The Greatest Story Ever Told in Tableaux

Vie et Passion de N.S. Jésus-Christ (Life and Passion of Christ)

Ferdinand Zecca/Lucien Nonguet, Pathé-Frères, France, 1907

The subject was among the most popular for early historical films in France. Lumière had released a 13-tableau version in 1897, Gaumont an 11-tableau version directed by Alice Guy in 1899, and Pathé its first, a 16-tableau rendition, in 1900. Pathé’s 1903 version was released in at least three series, the longest consisting of 32 tableaux. Exhibitors could purchase as many tableaux as they wanted, and the “text” was held together by the audience’s familiarity with the story. Pathé’s 1907 version ran to 43 tableaux and included intertitles. Each tableau is a long shot in which actors are framed in full before painted backdrops (center), but in several cases, the mis-en-scène—roughly, the arrangement of people and objects within the frame—is unusually deep, allowing for more striking demonstrations of movement within the frame (right). As suggested by the poster in on the left (though, unfortunately, not by the shots from the film), the whole film makes striking use of the company’s stencil-color process, which is also embellished by the technique of tinting.

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