At Home at The Movies Part Two: The Bible… In The Beginning.

Second movie is The Bible… In The Beginning, (number 111 picked by

 )

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The Bible… In The Beginning
, 1966. Directed by John Huston. 20th Century Fox. Starring: A ton of people.

There are two reasons that I own The Bible and neither of them are Christianity. They are two simple reasons which should not require explanation: PETER O’TOOLE and Ava Gardner.

The film covers the first 22 books of Genesis, and I could go and get my dad’s school Bible (authorised! for Catholics!) so I can make sure they’re doing it right but… I’m not going to.

The Creation is covered by a ten minute series of scenes as John Huston himself narrates. Lots of stars, gushing water, running animals and – finally – a blond, blue eyed man called Adam.

Now, it may be that I’ve listened to Old Harry’s Game too much but… I simply don’t buy the idea of Adam and Eve necessarily being blond and blue eyed and speaking in (possibly overdubbed) English accents.

Huston’s narration continues, and to be honest I don’t mind; lovely speaking voice the man had. Lots of Sweeping Strings and Vocal Choir music.

Of course, Adam and Eve are naked but this is 1966 and Hollywood so you don’t see anything. Probably just as well. I mean, the blue penis in Watchmen caused enough of a stir this year.

So far, so ponderous. I can’t think of any funny religious films until Life of Brian right now. I wonder what makes people so unwilling to take the piss out of religion? Oh, that’s right, absolute fear. Not necessarily fear of God but of the likes of the Legion of Decency.

Check out the list of films condemned by the Legion. It’s a bit like Nixon’s Enemies List, where it’s almost a list of recommendation for everyone else. Paul Newman said being on Nixon’s Enemies List was one of his greatest achievements.

So I’m 22 minutes into a 174 minute film and Adam and Eve are only now talking about the Tree You’re Not Supposed To Eat From. Eve, of course, as history tells it, the one who kicks it off and to be honest, when a tree is called The Tree of Knowledge I think I’d be willing to have a go, because knowledge is the one truly indispensible thing in humanity’s existence.

Lots of shots of how pretty Eden is, but as a person who’s been to the Lakes of Killarney I am quite unimpressed. It’s basically a meadow with a stream and some animals, including Shadowfax.

And here we are, at the creation of period pain, childbirth agony, misogyny, hard work, death and all bad things (including by extension, the Jonas Brothers). There are also GIANT fig leaves. Or maybe in this case they’re not actually fig leaves. I don’t know, I’m not a nature person.

Adam and Eve are cast out as I think most of us expected. A baby is born in short order and named Cain. I think we can see where this is going…

Watching a film about the Bible is a bit like watching a film about the Titanic: you know how it’s going to end, right?

RICHARD HARRIS! Yes kids, that mean old Mr Cain was actually an Irishman. He looks young, sinewy and beardy, but God doesn’t like it and spurns – yes! spurns! – Cain’s offerings. I think I’m not supposed to like Cain, but the idiots cast Richard Harris. And now he’s beating his brother to death for no particularly good reason.

I have a question that’s bugged me all my life: If Adam and Eve are the first, and they have two sons… with whom exactly do either of them have children? It seems to me that Abel died before having children, so are we all descended from Richard Harris? I’m confused. Should I have listened more at church?

God can be such a bastard, can’t he? Still, his voice is also done by John Huston (a busy chap on this film) so again, I am soothed by it.  So Cain has a wife and a son, but WHERE DID SHE COME FROM? Wasn’t there a third son, Seth? Have I misremebered that?

Another narrated montage of humanity’s development. 37 minutes in and there are finally more people… but they’re all evil (surprise surprise), murdering and whoring and whatever, so God gets pissed off. Ah, Seth turned up just now. So… Cain’s descendants are all evil but create music and all kinds of innovations, while Seth’s descendants include Noah (John Huston again).

And now all I can think of is Evan Almighty, even though that wasn’t a particularly good film… and Old Harry’s Game again in which Satan breaks the news that Noah’s family weren’t the only ones to survive because "he wasn’t the only one with a boat" which seems like a good point to me. And now I’m thikning about QI and the bit where Stephen Fry points out that there were differing numbers of animals depending on whether they were considered clean or unclean.

People in Biblical times seem obsessed with the notion of clean/unclean, don’t they? Maybe, in the days before refridgeration or whatever, they had to be.

All the non-Noah people MUST be evil because they have painted faces and messy hair, and animal skulls about their persons.

Animal time! Yes, they come in two, and I am again reminded of Old Harry’s Game and how the lions ate most of the others before he thought to lock them up.

HOW exactly did Noah get polar bears? Did he ring Harrods?

SPOILER ALERT! It’s raining.

Ages later…. water gone, God decides to be nicer to humans. A rainbow!

And now…. intermission. Yes, it’s old enough to require an intermission. Go get your ice creams now…

/intermission

The Tower of Babel now, with Stephen ‘swords and sandals a speciality’ Boyd as Nimrod, who decided to build the Tower that would reach to Heaven… because up to now God hasn’t shown himself at all to mind humans getting too big for their boots. I can’t see that this will end well. And all the people speak one language (esperanto?) so all can communicate. I can’t imagine what punishment God might mete out.

BIG CLOUDS OF DOOM! SCAFFOLDING COLLAPSING! WOE!

Nimrod’s scheme is done in and yet he still wants to continue. The Many Extras are not so stupid and choose, wisely, to run away, far far away. But what’s this? They can no longer understand each other! Fighting hath broken out as the Lord did confound their language and scattered them abroad. And that kids, is how Flemish came to be.

More desert scenes. Quite bored of sand, to be honest.

Now, ’tis time for Abraham. This means, unfortunately, it is time for George C Scott, an unpleasant man who thought beating up Ava Gardner was suitable behaviour for a human being… So far he’s just doing a lot of Meaningful Staring.

And there is my girl, Miss Gardner, with her beautiful voice to match her face, as they trade eupemisms about sex. I was under the impression that even in the Bible it was OK to shag if you’re married (to each other, natch) so I don’t see the point of all the going-around-the-houses but… this is Hollywood in the 60s.

So Abram as he currently is, is doing well with his people and his sheep… but Ava is barren so… you can see where this is going, because no man can possibly be successful without bearing sons. A man cannot be a man without bearing men… snore. So he whinges about it and God more or less says, "Sacrifice some animals, then go shag Hagar, her maid. They won’t mind."

I think it’s handy that sacrificing animals is largely out of fashion these days. It looks messy. There’s some foreshadowing of the treatment Jews will get through the generations, but he still wants his son.

Actually, it’s Sarai/Sarah who sends Hagar to him… Interesting Wiki Fact: Abram and Sarai are half-siblings. That’s not weird at all. I feel awfully sorry for her, telling him that he should shag Hagar so he can have children because she can’t. That poor woman. Ava seems to be wearing a mohair shawl…. Hagar is a bit of bitch to her, talking about ripened fruits and so Sarai quite reasonably gets upset.

I am incredibly biased in favour of Miss G, but Ava puts in a very restrained, thoughtful performance. Her age is showing on her face, but it’s still that face and she is still more beautiful than most people will ever be.

Whenever I think of this story, it reminds me of Isaac and Ishmael, the post-9/11 episode of The West Wing. It’s a very thoughtful episode of the show.

Time for Lot’s Wife, Sodom, Gomorrah and all that caper, from the looks of it. I think The Brick Testament tells this particular story best. James Bond’s father in law is playing Lot, which I find amusing for no good reason.

OK….. I just got totally distracted by the Brick Testament and forgot to watch, until I heard the unmistakable voice of…

PETER O’TOOLE! He’s here at last! It’s only taken two hours.

He plays angel(s), which is surely playing against type given what he was up to in 1966. Anyway, your man is warning Abraham about what he’s about to do to Sodom. Instead of asking ‘what are you playing at, massacring people?’ Abraham offers PETER O’TOOLE a seat and refreshments.

Well, it’s what I’d do if PETER O’TOOLE turned up at my house. There are THREE of him, too. One beardy, one not, the third I know not. He’s quite an astounding actor, and even as a young man could bring gravitas even to ridiculous, pompous religious speeches.

PETER O’TOOLE tells Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son. She doesn’t believe him or is overcome and laughs. PETER O’TOOLE takes offence.

Now, it seems to me that PETER is actually really playing God, y/n, rather than the Three Angels he’s credited as. Anyway, Abraham does ask him to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. PETER says "If there are fifty righteous men I’ll not destroy it, etc etc." Then he DISAPPEARS! God/Angels/PETER takes pity and says he will not destroy the city if 10 righteous men can be found.

Unfortunately, Sodom and Gomorrah are pretty well full of sinners, sexual deviants, drinkers, and what have you. Like Grimsby on a Saturday night, I reckon… so the chances of finding even 10 righteous people is probably a bit like finding 10 righteous people in a Grimsby nightclub. PETER O’TOOLE’s gonna have his work cut out.

If you’re wondering why I capitalise his name, it refers to an Oscar night online chat, when he was ROBBED (yet again) of the Best Actor award. Forrest Whittaker got it for playing Idi Amin. An excellent performance, I grant you, but PETER in Venus was so truly outstanding as he was the seven times he was nominated before that and still didn’t win. So anyway, it was probably a convoluted conversation but I declared in all my outrage, that henceforth he would be PETER O’TOOLE and he is.

I digress. The people of Sodom are trying to break into Lot’s house to get at PETER (an understandable notion, perhaps) and I think we can see where this is going… the Sodomites are SO WICKED AND EVIL that they broke in so that they ‘may know’ these strangers. Which I assume is Biblical speak for getting Biblical with them. Lot offers his daughters instead of the strangers, which seems as bad as that which the Sodomites want to do with PETER O’TOOLE

ooooooh! MEGA CLOSE UP of those blue O’TOOLE eyes! The purchase of this DVD has been rendered worth it. He declares he’s gonna smite these evil bastards and tells Lot to take his wife and daughters out before the brimstone begins. "Look not behind thee," says PETER. Can you guess what Lot’s wife is going to do? Because those women they just can’t do as they’re told, can they? God doesn’t want them to see his terrible punishment, I get it. Lot’s Wife now = sodium chloride. Sodom is just a mushroom cloud, so we can apparently deduce that God had nukulur weapons before the Americans.

But it’s all OK really becaue Sarah’s had her baby and Abraham can rest easy, having two sons. Never mind that those two sons will lead to religious warfare for centuries… These people just aren’t forward-looking, are they? Sarah’s now the oldest mum until IVF comes along…

Oh dear. Sarah wants Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Methinks she is jealous now she has what she wants. Still, in all His Infinite Wisdom, God tells Abraham to do it. So that’s going to end well…

PETER O’TOOLE is back when Hagar and kid in the desert are near death and suddenly! There is water!

Abraham’s aging make up is starting to make him look like a character from Labyrinth.

And now, for the bit covered by Dylan, so presumably this is all going to be resolved on Highway 61. Isaac is clearly too clever and cute for his own good, so God tells Abraham to sacrifice the little imp. Abraham (quite rightly) objects to murdering his son (isn’t murder one of the commandments? I suppose we haven’t got to that bit yet), but decides that God is right and so leads the poor kid up the road to become an episode of Taggart. There’s been a murrr-durrr...

Abraham and Isaac wander through a load of rubble that was once a city God destroyed. Isaac asks if God killed the children of the city and if they were wicked too. and there’s A SNAKE! Abraham goes on a bit of a rant, I’m not really listening to be honest cos I’m back reading Revelations at the Brick Testament. The kid goes to his dad to make him feel better, like any good son would do. So Abraham decides that this means he should kill the boy… so they go up a mountain, he lights a fire and waves a branch around, as you do. Isaac is a clever kid and works out that his dad’s getting ready for a sacrifice, but there is no ram! Clever kid, like I said.

He’s scared but gives his dad a hug just the same and lets Abraham sacrifice him. Then, just as he’s about to stab the kid, God finally intervenes and reveals it was just a test of Abraham’s devotion.

Also, Isaac is not his only son. Wasn’t there a whole big thing earlier? Have they not read the script? Has this been shot out of sequence?

Anyway, the kid lives, although is a bit smoky around the edges and – MIRACLE OF MIRACLES – there is a ram for the sacrifice! Hurrah!

God’s a funny guy, isn’t he? Bit insecure, bit needy, as they say in Old Harry’s Game. But he’s pleased now so he says that Abraham’s seed will spread across the world, etc etc.

I’d like to end on a ‘and they lived happily ever after’ but we know better, don’t we?

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Next Film on the List: The Italian Job.

If you’d like to pick a number up to 538, please leave a comment. Numbers 352, 111, 4, 456 have been selected so far.

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