King of Kings: The Christian Hipster’s Guide to the Movies

King of Kings (1961), Directed by Nicolas Ray, with mostly actors you’ve never heard of but a voiceover by Orson Welles.220px-KingofKings

Why hipsters would like this movie:

  • It was directed by Nicholas Ray, who made Rebel Without A Cause. (But before you open your Netflix queue, keep reading.)
  • Biblical Epic? Bring it on, say the Bible quiz alumni!
  • The comparison of both very poor and very good acting moments in the same cookie-cutter, Biblical-epic, genre-formula film.
  • Hipsters who have seen either this version or the original 1921 version will use the knowledge in trivia contest, or to sound both intelligent and Biblical.   The 1961 version tries to be both and doesn’t really succeed at either, and ironically, neither will trivia-loving hipsters.

Things Hipsters might think is insightful or witty:

  • Salome’s dance. Fascinating.
  • Frank Thring’s performance as Herod Antipas.  (Thring was a go-to Biblical epic actor, born in Australia, classically trained, and probably most famous for his role as Pontius Pilate in the 1959 version of Ben Hur.) Fun to watch.
  • Rip Torn’s pretty forgettable performance as Judas. (Trivia buffs, however, will keep that info for classic movie nerd points that no one really cares about.) Fun to forget…
  • The very juxtaposition of a a director (Ray) with widescreen and New Wave sensibilities working under the confines of a studio and producer (Samuel Bronston) bent on trying to remake Ben Hur (in fact the title graphic was designed to be just like Ben Hur’s, and Miklos Rozsa composed the music for both, making this film little more than a Ben Hur wanna-be with a bad voiceover).

However, two shots remind us that the director was trying to make an interesting film. When Judas runs away from Christ being beaten he’s followed by a jarring low angle tracking shot, putting us at ill ease with Judas. And when Christ’s cross is lifted into place, the camera angle is from the top of the cross, keeping Christ in the center of the frame as the world reoriented beneath him. These two shots are really interesting. So interesting they don’t really fit with the film…

King of Kings 1

Things for Hipster’s to note:

  • The above mentioned shots. Pretty.
  • A Judas/Barabbas subplot (ostensibly about Christ’s kingdom vs. the overthrow of Roman oppression) that never really goes anywhere. Was that the point?…
  • Massive, poorly used Biblical epic theatrics, including 7,000 rural Spanish extras used to film the massive Sermon on the Mount scene.6011521_f520
  • Tropes. This movies is full of so many of them it could almost come back as a cult classic. If people were willing to sit through screenings of it…which they are probably not.  Evidence to this: upon release the television broadcast rights for the film were immediate sold to the 3 major networks, but the film was only broadcast by local syndicates.

Questions for Hipsters to Ask:

Jesus, are you sure you're Jewish?

Jesus, are you sure you’re Jewish?

  • Why does Jesus have blue eyes?
  • Why is Mary the mother of Christ so obviously Irish?

    The actress's name is Siobhan McKenna, perhaps the most Irish name in Biblical epic history.

    The actress’s name is Siobhan McKenna, perhaps the most Irish name in Biblical epic history.

  • Why Orson Welles as a narrator? Really.
  • Why are the three wise men present at the stable? Come on, Hollywood…
  • Why aren’t their clothes ever dirty?
  • Why does every scene look just like a flannel graph come to life?



About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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