Skip to main content

Jesus Christ Superstar: Do you think you're who they say you are?

I watched Jesus Christ Superstar the other night, and I have to tell you--despite my adamant avoidance of organized religion--it actually made me want to pick up a Bible and read some of it. (Unfortunately, it turns out neither The Boyfriend nor I own one, so I had to let that desire pass.)

As a movie, it's cinematically interesting, though very obviously 70s. The idea of "framing" the production with the travelling theater troupe instead of trying to go for period realism was very smart and makes it easier to accept the costuming and set choices and enjoy the music and acting. (After all, if you spend the whole movie wondering to yourself why Judas is wearing bedazzled, fringed bellbottoms, you are probably going to miss out on the real point of the thing.) Also, I think the very minimalist set design simplifies a production that--being a rock opera with no breaks and no real "dialogue"--could quickly become overwhelming.

The performances from all the actors were great. Not only could they all rock out, but there was real ACTING going on. Ted Neely as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas were particularly excellent. It is not easy to do "projecting emotion" and "shrieking melodically in falsetto" at the same time, and the two of them pull it off.

My favorite thing about this movie has got to be the music. With a collaboration between such musical giants as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, you can probably put pretty good odds on getting something amazing, but for a project as large and complicated as this, I have to tip my hat to them. As I said before, there is NO real dialogue. Everyone sings, and one song fades into another, only to circle around and return at the opportune moment. The music, once again, is very 70s, but it's still quite powerful. This is music that I intend to purchase for my iPod.

The other thing I liked was how much the movie made me think about Jesus--not Jesus the religious figure, but Jesus the guy. I mean, how totally stressful must it be to be Jesus? Everybody wants something from you--the Jewish leaders/Pharisees want you to shut up, the people want you to be louder, your apostles and followers want leadership and guidance and information, everybody wants to be healed or fixed or prayed for--"Heal me! Raise my dead child! Feed me!", and then you've got God who is telling you you have to die for these people. Neely plays Jesus as someone who desperately wants to be everything to everyone, but he's in over his head and knows that things will not end well for him. He's the first cinematic Jesus I've seen with a temper--he's not just a meek sweetheart, the scene where he throws the moneychangers out of the temple is Jesus-in-full-on-rage-mode. He's not afraid, precisely, but he seems to kind of wish he had other options.

The other interesting thing about this movie is the way Judas is presented. Growing up in the protestant church, we didn't get into Judas much. Mostly "Judas betrayed Jesus for 3o pieces of silver." Nothing much was said about who he was or why he did what he did. Basically, he was always depicted as a shady, shitty guy who turned Jesus in for money. In Jesus Christ; Superstar, Judas starts as Jesus's best friend and closest ally. However, Judas is worried about the "Jesus Movement" and afraid that Jesus is going to get them all killed by the Romans for riling up the political waters with his teachings, instead of just helping the downtrodden, which is what they started out doing. Their differences are more political than anything else--Jesus is the rising outsider superstar with the grassroots support, and Judas is afraid the established order (the Romans and the Pharisees) is going to retaliate unless Jesus cools it. But Jesus of course does not really give a shit one way or another about the established order, because after all, he's on another path completely. Judas ends up turning in Jesus--in his mind--to save him from falling victim to his own hype, not realizing he was playing into the Pharisees' hands, nor understand how quickly the mob could turn from adoration to violence.

One of the best parts in the movie is Judas's slowly dawning understanding of what he's done--and the fact that Jesus knew all along and let him do it anyway. Jesus knew very well how everything would turn out--that Juda's actions would lead to the cross, of how the guilt of what he'd done would eat away at Judas--but he just let it play out as he knew it must. Judas's realization of how he's been used and what his future holds is heartwrenching.

Rock operas are clearly not for everyone, and there are one or two songs that go on a bit too long or have a bit too much shrieking, but on the whole it's an interesting movie, particularly for those who are maybe a little jaded on religion. I recommend it.


Popular posts from this blog

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #5 Borgin Keep by Ron Ripley

I've read the entire Berkeley Street series, as well as the Haunted series, and I think this was definitely one of the better offerings. This time, former Marine Shane and his slowly growing band of willing (and unwilling) ghost hunting allies face their biggest challenge yet. While the ghosts of Borgin Keep are both very dangerous and very evil, Shane also must keep one step ahead of The Watchers, a ruthless and powerful organization who find him to be a threat to their shadowy goals.

As always, for me the best part are the characters. Shane and his ghost-hunting partner Frank (a former soldier/former monk) are joined once again by police detective Marie LaFontaine, who is a very tough woman determined to avenge a dead friend. I'm not as fond of Shane's girlfriend Courtney, but I understand her uses as far as character development.

The plot moves along quickly, and I found this book a little better fleshed out than a few of the previous ones in the series -- while I enjoye…