Sunday, May 25, 2014

In Search Of Historic Jesus

Sunn Classics made a ton of money in the 1970s by producing and distributing cheaply made dramas and “documentaries” aimed at a family audience. By jumping on fads like UFOs and Bigfoot, four-walling the pictures in small-town theaters, and drenching each market’s airwaves with urgent advertising aimed at the lowest common denominator, the Sunn Classics team were as much conmen as they were filmmakers.

Based in Park City, Utah, Sunn Classics produced and distributed big hits, such as THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY (which posited that, among other things, John Wilkes Booth’s death was faked by anti-Reconstruction government forces) and IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK. Certainly it was that movie’s success and the then-trendy Shroud of Turin controversy that spurred the production of 1980's IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS, a corny, cheap-looking laugh riot that nonetheless earned big box office.

John Rubinstein (CRAZY LIKE A FOX) portrays Jesus wearing a comically fake beard, who looks to a cloudy blue sky to receive marching orders from God (voiced by Peter Mark Richman!). He wanders about, placing his hands on the faces of lepers (wearing atrocious makeup), which makes their faces glow with cartoon animation. He calls for the resurrected Lazarus, who emerges from a cave looking fresh as the morning dew. He walks on water and makes storms go away just by placing his palms together. After his crucifixion, he appears to his disciples in an animated starburst like a sitcom genie.

Brad Crandall, whose deep voice is instantly recognizable as the narrator of the studio’s trailers and films, hosts this “documentary” with pomposity, dressed alternately in a three-piece suit or V-neck sweater and showing off impressions of the Shroud of Turin in his wood-paneled library. His “evidence” consists of passing off gospel and random musings as fact. One “expert” claims Jesus’ corpse released a burst of radiation to scorch the Shroud. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls by a goatherder in 1947 is re-enacted as truth without explaining why we should believe their authenticity.

Sunn Classics snared some recognizable character actors for HISTORIC JESUS, including John Anderson, Walter Brooke, David Opatoshu, Morgan Brittany, Anthony DeLongis, Lawrence Dobkin, Al Ruscio, Britt Leach, and Stanley Kamel. If you need any convincing that Sunn Classics is full of bull, watch no further than the scene in which Crandall visits an astronomer named Robert McLean at his observatory to get his theories on the Star of Bethlehem. “McLean” is played by actor H.M. Wynant.

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