Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Stumbled onto this article whilst surfing the internet today. From the good folks at the AVclub:
The almighty righteousness of Jesus Christ Superstar

I really liked it, because the article said so many things that I've always thought myself:

Always somewhat culturally marginal, even at the height of its original popularity, the strange countercultural take on the Synoptic Gospels known as Jesus Christ Superstar has gone in and out of acceptability since its release—at times considered cool, at others utterly beyond-the-pale lame—and grown increasingly forgotten by all but the most extreme theater nerds, which as far as I can tell are the only subcategory of the music-fandom population that has always worshipped it.
Okay, small nitpick--it's not only the Synoptics.  The dialogue that Jesus has with Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar actually comes from the Gospel of John.
But that nitpick aside, he's right.  Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a bit oddly on the margins of popular culture.

But the fact is that, despite what most rock music fans may think (either because they hate Broadway musicals, religion, or both), Jesus Christ Superstar is not a corny attempt at hippying up the Bible, like its vastly inferior, non-rock Broadway musical contemporary Godspell, nor is it an example of that lamest of rock genres, born-again fundamentalist Christian rock. What it is, on the contrary, is a truly great rock record, and a fantastic movie—one that deserves to be pulled off the shelf of pop-cultural history, dusted off, and listened to again. It’s the perfect thing to play this time of year. And it’s best played loud.
Again, so true!  I've always felt this musical never got the recognition it deserved

In a word, the film is awesome. However wildly misunderstood (accused, for example, of being anti-Semitic because of the villainous Pharisee priests, the film was, in reality, directed by the same guy who made Fiddler On The Roof, Norman Jewison) and however dated stylistically (everybody’s dressed, to put it baldly, like hippies) it remains immensely powerful. The scene where the jeopardy of Roman-occupied Judea is conveyed by a line of tanks coming over the horizon line is still startling, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene has the voice of an angel, and the climactic musical number is a showstopper by Carl Anderson. And the sequence where Neeley sings “Gethsemane” contains one minute and 20 seconds in a row that are not only a high point in the history of rock vocals but one of the most dramatic moments in any movie I know.
There’s a reason that vicious punk bands like Scratch Acid and Cows covered songs from JCS—they fucking rock, and hard. “The 39 Lashes” alone is one of the punkest things you’re likely to see in a major motion picture, and this was all from before punk. Yes, the music was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who would go on to create some of the most annoying (and un-rocking) Broadway hits of the ’80s, what can I tell you? Apparently the guy only had one masterpiece in him. But a masterpiece it is.

My thoughts exactly!
(I've previously spoken of my fondness for Jesus Christ Superstar here. )

Ted Neeley is good, but for my money, Ian Gillian rocks a bit harder

Part of the genius of Jesus Christ, Superstar is that it's a secular treatment of the story, but not a sneering atheist approach.  They don't seek to diminish the story.  Instead, they realize that there's still a great potential for drama behind this story, even if you don't believe in the supernatural element of it.  This comes through perfectly in the 39 Lashes song.  It's a secular treatment of this story, but it still manages to wring more pathos, and drama, and tragedy, and feeling out of it than any Christian version I've seen.


Whisky Prajer said...

It's true: Godspell gets all the love, even though it pales in comparison. Weird.

Joel Swagman said...

You know, I've never seen Godspell. I really ought to check it out one of these days just for curiosity's sake. I feel like I've spent my whole life hearing about it.

I think Godspell was big in Christian circles in the 80s. I remember my teachers talking about it from time to time. Is that your recollection?
I don't hear much about Godspell nowadays. I get the impression that it's kind of forgotten by today's generation. But then, I'm living out of the country, so I'm out of touch.