaché, Cinema Pioneer. The emergence and publication of her personal memoir filled in the blanks for a great deal of her film credits.

Alice Guy-Blaché was tremendously concerned with her unexplained (and most likely discriminatory) absence from the historical record of the film industry. She was in constant communication with colleagues and film historians correcting previously made and supposedly factual statements about her life. She crafted lengthy lists of her films as she remembered them, with the hope of being able to assume creative ownership and get legitimate credit for them.


Legacy

Alice Guy-Blaché is the first female film maker and is responsible for creating, in 1896, one of, if not the first, narrative films. Guy's career of 24 years of directing, writing and producing films is the longest career of any of the cinema pioneers.[19] From 1896 to 1920, Guy directed over 1,000 films, some 350 of which survive, and 22 of which are feature-length films. Guy was one of the first women (along with Lois Weber) to manage and own her own studio, The Solax Company.

Despite these accomplishments, she is rarely mentioned among her peers in the history of cinema, and most professionals in the industry are completely unaware of her work.[dubious – discuss] Few of her films survive in an easily viewable format (primarily those involving Charlie Chaplin), although preservation and recovery efforts are ongoing because of the documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. In 2010 the Academy Film Archive preserved Alice Guy-Blaché's short film "The Girl in the Arm-Chair."


Filmography

    La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) (1896)
    Une nuit agitee (1897)
    Les Cambrioleurs (1897)
    Le Planton Du Colonel (1897)
    Le pêcheur dans le torrent (1897)
    Leçon de danse (1897)
    Le cocher de fiacre endormi (1897)
    L'aveugle (1897)
    Idylle interrompue (1897)
    En classe (1897)
    Danse fleur de lotus (1897)
    Coucher d'Yvette (1897)
    Chez le magnétiseur (1897)
    Ballet libella (1897)
    Baignade dans le torrent (1897)
    Au réfectoire (1897)
    France et Russie (1897)
    Scène d'escamotage (1898)
    L'utilité des rayons x (1898)
    Les farces de Jocko (1898)
    L'entrée à Jérusalem (1898)
    Le jardin des oliviers (1898)
    Leçons de boxe (1898)
    Le chemin de croix (1898)
    L'aveugle fin de siècle (1898)
    La fuite en Égypte (1898)
    Surprise d'une maison au petit jour (1898)
    La flagellation (1898)
    La crèche à Bethléem (1898)
    La cène (1898)
    Je vous y prrrrends! (1898)
    Jésus devant Pilate (1898)
    Déménagement à la cloche de bois (1898)
    Un lunch (1899)
    Transformations (1899)
    Monnaie de lapin (1899)
    Mésaventure d'un charbonnier (1899)
    Le tonnelier (1899)
    Le tondeur de chiens (1899)
    Les dangers de l'alcoolisme (1899)
    Le déjeuner des enfants (1899)
    Le crucifiement (1899)
    Le chiffonnier (1898)
    L'aveugle (1899)
    La résurrection (1899)
    La mauvaise soupe (1899)
    La descente de croix (1899)
    La bonne absinthe (1899)
    Erreur judiciaire (1899)
    Danse serpentine par Mme. Bob Walter (1899)
    Courte échelle (1899)
    Au cabaret (1899)
    Valse lente (1900)
    Une rage de dents (1900)
    Suite de la danse (1900)
    Saut humidifié de M. Plick (1900)
    Retour des champs (1900)
    Pas Japonais (1900)
    Pas du poignard (1900)
    Pas des éventails (1900)
    Pas de grâce (1900)
    Mort d'Adonis (1900)
    L'Habanera (1900)
    Le sang d'Adonis donnant naissance à la rose rouge (1900)
    Le Polichinelle (1900)
    Le matelot (1900)
    Le marchand de coco (1900)
    Le matelot (1900)
    Le lapin (1900)
    Le départ d'Arlequin et de Pierrette (1900)
    Le danse des saisons (1900)
    L'écossaise (1900)
    Leçon de danse (1900)
    Le bébé (1900)
    La tarentelle (1900)
    La source (1900)
    L'arléquine (1900)
    La reine des jouets (1900)
    La poupée noire (1900)
    La petite magicienne (1900)
    La paysanne (1900)
    L'angélus (1900)
    La fée aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants (1900)
    La danse du ventre (1900)
    Gavotte directoire (1900)
    Déclaration d'amour (1900)
    Dans les coulisses (1900)
    Danse serpentine (1900)
    Danse du voile (1900)
    Danse du pas des foulards par des almées (1900)
    Danse du papillon (1900)
    Dance de l'ivresse (1900)
    Coucher d'une Parisienne (1900)
    Chirurgie fin de siècle (1900)
    Chez le photographe (1900)
    Chez le Maréchal-Ferrant (1900)
    Chapellerie et charcuterie mécanique (1900)
    Bataille de boules de neige (1900)
    Badinage (1900)
    Avenue de l'opéra (1900)
    Au bal de Flore (1900)
    Arrivée de Pierette et Pierrot (1900)
    Arrivée d'Arléquin (1900)
    Tel est pris qui croyait prendre (1901)
    Scène d'ivresse (1901)
    Scène d'amour (1901)
    Pas de colombine (1901)
    Lecture quotidienne (1901)
    Lavatory moderne (1901)
    Hussards et grisettes (1901)
    Frivolité (1901)
    Danses basques (1901)
    Charmant froufrou (1901)
    A Peculiar Cabinet (1902)
    Trompé mais content (1902)
    Midwife to the Upper Classes (1902)
    Quadrille réaliste (1902)
    Pour secouer la salade (1902)
    Les malabares, acrobats (1902)
    Sage-femme de première classe (First Class Midwife) (1902)
    Les clowns (1902)
    Les chiens savants (1902)
    L'équilibriste (1902)
    Le pommier (1902)
    Le marchand de ballons (1902)
    Le lion savant (1902)
    La première gamelle (1902)
    La gigue (1902)
    La fiole enchantée (1902)
    La dent recalcitrante (1902)
    La cour des miracles (1902)
    Intervention malencontreuse (1902)
    Farces de cuisinière (1902)
    En faction (1902)
    Danse mauresque (1902)
    Danse fantaisiste (1902)
    Danse excentrique (1902)
    Bonsoir m'sieurs dames (1902)
    Fruits de saison (1902)
    Service précipité (1903)
    Secours aux naufragés (1903)
    Répétition dans un cirque (1903)
    Potage indigeste (1903)
    Nos bons étudiants (1903)
    Ne bougeons plus (1903)
    Modelage express (1903)
    Lutteurs américains (1903)
    Le voleur sacrilège (1903)
    Les surprises de l'affichage (1903)
    Les braconniers (1903)
    Les aventures d'un voyageur trop pressé (1903)
    Les apaches pas veinards (1903)
    Le liqueur du couvent (1903)
    Le fiancé ensorcelé (1903)
    La valise enchantée (1903)
    La poule fantaisiste (1903)
    La main du professeur Hamilton ou le roi des dollars (1903)
    La chasse au cambrioleur (1903)
    Jocko musicien (1903)
    Illusionniste renversant (1903)
    Faust et Méphistophélès (1903)
    Enlèvement en automobile et mariage précipité (1903)
    Compagnons de voyage encombrants (1903)
    Comme on fait son lit on se couche (1903)
    How Monsieur Takes His Bath (1903)
    Cake-walk de la pendule (1903)
    Paris la nuit (1904)
    L'oiseau envolé (1904)
    Les enfants du miracle (1904)
    Les deux rivaux (1904)
    Le pompon malencontreux (1904)
    Le crime de la Rue du Temple (1904)
    L'assassinat du courrier de Lyon (1904)
    La leçon de pipeau (1904)
    La gavotte de la reine (1904)
    Comment on disperse les foules (1904)
    Après la fête (1904)
    Pierrot, Murderer (1904)
    La première cigarette (1904)
    V'la le rétameur (1905)
    Viens, poupoule (1905)
    Valsons (1905)
    Si ça t'va (1905)
    Saharet, boléro (1905)
    Réhabilitation (1905)
    Polin, l'anatomie du conscrit (1905)
    Miss Helyett: Air du portrait (1905)
    Lilas blanc (1905)
    Dranem Performs 'The True Jiu-Jitsu' (1905)
    My Quay's Hole (1905)
    Le tango (1905)
    Les p'tits pois (1905)
    Les maçons (1905)
    Le rire du nègre (1905)
    Le petit panier (1905)
    Le petit Grégoire (1905)
    L'enfant du cordonnier (1905)
    Le coq dressé de Cook et Rilly (1905)
    Le boléro cosmopolite (1905)
    La statue (1905)
    La polka des trottins (1905)
    La paimpolaise (1905)
    La mattchiche (1905)
    La malagueña et le torero (1905)
    La fifille à sa mère (1905)
    La charité du prestidigitateur (1905)
    Jeune homme et le trottin (1905)
    Five O'Clock Tea (1905)
    Être légume (1905)
    Espagne (1905)
    Esmeralda (1905)
    Cucurbitacée (1905)
    Clown, chien et ballon (1905)
    Chez le dentiste (1905)
    C'est une ingénue (1905)
    Cake-walk nègre (1905)
    Allumeur-Marche (1905)
    À la cabane bambou (1905)
    Un soulier pour un jambon (1906)
    Une histoire roulante (1906)
    Une course d'obstacle (1906)
    Un cas de divorce (1906)
    Questions indiscrètes (1906)
    Mireille (1906)
    The Consequences of Feminism (1906)
    Le songe du pêcheur (1906)
    Le Noël de Monsieur le curé (1906)
    Le fils du garde-chasse (1906)
    Le cochon de lait (1906)
    The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ (1906)
    La vérité sur l'homme-singe (1906)
    La hiérarchie dans l'amour (1906)
    The Irresistible Piano (1907)
    L'enfant de la barricade (1907)
    Le ballon dirigeable 'Le patrie' (1907)
    Fanfan la Tulipe (1907)
    Une héroïne de quatre ans (1907)
    One Touch of Nature (1908)
    The Sergeant's Daughter (1910)
    A Child's Sacrifice (1910)
    A Fateful Gift (1910)
    A Widow and Her Child (1910)
    Her Father's Sin (1910)
    What Is to Be, Will Be (1910)
    Lady Betty's Strategy (1910)
    Two Suits (1910)
    The Pawnshop (1910)
    The Nightcap (1911)
    The Girl and the Burglar (1911)
    A Reporter's Romance (1911)
    His Best Friend (1911)
    Ring of Love (1911)
    Mixed Pets (1911)
    Corinne in Dollyland (1911)
    Love's Test (1911)
    A Costly Pledge (1911)
    Out of the Arctic (1911)
    Put Out (1911)
    Greater Love Hath No Man (1911)
    La Esméralda (1905) (based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
    A Fool and His Money (1912)
    Algie the Miner (1912)
    Algie Making an American Citizen (1912)
    Falling Leaves (1912)
    A House Divided (1913)
    The Pit and the Pendulum (1913)
    Shadows of the Moulin Rouge (1913)
    Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
    The Monster and the Girl (1914)[23]
    The Woman of Mystery (1914)
    The Tigress (1914)
    The Lure (1914)
    My Madonna (1915)
    The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1915)
    The Vampire (1915)
    The Ocean Waif (1916)
    House of Cards (1917)
    Behind the Mask (1917)
    House of Cards (1917)
    A Man and a Woman (1917)
    The Great Adventure (1918)
    A Soul Adrift (1919)
    Vampire (1920)
    Tarnished Reputations (1920)





Review

This very ambitious film from Alice Guy probably qualifies as a “feature,” although it is only just over half an hour long. Certainly it is the longest connected series of scenes I’ve seen from Guy, and as such may represent her “masterpiece” so far as cinema history is concerned.

The movie is a chronological series of single-set scenes from the life of Jesus, as described in the Bible and also in popular Catholic myth. It begins with Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn (we actually see others refused by the same innkeeper, which suggests that the inn was genuinely full), and then chased off the streets by a Centurion on horseback. Then we see the traditional Catholic nativity scene, with Magi and gifts and what appear to be their entourages coming and paying homage to the newborn child. The next scenes concern Jesus’s activities as an adult. We see the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus healing a sick woman, and a couple of other minor stories, but not the ones I tend to think of as the most important. There’s no loaves and fishes, for example, nor do we see Lazarus raised from the dead, nor the money changers expelled from the Temple.

Birth Life Death of ChristThe bulk of the film, however, concerns Jesus’s betrayal and Crucifixion. There is a very good reproduction of the Last Supper, followed by the kiss and capture of Jesus by roman soldiers. There is then a fairly elaborate trial scene and the scene of Pontius Pilate asking the people to forgive Jesus (this scene always makes me think of “The Life of Brian”). Finally, we see Jesus hauling his cross through the streets, and each of the Stations of the Cross is portrayed. Christ reaches Golgotha, and is nailed to the cross (alone; there are two empty crosses nearby). Eventually, a roman soldier sticks a spear in his side, and he is taken down and his body is laid to rest in a cave. We then see the inside of the cave, and some angels appear, and eventually his image rises from the coffin and appears to ascend toward heaven. Now we cut back to the outside and see some believers come to investigate, they enter and see the empty tomb (this is the only use of intercutting in the film).

The first thing I have to comment on about this film is the sets. Most of Guy’s short films have been lacking in this area, especially when compared to the artistic and whimsical sets used by Georges Méliès at the same time. In this case, she hired two production designers (Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset and Henri Ménessier), who obviously put real time into the sets, especially for Pilate’s throne room and the Last Supper scene. Ménessier also did the costumes, which are quite good. Wikipedia claims that “300 extras” were used for this movie, but the size of the sets makes this appear unlikely: I saw no more than thirty on the screen at any one time, and that was only for the most elaborate scenes. The only way it could add up to 300 is if every single scene used an entirely different set of actors. For most scenes, the camera is stationary, although there are cases in which the camera pans, often to track Jesus as he crosses an especially large set. The editing is generally quite pedestrian, except in the case of the Ascension. That is the only real special effect as well.

Given that this movie came out three years after “The Great Train Robbery” and four after “A Trip to the Moon,” it can hardly be considered a major cinematic event, but it is a good example of an early feature film. It also falls into the category of the “Passion Play,” which has had an interesting history in film, especially in the United States. Passion plays are often objected to by Protestant church groups, seen as “trivializing” or secularizing a sacred event. However, in the late 1890s, several Passion Play films were successfully released, without significant protest, because they portrayed European traditions and were accompanied by lectures about “foreign” cultures. Guy may have been counting on that to make this movie a success in the US, which as I’ve noted before was an important market for Gaumont by this time. This may have informed her choices about which parts of Christ’s life to show, or it’s possible that these represent the scenes considered most important in Catholic France at the time.

Guy’s The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ was a healthy length for the time, and probably felt more epic in 1906 than it does now. We might focus on its limitations: the fixed camerawork, typical of the era, and the deliberate stagecraft, which makes The Birth seem like a theatre production with a lens for an audience. God help the viewer who doesn’t know the story going in, since Guy bypasses considerable and complicated details to tell the story in pantomime. We miss some of the best parts, too. We never see his fabled throwdown with the moneylenders, or his admonition against those who would throw stones. In the absence of any dramatic tension (we all know how this ends), it is the writer and/or director’s interpretation of Jesus that makes a film about him interesting. Guy, however, is content to depict—and the man she depicts is one-dimensional, even by mytho-heroic standards. And yet the film still worked for me. Like many movies of the pre-Griffith period, The Birth’s sheer phoniness inspires an intriguing, and occasionally unnerving, take on a very old tale.



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