Jesus Christ Superstar

Through the magic of Hulu, I was able to watch the entirety of the 1973 film adaptation of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. It's shockingly more watchable and interesting than you would think. It's a funky retelling of Jesus' final week and passion. It develops minor roles from the gospels, like Judas and Mary Magdalene, but ultimately respects the accepts the traditional story.

1. The beginning and end of the film make it seem like some young adults came to the middle of the desert to some ruins to stage a hip, new passion play. They arrive on a bus in normal clothes and quickly change into vaguely first century garb and pull a giant cross off the top of the bus. At the end of the film, they all get back into the bus, but just a little more pensive. I'm not sure what that's supposed to imply other than a good excuse for why everything looks so cheap and minimalist.

2. Reading the bible you forget that Jesus must have had quite the entourage following him around. The "superstar" status that he must have built up to be a threat to the Sanhedrin probably was a lot more raucous than what I usually imagine. Interestingly in this film, the combination of the Christ entourage and 70s inspired dance moves and dress draws a connection between the many movements of the 60s and 70s. It seems that part of this 1st century movement managed to have an impact for 2000 more years.

The kids in the Jesus/anti-Rome movement. (Starts at about a minute in.) Also, the really enthusiastic Simon Zealotes trying to get Jesus to go all Lucifer.

3. I like the idea of Judas being a sympathetic character. While you can't gather the reasons for his betrayal in the standard gospels, you can read in between the lines that he had other motivations besides greed. In this version of the story, he noticed that the crowd was getting out of hand and Jesus and his followers were drawing too much attention to themselves so he took the only action he could think of to save them all.

I know I posted this song before, but it's so well written and Carl Anderson gives a great vocal performance.

4. We get to see a fairly conflicted character of Jesus in this film. While it's assumed that he is what the gospels declare he is, the film also shows Jesus struggle with the demanding crowds, a betraying apostle, and also questioning God why he has to die--all while singing at the top of his rock opera lungs. And Ted Neeley does a pretty good job of navigating through one of the most idealized and enigmatic people/characters/concepts ever.

5. Mary Magdalene (played by the 70s pop star Yvonne Elliman) is also developed a little, with the lovely "I Don't Know How to Love Him." The song expresses her confusion about how she feels about Jesus, which may or may not be romantically. Perhaps she's grappling with Jesus' special nature. But I think this, more than anything, develops the idea that he's someone ineffably different: the Christ.

5. The title song's performance only competes with the final sequence from All That Jazz in flamboyantness. In fact, I think it's quite distracting from the lyrics of the song, which is quite thoughtful. But, I guess fringe and girls in half shirts are all part of the message...?

Carl Anderson as Judas singing it out.

6.Conclusion: Jesus Christ Superstar is an interesting retelling of Christ's last week that with catchy rock music that gives the story more tangible emotion than a usual retelling.

7. The film and other links for Easter:
Jesus Christ Superstar on Hulu
Fantastic talk by Jeffery R. Holland from last week, "None Were with Him"
History of Easter eggs from my sister

1 comment:

  1. So on your word I've been gleaning clips from YouTube all night (appropriately Easter-flavored?) and this is AMAZING. Particularly Simon Zealotes' number--all though crazy zealots in the hot sun and the dust DANCING like it was no-thing. Completely awe-inspiring. Much thanks my dear.