Silent Film (1903): Life and Passion of Jesus Christ : The Annunciation

This is an early (1903) silent film about the life of Christ.  The camera is stationary, which gives the impression of filmed theater, and the story is told in a series of scenes. I will here provide a description of the first scene of the movie, the annunciation. My remarks are borrowed from Catherine O’Brien’s analysis in the Celluloid Madonna.

In the annunciation scene, Mary is pictured holding a water jar, a detail suggestive of wells, which are symbolic places for betrothals in the Bible. The apocryphal Protevangelium of James depicts the annunciation to Mary in a domestic setting.  Mary meets the angel upon returning from a well.

Here, in this movie, the angel once he appears has a lily in his hand, a symbol of purity.  The angel fades in to make its presence felt and fades out to disappear. The angel hovers in mid-air. Mary bows to acknowledge the angel’s holiness. The angel moves lips and makes hand gestures to express the message that he carries from heaven. No fear or protest is indicated but rather devotion and acquiescence as Mary bows to receive the message and in assent.

As Mary rises and raises her arms to heaven, the gesture indicates that she is making herself a handmaid to the Lord in an historically significant act of volition.

The entire movie is visually quite fascinating. The absence of sound heightens the visual effects.

Question: What are the advantages of silent film, aesthetically, in portraying the life of Jesus?

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