Jeffrey Spivak examines how Berkeley's career evolved from creating musical numbers for other directors in films such as 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) to directing his own pictures, such as Strike up the Band (1940) and The Gang's All Here (1943). Though Berkeley claimed he was no choreographer, his movies revitalized the public's waning interest in musical pictures. While other popular filmmakers advertised their works specifically as nonmusical, Berkeley embraced his niche, eventually becoming the premier dance director of his time.
However, the happy face Berkeley presented publicly did not necessarily reflect his life. Offstage and away from the set, the director met with scandal, and his fondness for liquor and women was well known. In September 1935, he was involved in a car accident that left three people dead and four others severely injured. Accused of driving under the influence, he was put on trial for second-degree murder. The accident significantly changed the nature of his stardom.
This timely examination considers the life of Jesus as it has been portrayed in such films as King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Passion of the Christ, as well as the more allusive and implicit use of Christ-related themes in Spartacus, Shane, and The Matrix. It looks at the diverse content and often-surprising impact of these and other films, and reveals how these depictions have helped determine, and been determined by, particularly American notions of who Jesus was, how he lived and died, and what he means for both our religious and secular cultures.
Through an objective consideration of these movies, the emergent religious culture of mainstream American film becomes apparent as a central element in Hollywood movies--and in American popular culture at large.