A Century of the Bible and Film
February 06–May 17, 2009
This exhibition probes the fascination the Bible has exerted over filmmakers as different and distinct as Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Gibson, John Huston, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese. The exhibition features 80 rare vintage movie posters reaching back to the dawn of film in 1898. A selection of original costumes worn by Hollywood screen stars is also on display together with related film ephemera. Visitors will be able to view an array of film clips from the movies the posters promoted.
REEL RELIGION explores how filmmakers have mined the Bible for the edification and drama of religious narratives while at the same time exercising creative license to heighten themes of passion, violence, and intrigue.
Among the exhibition highlights is an early Art Deco masterpiece, a 1923 poster for the film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1894 play, Salome. One of only three existing prints, this exquisite lithograph was designed by Natacha Rambova, the wife of screen legend Rudolph Valentino, and inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s stunning, stylized black-and-white illustrations for Wilde’s play. Beautifully produced and designed with a rich art historical awareness, many of these rare vintage movie posters occupy a unique position between high art and advertising.
Original costumes in the exhibition include the chest plate worn by Yul Brynner while playing the role of “Rameses” in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956, MGM) and the gown worn by actress Nina Foch as “Bithiah,” both created by Hollywood’s legendary costume designer, Edith Head. Also on display are Charlton Heston’s mauve tunic and cape adorned with gold trim, designed by Elizabeth Haffenden for William Wyler’s 1959 MGM production, Ben-Hur.
Celebrated visual artists have had a profound impact upon the history of cinema. Among other objects, REEL RELIGION displays an illustrated Bible by the French artist Gustave Doré, on loan from the American Bible Society’s Rare Scripture Collection. Doré‘s Bible, tremendously popular, has influenced the posters, costumes, sets and cinematography of numerous films from 1906 to 2004. Cecil B. DeMille drew upon Dore’s designs frequently, most notably in his staging of the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. Dore was also the inspiration for the design of the Spanish poster promoting Pasolini’s Gospel According to Saint Matthew of 1964. Such intriguing influences and unexpected juxtapositions are explored in depth in REEL RELIGION: A CENTURY OF THE BIBLE AND FILM.