The Blood of Jesus

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The Blood of Jesus
The Blood of Jesus (1941 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySpencer Williams
Produced bySpencer Williams
Alfred N. Sack
Written bySpencer Williams
StarringSpencer Williams
Cathryn Caviness
CinematographyJack Whitman
Distributed bySack Amusement Enterprises
Avernus Productions
Release date
  • 1941 (1941)
Running time
57 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
BudgetUS$5,000

The Blood of Jesus is a 1941 American race film written by, directed by, and starring Spencer Williams. It was also released under the alternate title of The Glory Road. In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". [1] [2]

Plot[edit]

In a small rural village with an African American population, a church group is holding a riverside baptismal service, and one of the faithful being immersed is the recently married Martha (Cathryn Caviness). However, Martha's husband Ras (Spencer Williams) is absent from the service – he claims he was hunting, but he actually poached a neighbor's boar. At home, Ras accidentally shoots Martha when his rifle drops on the floor and discharges. The church congregation gathers at Martha's bedside to pray for her recovery, and during this period an angel (Rogenia Goldthwaite) arrives to take Martha's spirit from her body. She is brought to the Crossroads between Heaven and Hell, and initially she is tempted by the slick Judas Green (Frank H. McClennan), who is an agent for Satan (James B. Jones). Judas takes Martha to a nightclub, where the floor show includes an acrobat and a jazz singer. Judas arranges to have Martha employed by the roadhouse owner Rufus Brown, but the angel returns and advises Martha to flee. As she is escaping, a nightclub patron mistakenly believes Martha is a pickpocket who robbed him. A chase ensues and Martha races back to the Crossroads between Hell and Zion, where Satan (along with a jazz band on a flatbed truck) is waiting for her arrival. The voice of Jesus Christ challenges the mob who go away. The sign at the Crossroad is transformed into the vision of Jesus Christ being crucified, and Christ's blood drips down on Martha's face. She awakens to discover she is home and her health is restored. Martha is reunited with her husband, who has now embraced religion. The angel who took Martha on her journey returns to bless the marriage.[3][4][5]

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The Blood of Jesus was the second film directed by Spencer Williams, who was one of the few African American directors active in the 1940s. The Blood of Jesus was produced in Texas on a budget of US$5,000. To present the afterlife, Williams used scenes from a 1911 Italian film called L'Inferno that depicted souls entering Heaven.[6] In addition to Williams, the cast was made up of amateur actors and members of Reverend R. L. Robinson's Heavenly Choir, who sang the film's gospel music score.[7]

Soundtrack[edit]

The film's soundtrack included a variety of spirituals and hymns.[8]

All songs arranged Henry Thacker Burleigh and performed by R.L. Robertson and The Heavenly Choir.

  • Good News

Traditional

Traditional

  • Heav'n, Heav'n

Traditional

  • On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand

Music by M. Durham
Lyrics by Samuel Stennet

Lyrics by John Newton
Music traditional, arranged by William Walker

  • Run, Child, Run

Traditional spiritual

Traditional

Written by Wallis Willis

Traditional spiritual

  • I've Heard of a City Called Heaven

Spiritual

Music by Artie Matthews
Performed by Gussie Smith.

Release and critical appraisal[edit]

The Blood of Jesus was screened in cinemas and in black churches.[7] The film's commercial success enabled Williams to direct and write additional feature films for Sack Amusement Enterprises, including two films with religious themes: Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942) and Go Down Death (1944).[9]

For years, The Blood of Jesus was considered a lost film until prints were discovered in the mid-1980s in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas.[10]

Critical appraisal of The Blood of Jesus has been positive, with Dave Kehr of The New York Times calling the film “magnificent”[11] and J. Hoberman of The Village Voice stating it is “a masterpiece of folk cinema that has scarcely lost its power to astonish.”[7] Time magazine counted it among its “25 Most Important Films on Race.”[10] Historian Thomas Cripps, in his book Black Film as Genre, praised The Blood of Jesus for providing “a brief anatomy of Southern Baptist folk theology by presenting Christian myth in literal terms. From its opening voiceover, the film became an advocate for the most enduring traditions of Afro-American family life on Southern ground.”[12]

Filmmaker Julie Dash cited the baptismal sequence in The Blood of Jesus as the inspiration for a similar scene from her 1991 feature film Daughters of the Dust.[13] In 1991, The Blood of Jesus became the first race film to be added to the U.S. National Film Registry.[5]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  2. ^ Kehr, Dave. "U.S. FILM REGISTRY ADDS 25 'SIGNIFICANT' MOVIES". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  3. ^ “The Blood of Jesus”-Overview, Turner Classic Movies
  4. ^ New York Times / AllMovie Guide overview
  5. ^ a b “The Bootleg Files: The Blood of Jesus,” Film Threat, September 1, 2006
  6. ^ Mediums: The Black Female Spirit Medium in Film Culture,” University of Chicago[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ a b c “Micheaux and Williams: Titans of 'Race' Cinema,” Village Voice, March 18, 2008
  8. ^ “Jazz on the screen : A Jazz and Blues Filmography,” Library of Congress
  9. ^ “Spencer Williams,” AfricanAmericans.com Archived 2009-01-01 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b “The 25 Most Important Films on Race,” Time Magazine
  11. ^ “A Troubled Past, but Promise for the Future,” The New York Times, October 1, 2004
  12. ^ “The Blood of Jesus,” Turner Classic Movies Archives
  13. ^ “Histories and Influences:Independent African American Cinema and More,” Geechee.tv (Julie Dash web site) Archived 2002-02-28 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]