A cooperative effort of the First Congregational Church Music Committee, the Waterbury Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and Classic Movie Cinema will present the showing of the silent film, “King of Kings?” (1927), directed by Cecil B. DeMille on Sunday, March 28 at 7:00 PM at the First Congregational Church, 222 West Main Street,
Waterbury, CT. As the film is screened, artist Shari Lucas will perform a live organ accompaniment.
The beginning of DeMille’s lifelong fascination with biblical history can be seen in this silent interpretation of the life of Christ that combines his love of visual spectacle and historical realism. DeMille retells the story from the point of view of Mary Magdalene (Dorothy C*****g), once a courtesan for the decadent and gluttonous emperor of Rome, who is made repentant by Jesus’ (H.B. Warner) love. Taking text from the Bible, DeMille follows Jesus’ rise to greatness as he humbly performs miracles and amasses thousands of devout followers. Jesus is introduced in the film through the healed eyes of a blind child. DeMille stylishly combines early Hollywood glamour with deep religious reverence in this classic adaptation that culminates in a Technicolor segment depicting the Resurrection. Nicholas Ray, remade the film in 1961 with Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus.
DeMille consulted with clergy and rabbis on the production, but after the film’s premiere it came under criticism from the Jewish community similar to the accusations Mel Gibson underwent prior to the release of his film, “The Passion of the Christ”. As in Gibson’s film, the villain is the high priest Caiaphas, whose temple of worship is, according to a title, a “corrupt and profitable marketplace.” Caiaphas conspires against Jesus and has him arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate. To emphasize that Caiaphas is Jewish, not Roman, a gong that he uses to call his henchman is shaped like a Star of David.
The silent film was reworked slightly to downplay this concern. DeMille signed a historical note that appears before the main title, explaining that Jewish high priests were appointed by Rome. Provocative titles like “His Blood Be Upon You and Your Children” were removed. After the crucifixion, as the temple collapses around Caiaphas, he now cries “Lord God Jehovah, visit not Thy wrath on Thy people Israel- I alone am guilty.” Nonetheless, the film was banned in some American cities, and DeMille was bitter, as he felt that he was just telling the story in the Bible.
“King of Kings” will be shown on film, not video, on
a 170 square foot screen. The show will begin at 7:00 PM.