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Colyngbourne 19th Mar 2008 16:09

Jesus Christ Superstar
As I'm leading a three hour youth vigil on Maunday Thursday in the wee hours, I've been watching versions of Jesus Christ Superstar in order to play selected excerpts that will get the assembled teens to the desired "3am + sleep" point. And nothing quite hits the mark. The muscial is an intensely personal take on the gospel stories and mangles a fair bit of theology in the presentation of Judas's case but that aside, what do we find in the two filmed versions, [edit]twenty-seven years apart?

I gather Ted Neeley, as Jesus in 1973, was a bit of a controversial choice: some hated him, others feel he nailed something about the Lloyd-Webber/Rice part, as well as something nailing him.... For me, he was a bit too weasely and thin-voiced. The setting is perfect though - filmed in Israel, even to the extent of the Israeli army coming over the hills in tanks when Simon Zealotes is freakishly dancing his way into what he thinks is Jesus's coming Jewish revolution. Judas is less demonstrably in Jesus's face than in the 2000 version, where the personal antagonism is over-exaggerated to the degree that you wonder what Jesus had against this guy. The subletly of the lyrics are intended to both set us alongside Judas but also see through his self-justification and misleading interpretation of Jesus' actions.

Glenn Carter in 2000 is a mite too girly, with long curling locks and a bit of a wussy face. When he's not writhing in angst or frowning in a mean way at Judas (and of course the other disciples copy him), he does do a reasonable job, particularly as the Passion story starts (the handing over in Gethsemane and everything after), and he has something reasonable to look miserable about. His bearing becomes more the 'suffering servant' and yet startling enough to make Pilate step back in awe and shame. And where the 1973 film cast leave Jesus still on the cross as they step onto their tour bus, the set-filmed version gives that vital hint of the resurrection that I feel is contained in the final instrumental piece (entitled John 19:41), with light playing on the face of the deposed Christ, and the final major chords of the musical giving way to the dazzling light of the cross.

Comparatively, 1973 wins for a Christopher Biggins-style Herod, complete with props for his song (Rik Mayall fails utterly) and a table-turning scene in the Temple/market that gets across the real anger of jesus; 2000 wins for a superb Pilate and generally cooler looking disciples. So I'm picking 2000 for an hour's-worth of clips on Thursday night: I suspect the young folk would find it difficult to get past the Seventies haircuts and fashions to appreciate the musical itself. Wouldn't it have been good though to have had a version filmed from the 1973 album - my definite 'listening' version of JCS - with Gillan as Jesus (a strong voice with plenty of screaming potential but also quietly strong in the tender songs) and Murray Head as Judas.

***00½ for both versions.

vald 19th Mar 2008 17:48

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
I haven't seen the newer version Col, but I do quite like Jesus in the 70's version. In fact, I seem to remember liking pretty much all of the cast, with a really good, energetic, hippyish vibe. The setting, as you say, was really good, and one of the standout songs has to be Mary Magdalene's. Was it Yvonne Elliman singing it, I'm not sure. Anyway, the best screen Jesus has to be Robert Powell doesn't it? Anyone agree? I haven't actually watched the Beeb's version of the Passion yet, I've got it taped, so the actor there may be equally as good. But I love the RP version. In fact, it's that time of year again to have a re-viewing. Great stuff.

Colyngbourne 19th Mar 2008 18:25

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
It was Yvonne Elliman, yes. I liked most of the cast but Jesus didn't have a strong enough voice - it was thin and inadequate for some of the songs. I do like Robert Powell's Jesus but I played the final twenty minutes of Jesus of Nazareth at the close of the vigil I led last year and it felt dated when I was viewing it through the pre-teens/teens' eyes.

I haven't watched all of The Passion yet - we're taping it, and I saw Monday's mini-ep: but that was pretty good, and Jesus is very striking. He has an unusual face and very perceptive eyes. I think it will turn out to be an impressive addition to the canon of Easter dramas.

vald 19th Mar 2008 18:55

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
Oh good, I look forward to watching that version. I've heard it's quite naturalistic, that is, concentrating more on the realism than the mystery of the story. Just so long as it's not in the same "realistic" manner as the Mel Gibson version, which I have to admit to not having seen, as I don't think I could stomach it.

Colyngbourne 19th Mar 2008 19:07

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
No, I would not watch the Mel Gibson film for all kinds of reasons, including the gore. The brutal bits in the 2000 version are more symbolic - you don't see the nails going in really, and at the flogging, people come up and strike Jesus' torso with their hands, like a slap, leaving bloody streaks as if he has been whipped. Visually it's highly effective and you still have the sound of the whip on the soundtrack.

Russell 20th Mar 2008 13:10

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
This is one modest vote for the Mel Gibson film. Not in place of any votes for JCS, and certainly not over and above any votes for JCS, but a vote nevertheless, alongside of all other votes and in addition to them, because I found Jesus Christ Superstar thrilling and inspirational when I first heard the soundtrack for the early version and then, when seeing Mel Gibson's Passion, experienced the brutality of the times and of the Crucifixion. It seems to me that both the inspirational and the brutal aspects of the story are necessary for its full comprehension. The Savior did suffer, and he did Rise. Both.

vald 20th Mar 2008 13:19

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
The Savior did suffer, and he did Rise. Both.
Very true Russell, but I can't help feeling Gibson's motives were not really just to show us that, but probably had more to do with ratings, and his own rather, shall we say, "macho" temperament.

The Passion of the Christ is on C4 tonight, (Easter Monday) if anyone's interested.

pandop 24th Mar 2008 16:31

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar

Originally Posted by Colyngbourne (Post 87679)
I liked most of the cast but Jesus didn't have a strong enough voice - it was thin and inadequate for some of the songs.

I watched this for the first time this weekend and am inclinded to agree. He certainly didn't seem to have been chosen for his voice. Which was a shame, as everyone else had been so good.

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