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Saw this in its original release, on a spring afternoon school trip to a
large movie theater on Long Island, which is sadly gone now, like most large
single movie theaters. I was so moved by this film that i wore out the
soundtrack within a couple of years.
And speaking of buildings being gone, it's so poignant now to see the World Trade Center in this film while it was nearing its completion. With the cast singing the end of the song "All For The Best" on top of one of the towers, how eerie to think that spot doesn't exist anymore. (Also strange that in the beginning of the film, as John the Baptist wheels his cart off the Brooklyn Bridge, the camera pans to show the skyline, and with the Twin Towers there, there's a sound segue to the street scenes...and it's the sound of a jet engine!)
But maybe its appropriate that this film has moments of the Twin Towers in its infancy. Not only in the beginning, in the gorgeous first shot from under the Brooklyn Bridge, and in the song segment...but also when Jesus is on the pier and speaks away from everyone, and the Towers are there again in the shot behind him to the right.
In an odd way, this movie that always meant a lot to me, and count me in as one of the non-religious people out there...its one of the ONLY ways i can see the World Trade Center and feel happy. What other films that shot right at the Twin Towers have the life-affirming qualities that "Godspell" has? I don't know of any, to be honest.
And on that note, I always push this film to people, as one of the outstanding New York movies. Except for the mansion scene...you're at all these exterior locales, with New York empty of people...and to this very day, Manhattan comes alive with memories of this film when i come to a certain location. (Bethesda Fountain was first viewed by me in this film...so every time i go there, one guess what comes to mind.)
Watching it as an adult far from 1973, do I think the film would have aged better with less goofy voices from the performers? Sure. Could the film have been a little longer with the excised songs from the original song still in? You bet, and it still wouldn't have been longer than 105 minutes. Is the ending still one of THE best endings I've seen in a movie musical? Hands down, yes. How brilliant. No stage version of "Godspell" could have done that. Jesus' teachings still matter to many people in the modern day. (And yeah...get past the 1973 fashions and cars...all those scenes of modern NY in the beginning, and the last shot, still hold true today.)
Lastly, for those who were shell-shocked by Mel Gibson's film...i say use this as an alternative. Religious faith needs some smiles and toe-tapping now and then.....
even though it was really hard to get on DVD we finally did and i was just blown away it is so good!!!!!by my side is the best and prettiest song i love it...the movie rocks and i want all strict religious people to watch this and see the real meaning of religion!!!!they portrait religion as such a violet thing to us with all the damnation and hells and literally scare us with that which does not accomplish anything...yet there is a musical like god spell which is so light and loving that shows us the great side of Jesus and how he himself was human and we could be like that instead of some Saviour no one ever can be like...i think schools should show this movie to all kids...i love this movie and i hope everyone reading this will watch it..its so worth it..and the actors and actresses are really talented...
The story of "Godspell" is not one of the Christ's Passion, it's not
about the angst among his disciples or the sexual tension he had with
Mary Magdalen. It's a positive story focusing on Jesus' teachings and
parables, told in a lighthearted way, with some outstanding music and
spectacular location photography (particularly in the song "It's All
for the Best").
While the hippie-like costuming and the semi-clown makeup seem to outrage some folks, and are admittedly dated today, the movie should be looked at in the context in which it was created. Jesus, in the eyes of those in power during his life, was a radical extremist and a threat to the status quo. He taught lessons of love, empowerment, inclusion, justice--well, you get the idea. Hippie clowns were the logical vehicle to present those lessons at the time "Godspell" hit the big screen.
But when you get past the period set and costume design, and to the basic show, "Godspell" is a wonderful entertainment. First, and most often mentioned by everyone, is the amazing location photography. You have to see it to appreciate it. Next is the music. Although the most commercial song in the show is the repetitive "Day by Day," the one song that most people remember from "Godspell", there are many beautiful melodies. My favorite is "By My Side", the only one with the music NOT written by the composer, Stephen Schwartz. It has beautiful harmonies, and Katie Hanley does a great job on lead vocal. The rest of the songs are nearly as good, and all are quite singable.
About the cast: Victor Garber (Jesus) is the most recognizable today, although for years, until her untimely death, Lynne Thigpen would probably have been recognized by more people. Garber has had quite a successful theatrical career, and has appeared in supporting roles in many movies and TV shows. Ms. Thigpen, who was mostly known for her PBS shows, had an award-winning stage career, as well as being very successful on the small screen.
Sadly, David Haskell (John the Baptist/Judas) and Jeffrey Mylett are no longer with us. I won't list the entire cast, since you can find that easily enough (if you're reading this, you probably already have!), but I will say that they ALL sang very well and displayed personalities that made you want to get to know them. The passing of musicals as a staple of the movie studio probably prevented these talented singer/actors from reaching a broader audience. I hope that they've all found success on stage.
At the very least, I hope that they all know how their lively, engaging performances and beautiful singing have brightened our lives. It's been over thirty years since I first saw "Godspell" in the theater, and as I watched it yesterday on cable TV, I was reminded how much that movie meant to me.
And by the way, I'm not a Christian. But if I were, I'd like to be one as portrayed in "Godspell".
Many people have difficulty accepting a film that dates itself by the first glance, (The hair, clothes, music, etc...), but once you accept it's generation, sit back and ENJOY! GODSPELL is a musical that works on delivering a powerful message while at the same time being entertaining and enjoyable without being "PREACHY." This movie is simple enough to attract children and still hold it's adults in this classy Sunday School lesson. This was the first movie I saw on a personal tv I got for Christmas as a child, and it made such an impact. As a teenager, I had the honor of being in the high school addaption of GODSPELL, and now, as an adult, I can sit back and enjoy it all over again with my 3 year old daughter, who LOVES this movie. The music is infectious, the costumes are colorful, and the parables are entertaining and faith-building. It's a shame that GODSPELL fell in the shadow of that OTHER hippy Jesus movie (not worth mentioning). This one is a STAND-OUT film, worthy of it's viewing, over, and over , and over again.
Godspell reminds us of a culture long gone, peace demonstrations,
flower power, "big hair", bright colours, folk rock music, and loud
expressive clothing. These are the props of choice the directors use to
communicate the gospel message. The film itself is dated now but viewed
in the context of early seventies culture it contains a powerful and
relevant message that impacted on a searching audience.
Godspell was conceived by John Michael Tebelak, who upon reading the gospels discovered joy, - "Joy! I found a great joy, a simplicity" However a visit to a church to experience this joy was totally disappointing, he knew at once what he must do.
Tebelak brings his discovery alive by way of the gospel of Matthew; his set is central New York City, a place over flowing with people caught in the hustle and bustle of daily routine. Out of the crowds he separates his cast, setting them free from the mundane routines of daily inner city life. They come together at a fountain where they frolic in the water seemingly without any care for the routines they have left behind. John played by David Haskell baptises each one in turn, Jesus played by Victor Garber appears and he to is baptised, rising from the water complete with superman tee shirt symbolically marking him as "master". The cast then is set apart as the "masters" disciples as each receives the symbolic mark of Jesus with face paint. Together now, dressed in flamboyant opp shop clothing, vibrant colours, face paint and "big" hair they have developed a sense of community that stands out in this over sized set, they have become a band of disciples.
The band proceeds through the empty city stopping at significant landmarks to play out messages from the gospel. These messages are focused on the teachings of Christ mainly through the parables, interestingly the disciples participate in the teaching, this gives a sense of inclusiveness that draws the audience into the message. Most of the critical points of the gospel are covered, such as Gethsemane, the last supper, the betrayal, and the crucifixion which at first seems a little bizarre but it also gives one a sense of participation and connectiveness, however the resurrection is left out. Their teaching is supported by the use of song and music, mime and dance, coupled with comedy; this blend achieves the joyful portrayal of the gospel that Tebelak desired.
The portrayal of Jesus as a clown may have been offensive to some, however this reviewer found it to be refreshing, the clown communicates joy while communicating the seriousness of the gospel message. He reminds us that the gospel is a message of great joy and humility, love and peace, of triumph and victory. However in saying that there are some aspects that don't fit with our understanding, for instance the betrayal scene, Jesus kisses Judas. Then it does finish with a question hanging over it, that being, why no resurrection scene? Or maybe there was, perhaps the grand finale represents the risen Jesus, carried lifted high into the crowded streets, it gives a sense of inclusiveness, that somehow Jesus lives on in each one of us.
A fun movie that you just have to participate with, and at the same time a serious message is communicated.
The hit Broadway musical Godspell was a contemporary adaptation of episodes
from the Gospel According to St. Matthew. In 1972, its original Producers,
Edgar Lansbury, Stuart Duncan and Joseph Beruh, decided to bring the Stephen
Schwartz/Jon-Michael Tebelak musical to the screen themselves, with a view
toward maintaining as densely as possible the artistic integrity of their
original stage version.
That said, the film version merits special reference in light of the recent deaths of two of its principals: David Greene, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, with Tebelak; and actress/singer Lynne Thigpen, who was a member of the 10-actor ensemble cast of the film.
Set in a New York City not yet recognizable to a generation destined to grow up in the shadow of 9/11, Godspell the movie is highlighted with spectacular moments that are best described as incredible. Its expanded opening number begins silently on the Brooklyn Bridge, as David Haskell, portraying both John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot, walks into the heart of Manhattan, hoping that his fellow New Yorkers will indeed "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Jesus, portrayed by Victor Garber (who had a tremendous singing voice in those days), is depicted as a kind of manchild/Superman icon, determined to save the world through his ministry of three years. The ten actors then cavort across the screen over the next 95 or so minutes, telling parables in a raucously funny, delightfully rockin' manner.
In its final sequences, however, the film turns understandably dark, as Garber/Jesus confronts his ultimate destiny. Before long, the epic Finale, in which Garber, tied by his wrists to a chain-link fence, depicts the Crucifixion in horrifyingly simple terms; all the while, the other nine actors scream horribly as the rocking Schwartz score howls to its otherworldly symphonic conclusion.
With the coming of the dawn, the actors carry off their "dead" leader and vanish into the maelstrom of Manhattan, in a closing image that will shake you to its foundations, even as you groove to Paul Shaffer's awesome keyboard action during the expanded end-credit sequence.
The present generation knows Lynne Thigpen as a brilliant actress/singer and performer whose subsequent knack for portraying motherly or grandmotherly roles was no doubt spawned by her experience in the Godspell movie. To a whole universe of kids, however, she will always be known as simply "The Chief." If you were, as I was, a regular viewer of PBS Kids' Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and its eventual spinoff, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, you need not be made familiar with the Chief. She was tough, motherly, no-nonsense --- but she knew how to teach fans a thing or two, whether it was the power of geography or the realm of history.
Director David Greene, who died at the age of 82, was the fellow responsible for bringing the spectacular images of the Godspell film to the screen. It remains perhaps his most famous such feature, the only one wherein one could suggest that he was properly in tune with the youth of the 70s. Perhaps, even now, it is this that causes most folks to compare this film against Norman Jewison's film version of Jesus Christ Superstar. Both films, frankly, are what they are. No more, no less.
Enjoy, then, Godspell the movie --- but remember that you are also witnessing the blossoming of two of the unique talents who brought it to life: David Greene, director; Lynne Thigpen, star. So long, you two. We'll miss ya.
I remember seeing this film a very long time ago with my father when it was
released in theaters. I just recently saw it again on TV and was just as
dazzled as I was the first time (although I admit, to fully appreciate this
movie, it is best seen on a large screen). The film is gorgeous to look at,
and the whole feel is carnival-like. The songs are as fresh as they were in
1973, catchy and light-hearted, and yet touching. The young cast seems to be
having a great time--and it's interesting that their characters (except for
Jesus, played by Victor Garber) all use their real names.
Titanic fans will be interested in seeing the 23-year old Victor Garber (who played the ship's builder Thomas Andrews) as Jesus, and not only is he gorgeous to look at, he has a beautiful singing voice as well. It mystifies me why Garber never got more leading roles in movies. Far superior to the dreary opera that came out the same year, "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Just watched the DVD of this and enjoyed hearing how well the music has
up over the years! You can't watch the movie without humming along to the
My high school did this for the school play and it sure brought back a lot of memories!
I was real sorry to hear that Lynne had passed away....her solo was one of the standouts in my opinion....her talent (as well as the talent of the others who have passed) will be missed.
Although I have had the soundtrack to this movie since I was a little girl
(and LOVED it), I only just rented it and I was pleasantly surprised at how
relevant this supposedly "dated" film still seems. In using real NYC
locations, this film wisely eschewed a hokey fantasy-carnival setting that
the "vaudeville troupe" feel of the stage play might have suggested (and
"The Fantasticks" later went with). I was particularly moved by the use of
Bethsaida Fountain (recently used in "Angels in America"), and the visual
reference to the Statue of Liberty during the line "you are the light of the
world." As a "New York movie," this has got to rank right up there with
"Annie Hall" or "Moonstruck."
While I don't believe that the historical Jesus skipped and bounced when he
was preaching, Victor Garber's Christ continues the tradition that Jesus was
both human and divine, the incarnation of Love. It's a very thoughtful,
nuanced performance. For me, as a twentysomething, it's very moving to see
a representation of Jesus around my age (because, of course, in the Bible
Jesus disappears between the ages of 12 and 30). And, for the record, the
typing of Jesus as a clown dates to the Medieval mystery plays.
I was most struck by David Haskell's performance as John/Judas. This character both loves Jesus best and questions him the most, and in that, I think, represents the polarities of belief that everyone goes through, no matter their faith. Haskell is the strongest singer in the cast and has a sort of smoldering intensity that would not be expected of a young stage actor. The rest of the ensemble makes up in enthusiasm and vocal verve what they may lack in camera experience. They present the parables of Jesus in a way that is easy to understand but not blasphemous... Jesus says "Rejoice" but he makes no bones about the punishment for sin, either. In sum, "Godspell" is campy and dated, yes, but it's altogether a pleasant piece... in times like these, I daresay we need a smiling Jesus more than we need Mel Gibson's bloody, tortured Christ.
I still love this movie. More because of the music than the film
itself. I think it's interesting to follow actors' careers over the
years. Victor Garber (Jesus) has been a very prolific actor over the
years. His most recent is that of Jack Bristow on TV's Alias.
One of the other actors is Lynne Thigpen who later went on to play the police captain on "Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego?" and most recently as Ellie Mae Farmer in "The District" before her untimely death. She had a beautiful singing voice.
In one of the scenes notice that they are dancing on top of the World Trade Center as it is still being built. There are several scenes when you can see it in the background about 3/4 finished.
This is an important film for its historical content. The Jesus Movement was big around 1973-74. At the time, many of the hippie set were trying to make Jesus out to be nothing more than a guru. This film was a solid attempt to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus while still portraying him as the Messiah rather than just a spiritual leader.
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