A film pioneer’s guide to ‘The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ’

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In Alice Guy-Blaché’s 1906 film The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ, the infamous stories of Jesus Christ are told in 25 scenes. We see the early developments of film and cinema through these pictures and how stories unfold through gestures and body language rather than dialogue. (SYJ: 4/5)

Review written by FF2 Media Intern Sophia Y Jin

In chronological order, Blaché tells us the story of Christ being born, what happened in his life, and his death. We begin by viewing people being turned away from inns in Nazareth. A series of characters follow, including the wise men and the shepherds. The next scene shows the nativity, where all the angels, wise men, shepherds are bowing down to Jesus Christ, the Lord, in a manger in a stable. Then various scenes from his life continue, including Jesus sleeping, and the angels appear as if to protect him. After seeing that, we see the different miracles wrought by the Lord Christ such as the miracle of Jairus’ daughter.

The infamous scene of Mary Magdalene washing Christ’s feet is also an essential chapter of His life. Crowds of people surround Him as we watch a very simple moment. Alongside all the goodness that’s shown in the story of Christ, there are negative events. The betrayal of Judas being one of them; then the events of his end: We witness Jesus wading through crowds of people while carrying the heavy cross on which he would die. People run to him, crying and hugging, wishing he wouldn’t have to meet this Fate. 

Director Alice Guy-Blaché was one of the only female filmmakers in the late 19th to early 20th century. In fact, it is believed that she was the only female filmmaker between 1896-1906. She was a pioneer filmmaker, so that means she wasn’t only the first female filmmaker but also one of the first filmmakers in general. Her first short film, The Waterer Watered was in 1895, and by the time she directed the short The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ in 1906, she had already directed over 100 different shorts. These shorts were silent films, and so the acting had to be precise and exaggerated, almost like a ballet. Incredibly, she experimented with interracial casting and color-tinting, and other special effects. 

The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ is quite an amazing piece of work. The silent film shows people the stories of the Lord that every Christian would have heard, studied and taught, and in 1906 the film was a clear depiction of them. The camera angles stayed the same––as though the audience were watching it in a theater. I found it interesting how similar the movements in the film were to the ones in ballets––when characters in ballets are communicating with no words and just movement, be it through hand gestures or actions. Although this is a silent film, the story is clear. It is an amazing job done by a film pioneer in the early 30s. 

© Sophia Jin (10/30/2020) FF2 Media

Featured Photo, Middle Photo, Bottom Photo: Stills from The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ

Photo Credits: Grapevine Video (2005) (USA)

Q: Does The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No.

Tags: Alice Guy-Blaché, FF2 Media, TCM, The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ, Turner Classic Movies, Women Make Film, WomenMakeFilm

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Sophia is currently a student of classical music. She joined FF2 Media in 2018, and loves working with everyone on the team because not only does it promote women's roles in films, it also opens her up to more works done by women. Sophia is so glad that there is a space that is full of women alike in their passion to bring more attention to females who are just as capable or even more capable than men in the industry.
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