On Saturday I went to see the new version of The Great Gatsby – and had a thumping good time. I thought it was a real rollercoaster of a movie, jam packed with action, great visuals, class acting and interesting characters. I didn’t know the story, I had not read the book or seen the previous film versions, there have been three I believe (the oldest no longer available). It was a huge spectacle of a story, with a great soundtrack, a couple of actors I really like and a few new ones I’d not encountered before. I’m still thinking on the experience a few days later.
However since seeing the movie I have read a couple of articles where it appears to be an absolutely terrible film. I’m not sure if most of the critics don’t like it but certainly the two I read were not impressed. And there was a simple reason. They had read the book. Now if there is one thing you can say about the old books versus film argument it’s this – more often than not the book wins hands down. Films are not books – they are totally different vehicles and when film makers begin to consider taking the page to the screen they don’t just attempt to visualise the book, they look for their own angle on the story. So if, like me with Gatsby, you have not read the book your expectations when viewing a film version will be different to those who have. So for me The Great Gatsby was money well spent.
A big part of my job is attempting to get the greatest book of all time off the page. To take what is tucked inside the complex and rather dense Good Book and retell it in various ways. Not least through these blog posts. I’m a great believer that the Bible is about reality, real people, real lives, real struggles, real pleasures, mistakes and triumphs. And these things are timeless – we can relate to them and have similar experiences today, and therefore find God in those moments. I’m a fan of William Tyndale who once said, ‘If God spares my life… I will cause the boy that drives the plough to know more of Scripture…’ His vision was to get the Bible to the people.
To me that means it is vital to get it off the page, out of the churches, away from the places where I would dare to say it is read with over-reverential voices, which can sometimes make it more difficult to relate to. When the incidents in the Bible happened most of them were not shrouded in some sort of Cathedral-like awe. Many of the stories take place amongst war, disease, poverty, family breakdown, births, wedding feasts and crises It is jam-packed with moments full of God that didn’t necessarily feel or look like it at the time. They happened in the every day moments, amongst the ordinary people. The experience of Pentecost, the birth of the church, which we have just celebrated, had no order of service or well-planned worship time. It came via a bunch of people in public who looked as if they were drunk.
The work that William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe and so many others gave their lives to continues to this day. Luke Walton at the Bible Society spends much of his time encouraging others to turn the Bible into short films. Theatre companies like Riding Lights and Saltmine and others put it on various stages. Open the Book takes it into schools.
I am aware that the Bible is a Holy, precious, unique book – the living word of God. But it’s because of this that I feel it’s so important to get it off the page. The prophets within its pages did exactly the same thing, and often looked irreligious as they did so. I am aware that for many people certain versions of the Bible are held in great respect. When Denzel Washington carries the Bible across a post-apocalyptic America in the movie Book of Eli it’s the King James version he carries. When we discussed this in a film evening recently we came to the conclusion that this is probably still the version most respected in many parts of society. However, this version and those that preceded it, The Bishop’s Bible, The Geneva Bible, The Coverdale Bible and others, were only the beginning of the process of bringing God’s word in such a way that people could ‘get’ it.
There are problems lifting books like Gatsby off the page, and there will always be troubles, risks and dangers with the process of retelling the Bible. But I firmly believe it’s a process that is vital. God’s ultimate expression of himself was not a gilt edged book – but a living, breathing, laughing, crying, eating, loving, debating person. You could argue that God himself has been working hard to get the truth off the page and into our lives all down the ages. For much of history the Bible has not been a book as we know it. It was a collection of stories passed on by professional storytellers. Word of mouth. We live in an age where it seems to me that it is vital to get the living word off the page. And there are many ways to do that, whether through film, stories, jokes, conversation, TV, internet, cartoons, theatre, music, dance etc. The way that those in the Bible passed it on, in fact.