Hire a skywriter, or a street prophet: Christ and DeMille are together again! Well, they’ve actually never been apart. DeMille's film about Christ, 1927's The King of Kings, has been seen by more people than any movie in human history.
How and why? For years after its theatrical release, religious groups were encouraged to rent prints for a minimal fee and missionaries schlepped copies ‘round the world. Like few movies before or since, Cecil B. DeMille’s spare-no-expense amalgam of religious gospel, carnival kitsch and educational film reached a mass(ive) audience.
But the faithful moved on to sound and color films and DeMille’s biblical epic faded into memory, superseded by Nicholas Ray, Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson’s respective renderings of the pre-prosperity gospel. Then Serge Bromberg of Paris-based Lobster Films, a familiar and popular presence at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival every year, took a vow to restore The King of Kings up to its original length and down to its striking two-color Technicolor sequences.
The S.F. Silent Film Festival and the Ghiberti Center for Culture at Grace Cathedral co-present the U.S. premiere of Lobster’s restoration this Saturday night, March 24, at 7pm. How will DeMille’s unrestrained blend of sincerity and showmanship, shameless spectacle and moral uplift play in secular, self-obsessed, selfie-saturated San Francisco? With David Briggs (from New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine) hitting the keys of Grace Cathedral’s mammoth pipe organ, assuredly souls will be saved by the word (via intertitles) of Jesus Christ, superstar.