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“Say it again, Sam”: Unexpected connections between movies and the Bible

TenI have always loved movies, and I find cinematography a great way of discovering new facts, learning new things. Between the 19th and the 29th of September the 33rd Cambridge Film Festival will take place, so I was checking the Festival’s website and thinking about how a director can turn a good book in a good movie, how can he transform pages of details into just one panning shot, and if all books can be turn into movies. But if a lot of good movies were based on books, this means that they must have something in common, some techniques. But what about books like The Divine Comedy, or The Canterbury Tales? Are there similarities between their narrative styles and the cinematographic style? And what about the Bible? What do the Bible and cinematography have in common? Apparently nothing, if we leave aside those widely known colossals such as The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. But when we talk about theology, it’s more difficult to find connections.

Grenville J.R. Kent, in Say it Again, Sam, tries to find these connections, analysing narrative repetition in 1 Samuel 28, and claiming that similarities between these two world, apparently so different, can be found.

Last year a retrospective of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies was shown at the Cambridge Film Festival. Hitchcock is recognised as the Master of Suspense, and the surprise is fundamental: it’s not the same watching Psycho for the first time and knowing from the beginning that Norman Bates is a sociopath killer. Unfortunately, now, we all know how the movie ends, there’ no surprise and, talking about the Bible, it’s the same situation: we all know how the Bible’s stories finish. But the original audience, who heard those stories for the first time, didn’t. If we read some of them, such as Saul’s anointing story (1 Sam 9: 1 – 10:16), we will find sub-plots, mysteries, prophecies, all typical features of noir and thriller movies. For the audience of 2000 years ago, these stories were entirely new, and those techniques madePsycho them more interesting, made people wonder how the narrative was going to end.

Another connection between cinematography and the Bible is repetition. When we watch an action movie, and the camera shows us the same detail twice, we know that it’s not just a coincidence: that detail will be important later, it will return. The Bible uses repetition frequently too, but with different meanings. Saul’s spear, for example, is often mentioned when talking about him: it becomes almost a synonym of him, of his nature, a physical portrayal of Saul himself. One more use of repetition is to show the falsification of reality. Citing film scholar Bruce Kowin’s work, Kent presents the story of the Levite’s self-serving public account of the loss of his concubine (Judg. 20:4-7). The story was already told by an objective narrator earlier (19:22-29), but the Levite’s version is quite different.

These examples show how these two different narrative writings are, in fact, quite similar, and use the same techniques to grab the audience’s attention. So, if you ever wondered if it is possible to bring together high culture, such as theology, and popular culture, such as cinematography, the answer is definitely yes, and Kent’s book is an argument for it.

Say it again, Sam: A literary and filmic study of narrative repetition in 1 Samuel 28:3, by Grenville J.R. Kent, ISBN 9780718892715. For extracts, more information about the book and how to buy, click here.

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