FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI'S JESUS: A Spiritual Diary by Franco Zeffirelli


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Or ""How I Filmed a Great Religious Epic, Stirring Millions of Souls Around the World--and My Own in the Process."" Whatever the merits of Jesus of Nazareth, Zeffirelli sheds only a dubious light on the Gospels and practically none on his spiritual self. He lumps the writings of the four Evangelists together as ""a diary of the years of Jesus' preaching, the history of his adulthood"" (they are, in fact, meta-historical, kerygma, churchly preaching, inspired propaganda). In a similarly naive, wrong-headed vein he argues that ""Saint John"" must have been an eyewitness of Jesus' life because ""He recounts them with such wonderful verbal imagery, almost as if he were a supremely gifted screenwriter!"" So much for doing your directorial homework. Zeffirelli begins by describing himself as a ""lazy Catholic,"" and in the end it's still not clear that his rediscovery of Scripture by turning it into cinema gave him anything more than some vague, visceral thrills, pleasantly extended by pious fan mail from a few of the 750,000,000-1,000,000,000 spectators of the made-for-TV extravaganza. What Zeffirelli really wants to talk about--and puts across with some zest--is the behind-the-scenes story of how he put it all together: the search through Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco for sites that evoked ancient Judea better than the real Nazareth, Jerusalem, Galilee, etc. in modern Israel; the successful hunt for big-name stars (Olivier, Bancroft, Steiger, Mason), who agreed to work for minimal fees; the dramatic moments, like Olivia Hussey's near-hysterical fit as she played the part of Mary in the Descent from the Cross; the spectacular sets and technological wizardry of Zeffirelli's team; and so on. An occasionally vivid, but sentimental and forgettable exercise in self-congratulation.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row