Over the past two years, several of my posts on this blog have consisted of using what I have learned about point of view to explore the point-of-view crafting in popular movies. Recently, I came across a book that includes in its analysis of various Jesus films discussions on point of view: Savior on the Silver Screen by Richard C. Stern, Clayton N. Jefford and Guerric DeBona (Paulist Press, 1999). This volume covers nine Jesus films, viewing each through three lenses, one of which is “How does the film’s producer create and communicate the content of the film?” This lens covers topics such as setting, costumes and makeup, lighting, editing, sound, and camera work. . .including point of view. In this post, I will share some of the book’s point-of-view insights.
The earliest Jesus film covered is Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 classic The King of Kings, a movie which, despite being a silent film, would be go on to be the most popular Jesus film for decades into the era of the “talkies.” In commenting on the camera work of this movie, the authors note the liberal use of close-ups, and highlight one particular close-up occurring early in the movie in a scene involving a blind girl. Here is how they describe the camera work: “The camera looks up, dissolving into a close-up of Jesus’ face as he is revealed through a radiant light, his kindly face coming to greater and greater clarity in the girl’s eyes. It is as though we are seeing Jesus through the young girl’s eyes.” Regarding the purpose behind this point-of-view move, they assert, “This is an obvious but effective allusion to the often used biblical metaphor for our own childlike dependence on Jesus, who alone can open our eyes to the realization that he is the Christ, the Savior, and he alone can heal us of our blindness” (45).
The authors use a discussion on a scene involving Jesus going to see an imprisoned John the Baptist to talk about the fact that Hollywood of that time tried to make viewers feel a part of the action with camera shots from a subjective point of view, which have the effect of having them see the action from the point of view of the characters themselves. They explain, ‘With the subjective point of view. . .we are in the scene and not remote, above, or superior to the scene, as a passive or disinterested bystander would be” (79).
Their next discussion of point-of-view crafting comes in your treatment of the 1964 Italian masterpiece Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The authors point out that the film’s use of a subjective point of view was out of step with the norms of Hollywood during the 1960s that preferred an objective perspective which made the viewers into “dispassionate observers[s] watching the scene through a window, or from an omniscient but distant viewpoint. . . .[and] privy to more information than anyone involved in the scene.” By way of contrast, “Pasolini. . .often places the viewer right in the midst of the action, turning quickly here and there, staring right into the faces of the other characters. . . .We are in the scene, a part of the action” (111).
Point-of-view crafting also comes up in the authors’ coverage of Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). They point out that the filming of the movie is characterized by shifts between differing point-of-view techniques, sometimes giving the viewers a straight-on neutral point of view, sometimes a perspective high above the action, sometimes as if the camera has become a character moving and shifting to get a better view of something that is happening. The author’s note that “this is against the grain of typical Hollywood protocol [of the late 1980s], which seeks to minimize attention drawn to the actual work of the camera. The viewer should, instead, become lost in the story” (282).