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April 18, 2000
Easter video viewing: 'Spartacus' to 'Harvey'
By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service
At Christmastime, your video-movie choices are perfectly self-evident. You watch "A Christmas Carol" or "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street" while knocking back eggnogs, ignoring your obnoxious houseguests and pretending to wrap presents.
At Passover and Easter, however, such choices cease to be clear-cut. Maybe that's because those two closely related religious occasions haven't been quite so thoroughly assimilated into secular and commercial culture as Christmas, or because filmmakers - who are like pigs in slop when it comes to fir-filled, gift-strewn living rooms - are stumped how to make great festive set pieces out of Easter egg hunts or solemn high Mass.
Then, too, the people you're renting movies for (your family and friends) may be staunch believers, staunch unbelievers, staunch Darwinian socialists, staunch libertarians, staunch pagans, or staunch people-who-are-really-only-interested-in-the-leg-of-lamb. So a religious movie isn’t necessarily the way to go.
Following are some video-movie suggestions that may or may not help keep the good will flowing at your house.
For those interested in the Passover aspect of the holiday season, there could be no better choice than "The Ten Commandments," with Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as a bald pharaoh, or "The Prince of Egypt," Disney's wacky animated version of essentially the same tale, complete with tunes.
Suppose you are a liberal living in a metropolitan area where your minister or priest blesses same-sex unions and observes Earth Day. Suppose you've got relatives coming from some Midwest or Southern town with the word "Fork" in its name where the same preacher has been giving the same hellfire sermon since the time of the Civil War. Here's how you keep things interesting: rent "The Last Temptation of Christ," Martin Scorsese's lighthearted look at Nikos Kazantzakis' tale of an all-too-human Messiah who just wants to get into his jammles and forget the whole sacrifice thing. It will guarantee dynamic dinner-table discussion and, even better, a likely early departure for your houseguests.
If you want to be an old stick-in-the-mud, there are always such choices as "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "King of Kings," "Jesus of Nazareth," "The Robe," "Barrabas" (with Anthony Quinn as the convict set free in place of Jesus by Pilate, long before Pilate invented that fancy new gym technology), “Ben Hur” (Charlton Heston as a beleaguered Jewish slave who keeps bumping into a certain Galilean carpenter), or "Touch of Evil" (Charlton Heston as a Mexican probation officer in Orson Welles' noir classic, remarkable for its complete absence of Easter relevance).
A great option if your house is filled with testosterone-heavy individuals who would much rather be watching an old Hercules sword-and-sandals epic "Spartacus," with Kirk Douglas as a rebellious gladiator with a hole in his chin. It has nothing to do with the Easter story, but it's set in the same period, everyone wears togas, and Kirk gets crucified at the end, making it at least roughly appropriate.
On the other hand, if your home is jammed with fans of retro-glitz, go down and get "Cleopatra," with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the titular Queen and her Roman boyfriend, respectively. It’s a period extravaganza that does Christians and Jews alike a big favor by leaving their religions out of it. (But you still get the togas, etc.)
Hold on a minute, though. Everyone knows that long before Easter and before Passover, even, what this time of year was about was spring. Druids and other heathen would get all worked up over the vernal equinox and the beginning of daylight-savings time and the fact that June would soon be bustin' out all over.
Unfortunately, so far Hollywood has never gone in much for big, showy movies about tree worship. These days and in this culture, your genuine rites of spring take place on baseball diamonds. Happily, there is no dearth of motion pictures on that theme.
"It Happens Every Spring" is an obvious possibility. Also, you can consider "Field of Dreams," "Damn Yankees," "Bull Durham," "The Pride of the Yankees," "For Love of the Game," "Major League," "The Bad News Bears," "A League of Their Own," or "The Natural," to name only a few.
Or, if you've got older people in the house who fondly remember a time when Easter was, first and foremost, about bonnets, you can rent "Easter Parade," with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.
As for the infamous fertility symbol that lurks at the center of many Easter preoccupations, you can watch "The Egg and I."
And if that's not tenuous enough for you, go the whole distance and pick up "Basketcase."
Rabbits? Four words: "Harvey," with Jimmy Stewart. Failing that, Ralph Bakshi's animated version of "Watership Down."
Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News
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