...And God Spoke

Director: Arthur Borman
Michael Riley, Stephen Rappaport, Tamara Mello

If you have been a regular reader of The Unknown Movies for some time, more likely than not you have seen that I have given my fair share of negative reviews for movies I've watched for the site. In fact, I would estimate that the percentage of the more than 800 movies I've reviewed for this web site that have been negative hovers a little over fifty percent. Based on that statistic, one might think that I freely hand over negative reviews without a second thought. Actually, that is not the truth. Sometimes a little part of me feels bad when I judge a movie that a group of filmmakers created to not be very good at all. I know full well that a movie - even a movie that turned out to be bad - more often than not was made with a great deal of effort by a great deal of people working together. This was a lesson that really sunk into my mind when I took television class in high school, where we had to make our own productions. Even with the help of others in the class, I learned how hard it could be to make even a production just several minutes in length. You have to plan everything out well first in advance, get all of the elements you need to make the story, and then once filming starts, you have to pray that absolutely nothing will go wrong during the shoot. I'll give an example with one of my favorite movie genres, martial art films. First of all, you have to find actors who are not only competent with martial arts, you have to find such actors who can also actually act. Then you need to find someone who can choreograph multiple fights to be different and exciting. Then you need to get a director who can balance all those elements, and more. You also need a screenplay that has legitimate excuses for multiple fights, as well as having important elements like characters that we in the audience care about.

I hope what I just told you in the previous paragraph has sunk in, and made you realize that if even just one of those elements is botched during production, the entire martial arts movie could completely sink. It's more or less the same story with any movie genre filmmakers decide to tackle, but I want to talk about one specific film genre that is packed with potential potholes: religious movies. Compared to other film genres, not a great deal of religious movies have been made, and I can see why just with a little thought as I type this sentence. For starters, you run the risk of offending your target audience. There was the 2014 Russell Crowe movie Noah, for example. This movie was so jazzed up in order to attract a mainstream audience that not only did it become ludicrous, it was banned in a number of Arab countries for not sticking to the Bible's telling of the tale. Years earlier, the movie Mohammad: Messenger Of God, though following its source closely, offended so many people (who actually hadn't seen it) that its release got blocked in many countries. And the makers of the animated The Prince Of Egypt, while having worked with 600 religious experts during the production for approval, still had their finished work banned in a couple of countries. It's so hard to please everyone. But there is another potential pitfall with making a religious movie, and that is ending up with a movie that is so respectful that it becomes boring. Take the 1966 John Huston movie The Bible. I've seen this movie, and I can say that it follows the first part of Genesis fairly accurately and with great respect. However, the movie is so careful and respectable that it quickly becomes agonizing to sit through because it is so gosh-darn boring. Face it, the Bible itself doesn't go into great detail about stuff like battle scenes and other action-packed stuff that would help filmmakers make a filmed Bible story lively to audiences.

As you can see, the Bible is not only kind of a touchy subject, it isn't easy to make cinematic to a modern audience whose prime craving is to be entertained. As well, adapting a Bible story more likely than not is expensive and presents a whole bunch of challenges to filmmakers, like ...And God Spokefinding appropriate actors, competent special effect artists, and much much more. I certainly wouldn't want to be on the production team on such a movie; too many potential problems. I would, however, watch a documentary about the making of such a movie, in part because I like to see other people suffer and make my personal problems seem insignificant. I don't know of any such documentaries available, but I did find a copy of the mockumentary ...And God Spoke. Though it was of course a fiction movie, the idea of making fun of the making of a religious movie and the inevitable problems that came up gave it a great deal of appeal to this critic, who knows and is interested by a lot about movie production and its pitfalls. This mocumentary is primarily focused on a film project by two friends and business associates, Marvin Handleman (Rappaport) and Clive Watson (Riley, Cube Zero). For over a decade, with Marvin acting as producer and Clive acting as director, the two have made a bunch of exploitation movies. But now they are ready for the big time, and they are aiming for joining Hollywood's "A" list with their new project - a big budget movie concerning various stories in the Bible. Naturally they feel they will get both critical acclaim and box office success... but they soon find out that God Himself does not seem to be smiling on this project, because everything that could go wrong during the shoot does indeed happen.

It possibly isn't clear from reading that above plot description that ...And God Spoke is not only a comic look at the making of a religious film, it is also a satiric look at the entire Hollywood filmmaking business itself. I could indeed have gone into more detail, but I don't want to spoil too much of the many delights this movie has to offer. Before I get into describing some of them, I want to point out that the success of this comedy to a large degree is because the filmmakers did what makers of a successful serious movie do - they created a world that we can accept. An absurd world in this case, yes, but one where all its parts (like characters and situations) you can relate to at some level to what you've personally experienced during your life. I'll start with taking a look at the movie's characters. They are indeed goofballs, each and every one of them. But all the same, you'll be able to see real human behavior in them. Take the opening of the movie, which introduces us to the characters of Marvin and Clive. We get to see clips of their earlier efforts, films that have such titles as Dial "S" For Sex and Nude Ninjas, and they are hilariously awful. But Marvin and Clive manage to justify these movies, like when they say that Nude Ninjas was an example as to how women often have to struggle in a normally male-oriented work field. With statements like that one, you can tell they have made such face-saving claims so many times that they now believe them themselves. Real human behavior. Another example of this is later in the movie, where during the filming of the movie's Cain and Abel segment, we get to meet the actor playing Abel (Andy Dick, Best Men). The actor is excited to be in the movie, since Lou Ferrigno (Sinbad Of The Seven Seas) is playing Cain, and he is relishing the thought of beating up Ferrigno... somehow forgetting that it was Cain who slew Abel. I found that funny, since I know that the actor couldn't have been the first person to confuse the two Biblical brothers. As I said, real human behavior.

Because you can identify with each of the characters in ...And God Spoke on some level or another, you will find it easy to laugh at their words and actions.  But as I indicated in the previous paragraph, it's not just the characters that have a kernel of real life to them. There are a number of situations as well. For example, there is the scene in the movie when the filmmakers have constructed a replica of Noah's ark, and when they attempt to move it onto a soundstage, find it's too big to fit in the doorway. Yes, that may sound kind of silly. But I remembered the real life making of the 1980 movie Raise The Titanic, where the expensive model ship built proved to be too big for the studio's water tank. So I could not only believe the same basic thing happening all over again, I laughed. Another time in the movie, the filmmakers attempt to get a big name actor to play Moses. But in part due to their limited budget, the biggest name actor they are able to get to play the role is Soupy Sales. Yes, that may sound very silly. But I remembered many real life films that suffered from miscasting, such as when Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as the title figure in J. Edgar. So I could not only believe such gross miscasting, I could also laugh at it. Later on in the movie, when Sales' scenes are being filmed, the filmmakers have to make a drastic change to the story of Moses when funds start to run out. The filmmakers are forced to have Moses make his sermon on Mount Sinai while he is holding a six pack of Coca Cola. Yes, that does sound extremely silly. But I have seen many times filmmakers forced to place blatant product plugs in their movies in order to have enough money for filming, from the Marx Brothers movie Love Happy to the Canadian movie Love At First Sight. So seeing such a familiar (and frequently despised) practice taken to such an extreme was very funny to me. Obviously, with me being a big film buff, these and other gags concerning the problems the filmmaker characters of ...And God Spoke experience were possibly more hilarious to me than what viewers who are not film buffs might feel. Despite this, I think those viewers will still find the situations funny and identifiable to their experiences. No doubt they will know about construction mistakes, unqualified people put in important positions, and "selling out". Knowledge of the film industry certainly helps, but it's not necessary in order to enjoy the movie.

As you can see from what I have described in the first two paragraphs, the screenplay for ...And God Spoke - which was co-written by director Arthur Borman - is full of varied comic delights. It's kind of hard to pin down what the best gags are with the movie being constantly hilarious, but after some thought I think that the clips we get to see of the movie being filmed are the best, my favorite being that sermon Moses makes on Mount Sinai. ("He's also given us a wonderful new drink... It is an elixir from the Lord...") These occasional peeks to the finished product are so funny, I wish there were a few more given to the audience. But with the surrounding comic material coming at a rapid pace and being just about as hilarious as those clips, that is a very minor quibble. Obviously, writer/director Borman shows great talent with humor and how he presents it. But he doesn't just nail the comic portion of the movie; he also nails the mockumentary side of the movie as well. ...And God Spoke has the genuine feeling of a real documentary. Borman throughout puts little touches to the foregrounds (and backgrounds) that we can almost believe that this world is genuine. It's not just the obvious touches, like using hand held cameras throughout. It could be someone accidentally bumping his head on a cupboard (which pauses the action for a few seconds), teamsters doing their job in the background of a shot, or a number of other different yet equally convincing details. Clearly Borman did a lot of preparation and planning for this movie, and it pays off. Not just with delivering humor, but at the same time giving the audience a clear idea that the making of a movie - any movie - is a lot of hard work and full of problems. At the end of the movie, you'll be asking yourself, "Isn't it a miracle that with all the potential problems that can come up during production, some good movies do get made?" As well as the question, "Why isn't this hilarious movie better known?"

(Posted June 9, 2019)

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See also: If Footmen Tire You, Movers And Shakers, Preacherman