Parable (1964)

2012 National Film Registry


In the 1930s, a number of Protestant groups, concerned about the perceived meretricious effects of Hollywood films, began producing non-theatrical motion pictures to spread the gospel of Jesus. One of the most acclaimed and controversial films in this tradition, “Parable” debuted at the New York World’s Fair in May 1964 as the main attraction of the Protestant and Orthodox Center. Without aid of dialogue or subtitles, the film relies on music and an allegorical story that represents the “Circus as the World,” in the words of Rolf Forsberg, who wrote and co-directed the film with Tom Rook for the Protestant Council of New York. “Parable” depicts Jesus as an enigmatic, chalk-white, skull-capped circus clown who takes on the sufferings of oppressed workers, including women and minorities. The fair’s president Robert Moses sought to have it withdrawn. Other fair organizers resigned with one exclaiming, “No one is going to make a clown out of my Jesus.” A disgruntled minister threatened to riddle the screen with shotgun holes if the film was shown. Undaunted, viewers voted overwhelmingly to keep the film running, and it became one of the fair’s most popular attractions. The Fellini- and Bergman-inspired film received the 1966 Religious Film Award of the National Catholic Theatre Conference, along with honors at the 1966 Cannes, Venice and Edinburgh film festivals.

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