BOOTLEG FILES 660: “The Westminster Passion Play – Behold the Man” (1951 British feature film).
LAST SEEN: It is on Amazon Prime, albeit for the wrong reason.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Yes, but for the wrong reason.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is complicated.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at this time.
In 2011, a DVD label called Synergy Entertainment made one of the most spectacular blunders in the history of the home entertainment industry. This label, which specializes in public domain titles, brought forth a release of the rarely-seen 1921 French silent film “Behold the Man,” which told the story of Jesus’ last days. But there was a problem: the print used for the Synergy Entertainment was not from the French silent film, but instead belonged to a 1951 British production originally titled “The Westminster Passion Play – Behold the Man.”
It is difficult to view the 1961 version of “King of Kings” without wondering whether the creative talent involved in the production had any familiarity with the inspiration for their work. Although it was not unusual for Biblical epics to take some fanciful liberties with the subject matter, rarely has the sacred text been so wildly rewritten.
BOOTLEG FILES 652: “In Search of Historic Jesus” (1979 feature from Sunn Classic Pictures).
LAST SEEN: On DailyMotion.com.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On VHS and LaserDisc.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It was never released on DVD or Blu-ray.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It could happen.
During the 1970s, movie audiences were bombarded with a parade of weird documentaries and docudramas from a Utah-based company that went by the names Sun International Pictures, Schick Sunn Classic Pictures and Sunn Classic Pictures. This company tapped into the growing public interest in the paranormal and historical revisionism by offering films aimed at challenging scientific and scholarly traditions.
The most strident denunciation of Jesus’ divinity in cinema history came with the 1976 drama The Passover Plot. The film was based on a controversial 1965 book by British Biblical scholar Hugh J. Schonfield that argued Jesus was a man who schemed to take advantage of ancient prophecies by creating a following that would recognize Him as the long-awaited Messiah, at which point He would lead a rebellion by the Jewish people against the Roman occupation force in the Holy Land.
In 1973, movie audiences were assaulted by three very strange musicals based on the life of Jesus. All three films offered an unusual consideration of Jesus’ mission and ministry, albeit with varying degrees of success.
BOOTLEG FILES 641: “Golgotha” (1935 French film by Julien Duvivier).
LAST SEEN: It is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: The English-dubbed version is available from a public domain label.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Subsequent controversies prevented a commercial U.S. re-release.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: A proper restored version of the French-language original does not seem likely at this time.
Last week’s column focused on “The Lawton Story,” the first American sound film to present Jesus Christ as a full-frontal character. But it was not the first sound film about His life. That distinction goes to a long-forgotten French film from 1935 called “Golgotha,” directed by Julien Duvivier, who is best known for the 1937 classic “Pépé le Moko,” the 1942 all-star Hollywood film “Tales of Manhattan” and the 1948 version of “Anna Karenina” starring Vivien Leigh.
BOOTLEG FILES 640: “The Lawton Story” (1949 Christian film).
LAST SEEN: In a March screening at the Vaska Theater in Lawton, Oklahoma.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: VHS copies were briefly available in a single Oklahoma store.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It’s complicated.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: There are too many issues to address.
The first feature-length American production of the sound film era that depicted Jesus Christ as a full-frontal walking, talking central character was not made in Hollywood. Instead, it was shot in an Oklahoma site called Holy City of the Wichitas, located outside of the city of Lawton. In many ways, the back story on the film’s creation is more fascinating than the on-screen presentation, although the film is not without its value.