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Passion play

Christ on the
Mount of Olives (above)

Denis Clark

Denis Clark ’70's movie-poster discoveries led to an introduction to the organizers of this year's Passion Play in Oberammergau.

On the home page: Christ is condemned at the hands of Pontius Pilate

Passion Play photos courtesy of Passion Play Oberammergau 2010

May 2010

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Theatre alum connects with centuries-old tradition through an old movie poster

While satisfying a hobby-turned-business, one of St. Norbert’s first theatre majors stumbled across an artifact he won’t soon forget.

Make that two artifacts.

Denis Clark ’70 was an educator at Xavier University in Cincinnati before switching career paths, and turning passion into business. As an expert in motion picture advertising, Clark’s primary clients are collectors, film stars, curators and historians.

“Three years ago, I was going through a list of posters being offered by a friend,” said Clark. “On it was a poster entitled ‘The Passion Play.’ ” His brain clicked, remembering a trip he made to Oberammergau with a group of Xavier choral students years ago.  

The Oberammergau Passion Play has been performed by the people of the village since 1634. After months of suffering from the bubonic plague, the town vowed that, if God spared them, they’d perform the play every 10 years. The play, now a major artistic event performed throughout the summer, still depends on its local cast.

Clark bought the 1898 poster and attributes finding the second poster, for a movie of the 1934 production, to “pure luck.”

“I was at a convention and had the title on my want list. A seller, who saw the list, was happy to sell the poster to me because most religious film posters are usually not collectable,” said Clark. Certainly the seller wasn’t familiar with Oberammergau: 1934 was the 300th anniversary of the play, and the production became controversial after it was exploited in Nazi propaganda.

In May, Clark exhibited at a German Filmboerse in Bottrop. He used the opportunity to visit Oberammergau and present the poster to Helmut Klinner, archive director of the Passion Play Museum, and was consequently invited to attend the opening performance of the Passion Play, May 15, in company with three German friends.

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