“Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is easy, true Christianity…that’s rebellion.”—Alice Cooper
As a small boy growing up on the mean streets of Philly, I could always find solace in my family, the local comic book store, the baseball field, the Cineplex, and Catholic Mass. I am by no means, an evangelist to preach to my neighbor. I do try my best to be good and remember what I was taught by my family and Catholic schooling. I am very personal about my religion and I respect the faith beliefs of others, as I humbly and happily go about my days trying to be the best father, husband, son and friend I can be. One thing I remember fondly from my adolescence was Holy Week. Every year on NBC, a miniseries that always seemed to captivate me with wonder and hope. Today, acknowledging Good Friday and with Easter a few days away, we will be discussing British-Italian TV miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth (1977).
Jesus of Nazareth is derived from the Gospel’s teachings infused with the narratives of all four New Testament accounts. It approaches the source material in a natural and historical format of storytelling rather than relying on elaborate sets and over the top special effects that were popular in 1950 & 60’s religious big studio epics.
The portrayal of Jesus, Robert Powell of Tommy (1975), is realistic (spoiler alert: he has blue eyes) with his duality of balancing humanity and divinity on his life’s journey. Powell has approached the role with sincerity that irradiates compassion, understanding, and authority. The miniseries is a chronological dramatization of Jesus’s life covering birth, adolescence, recruitment of the Apostles, ministry, crucifixion, and lastly, His resurrection.
Jesus of Nazareth was directed by Franco Zeffirerlli of The Champ (1979) and co-written by Zeffirerrlli, Anthony Burgess author of A Clockwork Orange (1962), and Suso d’ Amico of Bicycle Thieves (1948). This popular miniseries features a plethora of respected actors more than Moses can shake staff at (The Ten Commandments , another Easter weekend TV staple); including Anne Bancroft of The Graduate (1968), Ernest Borgnine of The Wild Bunch (1969), Sir Laurence Olivier of Marathon Man (1976), Anthony Quinn of Across 110th Street (1972), Olivia Hussey of Black Christmas (1974) and Rod Steiger of The Amityville Horror (1979) just to name a few. Al Pacino of Serpico (1973) and Dustin Hoffman of Straw Dogs (1971) were both originally considered to play history’s most infamous betrayer, Judas, before production cast Ian McShane of Deadwood (2004) in the role. The screenwriters did take some liberties by inventing some characters not documented in the Bible, but it does not distract from the intention of the story. Upon its release, Jesus of Nazareth did anger some (nothing new) and the film was banned outright in Egypt.
If you want a sensitive and more intimate portrayal of Jesus, then this is the movie to watch. Don’t get me wrong, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Passion of the Christ (2004), are both good films and raise important questions. Nazareth, I believe is the most comprehensive and definitive film on the life of Jesus. It has a certain quality to it that cannot be matched and seems to be free of hidden messages or propaganda attached to it like the latter. A nice touch to Nazareth was the actors portraying Jesus through his life, were directed not to blink by Zeffirelli to create a subconscious visual cue making the character stand out from the rest of the cast for viewers.
Also, the scenes with miracles and the presence of Heavenly angels, are not done in a hokey fashion, but done with taste and a sort of reverence that is commendable. Overall, Jesus of Nazareth is a unique vision of a story that is more well-known than maybe any other in history and should definitely be viewed by anyone interested in theology, film or inquisitive about the Christian faith.
So, as Holy Week marches on one day closer to the approaching Easter holiday, my friends remember, take care of each other out there and love thy neighbor. On this Good Friday leading up to Easter weekend, may peace be with you. May this season find you wise, healthy, and humble in the fact that your life is important and that there IS a reason why YOU are here…and YOU are loved. As the Doobie Brothers nicely put it, “Jesus is just alright with me.”