Saturday, March 7, 2020

Movie Review: "Star of Bethlehem" (1909)

The Star of Bethlehem

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Production Co: Edison Manufacturing Company

Language: English and Italian

Country: USA

Release Date: 19 March 1909

Duration: 8:17

Sound Mix: Silent

Color: Black and White

This Edison movie was directed fairly late in his career by Edwin S. Porter. It covers the Annunciation, the arrival of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, the appearance of the star and the angels to the shepherds, the Nativity, and the adoration of the magi.

A very short film, each scene is explained by a title in both English and Italian in the present tense, except for the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi which were in the past tense. Edison films were generally sparse on titles, relying on action to offer their stories.

The production is done well for the time, though it comes off as a school nativity stage play with adults nonetheless, with some good special effects especially in regards to the appearances of angels. It is reverently done and the stage setting is elaborate. Many extras are incorporated in order to fill out the busy streets of Bethlehem. Each scene depicts a tender devotion.

This film is an example of the Illustrated Text style of movie-making; although that would gradually fall out of fashion, it remained in use, for almost a decade more, for biblical stories and epics.

One of the strangest things I have ever seen in a biblical film is in this movie, at the moment of the birth of Christ. Mary and Joseph enter the scene in the manger, and kneel in front of the empty crib of Jesus waiting. While all is still, suddenly a baby appears in the crib, to the astonishment of Mary and Joseph. It's as if Mary has no part in giving birth to Jesus.

In a score of 1 through 10, I will give this film a 7.3.