The Full-Length Object Lesson

The Passion Play of Oberammergau

Edison Manufacturing Co.; Henry C. Vincent, director; USA, 1898

From the producer’s standpoint, the appeal of religious subjects, particularly filmed passion plays, resulted from the fact that they furnished full-length nightly entertainments. Interestingly, a staged passion play first presented in 1880 incurred the wrath of American religious groups, which charged it with the “sacrilegious use of the most sacred things of our religion.” Apparently, however, there was a perceived difference between two modes of presentation—one in which live actors literally bodied forth sacred events and one in which (as in the motion picture) discreet representations were used for educational purposes. When a group of New York promoters produced this 1898 filmed version (which was actually a re-enactment featuring paid actors), it was quite successful. As one clergyman wrote in the prominent magazine Home Journal,

[T]o the rendition . . . by these pictures there can be no objection. . . . Intensely realistic they are, and it is this feature which gives them truthfulness and makes them instructive. Painful they are necessarily to sensitive and sympathetic souls, and so are many of the pictures which surmount some of the altars of our churches. . . . I cannot conceive a more impressive object lesson for Sunday school scholars.

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