Sat 12 Apr 2014
The traditional Passover posting on The Catcher is this time about the Passover movies. There are not too many movies dedicated to the Passover history or even to Passover nowadays, and I am wondering why. The Exodus is one of the fundamental myths of mankind and of the culture some call Judeo-Christian (I am not crazy about this syntagma, but this is a different subject) – it is about national and religious identity, about slavery and freedom, and the story includes several fascinating characters. I am of course referring to Moses and Ramses, but also to those who gather around the Passover Seder table each year. Yes, that aunt too So, not too many films but a few memorable ones, and at least one in the making which will be added to the list sometime later this year.
One of the first notable productions belongs to the era of the silent movies and was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille in 1923. His first The Ten Commandments included a prologue with the Biblical story and a ‘modern’ story inspired by it. Some of the scenes in the prologue where filmed in Technicolor, one of the first big screen attempts of using this technology.
It is however the second, 1956 version of The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille that became famous. Its cast included Charlton Heston (Moses), Yul Brynner (Rameses), Anne Baxter (Nefretiri), Edward G. Robinson (Dathan). It was filmed on location in the Sinai Desert, and was nominated to seven Academy Awards, eventually receiving only one. It made it however for perpetual TV programming in the holidays season.
You will find a somehow different perspective of the story in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I made in 1981, where Moses is the first of the five characters imagined and played by Brooks in his comical alternate version of the history of mankind.
Passover is not only history but also a yearly reality for Jews who spend that one night of the year remembering (or not) the Bible, reading (or mostly not) the Hagadah, meeting (happily or not) with the family, and eating (yes, this for sure). ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, one of Woody Allen’s films I love most includes a wonderful Seder scene with the character played by David Landau being in the situation of repenting for some very bad deeds.
Still in the US, still in SederLand, here is an example of TV comedy dealing with the topic: In a segment from the very popular (in the 80s) Anything But Love, Jamie Lee Curtis learns a few things about the Seder traditions.
An animated version of the story was realized in 1998 by Spielberg’s Dreamworks company and released as Prince of Egypt. Ralph Fiennes, Michele Pfeiffer and Steve Martin are among the actors who borrowed their voices to the characters, while Ofra Haza sang the song that won the Academy Award for the Best Original Song. At the Oscar ceremony the song was sung by Whitney Houston and Maria Carey.
The story goes on, and the number of films dedicated to the subject slowly increases. As Bible-inspired movies seem to have been identified by Hollywood as a lucrative business we will have a few of these in 2014, among which a version of Exodus directed by Ridley Scott with Christian Bale as Moses. No trailers with moving images are yet available, but in the meantime you can listen to the music and see a first poster in the clip above.
I hope that you enjoyed this review, and that you will see some good movies (related or not to Passover) during the coming vacation, and also that you will bravely face the Seder and happily survive the week of the matzot. To all:
Hag Sameakh! Happy Passover! Un Pesah Fericit!