Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
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The most interesting thing about this film is that it was set in "modern" times, rather than in biblical times. Roman soldiers wearing shiny helmets, and carrying machine guns is a real attention grabber. The ruins used in the film added another fascinating aspect to the production. In short, the anachronistic approach in the visuals, the lyrics, and the music itself make this a genuinely unique, and clever film.
I thought all the acting, singing, and dancing was great, and still appears to be rather fresh and modern. The lyrics were the most memorable of any movie I've ever seen. There were many of us that could quickly memorize the entire opera from listening to the soundtrack (no videos back then), and have much fun "play acting" ourselves.
The use of Judas as a primary character was probably the single most important aspect of the film. One has to wonder how Judas became one of the inner circle of disciples if he was such an evil crud to begin with. In church he is simply mentioned as being a traitor. The film/musical asks us to think more on this individual, and speculate as to his true nature as a human being. The only other person I know of that attempted to do this was Taylor Caldwell in her novel "I Judas". The point that the crucifixion/resurrection hinged on the betrayal of Judas, should make any Christian wonder if God actually worked through him, and that he wasn't actually "damned for all time."
People seem to be offended by the light-hearted (and hysterically funny!) "King Herod's Song." What does the Bible say about this meeting? Certainly it doesn't say that this was an amicable meeting, and indeed, I seem to remember Jesus being beaten on the palace grounds. The look on Neely's face throughout the Herod song-and-dance is one of seriousness that belies the true nature of what was going on in this scene. This served to remind the viewer that this wasn't sheer levity, and held the scene together in its proper context until it ran full circle with Herod "spazzing" and showing rabid, rather than merely sarcastic hatred for Christ at the end. This was sheer genius and master film craft in my book. I don't think Jesus' expression would come out as well in the stage version. The reservations Pilate had about authorizing the crucifixion seem to come out in the Bible as well. So-called Christians hold Pilate responsible, though there was probably many political things going on that are only vaguely alluded to in the Bible. Non-biblical tradition says that he and his wife, Claudia Procula, eventually converted to Christianity themselves. Who knows?
My least-favorite parts: "I Don't Know How to Love Him" reminds me a lot of "As Long as He Needs Me" in Oliver!. Both songs are plodding, and brings each film to a screeching halt. I believe that this was actually intended to be a pop song, but was thrown in when Webber and Rice were composing the opera. Still, Judas singing this through his tears towards the end of the film was very chilling. "Hosanna, Hosanna" I also find to be rather trite...still...the last stanza never fails to give me goose bumps when the crowd asks if Christ will die for them. Simon Zealot's prolonged screaming (and off key/beat) never fails to annoy me...then again, he was a rebellious zealot after all. The "falling down push up" move in this dance sequence bugs me, too. Another part that bothers me is that suddenly it was Pilate's dream, rather than his wife's as stated in the bible. I guess they did this to narrow the canvas (simplify the number of key characters). But, what a beautiful song! And, I thought the fact that nobody in the cast looked to be much over 25 was kind of weird.
My favorite parts: Caiphas' baritone and Annas' falsetto counterpoint. "Too Much Heaven on Their Minds." The guy with the froggy voice heckling Christ as he's shuffled between Herod and Pilate. The gorgeous girl in the purple shirt (dancer in the Zealot scene)...WHO IS SHE????? Any scene with Judas in it. The montage of crucifixion scenes. The great guitar (all the instrumentation for that matter), and something I wish they had MUCH more of in the movie, that incredible electric piano. I would buy just the instrumental track if it was available.
The music rocks! Carl Anderson is beyond amazing as Judas, and ALL of the performances are really magnetic. I love singing along with Annas, Jesus, and Kiafass. I mostly listen to KoRn and Rap, so I never expected to remember (rock opera) lyrics and run around performing them. The feeling I got when 1st "experiencing" the movie was trippy. Similar to a live concert. The movie is outstanding and in my opinion will last for generations and generations. It speaks to a part of my soul and spirit.It says "right on" "rock on"
to use his powers against the Romans, Judas wanted to save his family. All
these have been just very big guesses. However, this film is probably the
closest to the truth about Judas. His reason is a more psychological one. He is simply worried that Jesus' teachings will get him arrested by the Romans, and that they will be turned into propaganda, like they are today. He is also just doubtful that Jesus is the Messiah (wouldn't you be if someone told you?) Jesus himself is portrayed as a dedicated spiritual leader, and his followers are looked at largely from his and Judas' perspective. The scene with Simon Zealotes, with followers throwing themselves at Jesus' feet in the dust is meant to make them look almost pathetically worshipping this man. To Jesus, his own Apostles are like children, pestering him about what his plans are for the future. Then, of course, there is the film's portrayal of Mary Magdalene as Jesus' lover. As she rubs ointment on Jesus' feet, you can sense the deep passion moving between
them. Jesus is human, and must, therefore, love. The priests and pharisees are shown as worried about Jesus' influence, fearing it will turn into a revolution, and Pontius Pilate is shown as a faithful politician, trying to do what is right, but pulled away from it by the people demanding Jesus' death. Just the title of this movie is enough to put some people away from it. But the title makes Jesus more modern, because, probably to people at the time, Jesus
seemed like just a passing fad. Maybe this was what Jesus thought too. In this respect, Jesus may have had doubts about whether he could really make any
difference, and if he would be remembered, or if his followers were really just hungry for the next big thing. The film's setting in the Israeli ruins gives the film an almost surreal look, which is furthered by the design of the film, a stark mixture of ancient and modern, which is so well done it is sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This serves to point out the similarities between then and now. The film's greatest point moves through the score and the cast. Carl Anderson makes Judas almost unplayable by anyone else. Ted Neeley, while his voice
may not be perfect, has an amazing delivery, and brings new depth to Jesus
with his rendition of "Gethsemane." Yvonne Elliman is remarkably soulful as
Mary Magdalene, and Bob Bingham's low, gravelly bass voice cuts chillingly
through the more serious scenes, helped along by Kurt Yahjigan's falsetto as
Annas. Barry Dennen is a remarkable Pilate, and Josh Mostel makes King
Herod, the Jewish puppet ruler, look remarkably petty and foolish, yet funny in his ragtime burlesque style song. The film also contains Andrew Lloyd Webber's richest score, especially at the end, bringing out the suffering of Jesus. The sound distorts the soldiers laughter, mixing with the vultures crying, and the cross creaking, the hammer pounding in the nails, and the rattle of dice as they gamble for Jesus' clothes, and the sobbing of Mary Magdalene. Jesus voice
remains normal, and his death ends the film, making this, in my opinion, the
most powerful and moving and maybe most accurate version of the Passion.
The cast are largely session singers and unknowns - Ted Neeley, delicate and high-voiced as Jesus (particularly superb in `Gethsemane'); Carl Anderson, black and doe-eyed as Judas with hot soul vocals, Barry Dennen as Pilate, and Yvonne Elliman as Magdelene with her big number `I Don't Know How To Love Him'.
One loss for those who know the stage version is being removed from the crucifixion preamble, when the ghost of Judas sings `Superstar' - this was all video camera projection in the theatre, while in the movie we are detached observers. But at other times we get uncomfortably close. And the songs survive the transportation to a more realistic setting (except the added `Could We Start Again, Please?' which sounds rather too much like the Coca-Cola theme for comfort).
Best scenes? The one in the temple; Hosanna; and the Pharisees tapping on their scaffolding perches like crows.
Jesus was a man. He had friends/followers, he had women companions, he got tired feet, got hungry and had to go to sleep at night, he was angered and he was doubtful, If you deny any of this you are denying the true human nature of Jesus. Understanding this is not sacrilegious.
The questions that are asked in the film such as "Jesus did you expect it to go this far?" "Jesus, do you believe you are who they say you are?" are questions that seem foolish to believers today, but for the people who knew him personally he WAS "just a man". He never claimed to be GOD. It was only after his death that the gospel writers deified him.
The garden of Gethsemane scene is one of the most powerful scenes ever put to film. It is here that we see the true "humanness" of Jesus. His words of doubt (an idea taken from the Gospel of John) clearly substantiate Christ's humanness and his doubts about what was to befall him. In the movie Jesus asks God to tell him "Why?" he must die. It is very moving when seen through the eyes of Jesus the man. For me that was a life changing moment and it brought me to greater understanding of the historical Jesus. I was able to conceive of, for the first time, Jesus the man. I also realized for the first time that Jesus DID know what it is like to be human. I felt closer to him at that moment than ever before. The lyrics also raise some interesting questions.like "Do we get too wrapped up in the man and not the message?" This would seem true about all the founders of the world's great religions. (They can't all be right) "Will there always be poor and suffering people?" "How DO we love such a man?"
I think all of the performances were outstanding. I think it has the most powerful musical lyrics ever written and a musical score that fits the drama to a tee. For those people who criticize the performances, remember this was never meant to be a movie in the "MOVIE" sense of the word. It was a rock opera stage production, put on film with expanded scenery (and what a perfect setting it was) in order to bring the historical perception of Jesus into even clearer view. Some people think that calling Jesus Christ a Superstar is sacrilegious. Well, I can't think of anyone who is more of a superstar in the role of a religious leader than Jesus. The people who think it is sacrilegious to put the bible to rock music, well, it was the music for the time. Any method that awakens an interest in Jesus Christ, as a historical person or as God, cannot be bad.
Jesus Christ Superstar reclaimed the love for Jesus from many teens that were my age at the time, and had fallen away from religion. I think the movie still carries that power if watched from the correct perspective. Anyone who thinks this movie is campy.....Just isn't getting it!
So, then, I can only rate it as a singular movie experience, not comparing it with the Broadway or London stagings. Also, being Jewish and never really studying the life and crucifixion of Jesus, I don't have any strong or pre-conceived spiritual ties to the story.
For me, then, this is a cleverly written and very well-performed musical, that mixes irreverence, time juxtapositions and genuine emotions of sadness and wistfulness. I'm not sure that the movie enhances the great musical; in other words, now that I've seen the movie, I regularly listen to the cd of the musical, and enjoy both about equally. For me, Carl Anderson, as Judas, is the standout, but Ted Neeley does bring an angelic quality to the title character. all of the other supporting roles, including Yvonne Elliman, are done well.
I rate it 8/10 for its excellent music, good staging and for what seems like a faithful film-ization of the original..worth watching for sure!
This is a film that you have to watch at least a dozen times to judge fairly. And each time you may focus on one specific item: cinematography, settings, plot development, writing, dialogs, acting, pacing, choreography, editing, soundtrack, score, musical arrangements, lightning, vocals, metaphors, etc. There you got for almost 20 viewings, which is about the number I did when it first came out. And once you have finished you'll agree that this is an unique masterpiece, one in which every one of those elements perfectly fits the rest, as to achieve a flawless, wholesome, integration of image, sound and action on one single piece of art--something that has probable never been achieved in movies before and most likely will never be again. See for ex. all actors doing great jobs singing their songs while never losing the dramatic intensity, the pathos needed for the part.Not one of them drops the ball in this regard (!). And it's Anderson the one setting the bar at its highest possible level, with Heavens on their Minds. But their flawless performances could have been lost, diminished, without a perfect contribution by the remaining components, specially the cinematographic direction. (BTW, the recurring zooming on Judas is not an artsy whim, but a metaphor indicating he'll be the main subject of the movie, by making it appear as if the camera is trying to get him in perfect focus. Metaphors like this one abound in JCS; like the tanks, the planes, or the fact that the actor doing J.C. won't be there at the end, etc.)
Already others have showered enough praises, so I'll just focus on the one element they have neglected but without which this wouldn't be much of a classic: the camera work. In my AN review I speak of the incredibly dynamic camera during the Playboy show, which last only a few minutes after all. In JCS this masterful use of the lenses lasts the entire film. Here the camera doesn't just show us the action, it's not a passive observer, but becomes part of it. It becomes one of the characters, a crucial one, following with its own displacements, angles, zooms, fade outs, the ups and downs of the story. A character that may become as calm, relaxed, in some scenesas in Everything's Alright for ex.--as tense in others--as in Damned for All Time-or frantic, ebullient, in othersas in Simon Zealote or in the media circus after J.C.'s arrest. And see how it carries the movie upon itself during the scaffold bits, specially the one before Hosanna. Last Supper wouldn't have all its poetic melancholy without those bucolic images of men and goats reflected in the water, neither its pathos without the craning camera during its most crucial moment. Or see how it allows us to see Pilate from below, as he descends god-like from his stone fortress, only to be humbled by J.C.'s silence--see in that scene also the perfect chemistry and harmony between image, action and music.
As most JCS fans have their own favorites, here are several of me. Best cinematography overall: Everything's Alright specially concerning lightning, color composition, camera work & choreography. Most intense dramatic performance: Pilate giving up on J.C. and washing his hands. Here Dennon surpasses anything that Neely, Anderson, could have belted out. Best choreography: Simon Zealote. Best solo performance: J.C. in the Gethsemane. Best camera work: Simon Zealote; everything on the scaffold. Most original element: Pharisees in scaffold, followed by Herod's song. Best lines of dialog: J.C. and Judas in Gethsemane. Best song interpretation: Judas' Heavens on their Minds. Best group song: I've Living to See You. Best Edited segment: jump cuts between a white clad Judas singing Superstar and J.C.'s marching with the cross.
Enough said. And if I ever have the time in my life to watch one film a hundred times, this will be it.
I am appalled at the people who have criticized it for not being accurate to the New Testament, therefore, not relevant. Quite the contrary, I border on agnosticism and seeing this movie for the first time in 20 years has been a spiritual experience for me. It still speaks to me after 35 years.
I also can't believe people who dismiss the music in and of itself. Are you crazy?
We had the JC Superstar '8-track' and knew all the lyrics. We finally saw the film 3-4 years later on t.v. and it's been my favorite movie ever since.
I can't count how many times I've seen it and it looks as fresh and timeless as it did then.
I have an 9 year old son and he loves this film as much as I did as a child. He also loves Jewison's 'Fiddler O.T.R.' When he was three or four years and learning to fold laundry we would sing 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker' as we hunted for matching pairs of socks : )
I was 21 or 22 when JCS was released in the 70s, and I was obsessively hooked at the first viewing. I estimate that I went to various theaters nearly 200 times to get my JCS rush! Then, years later, I of course purchased the video, and now the DVD. I must admit I was greatly disappointed at the lack of "bonus" material contained on the DVD, but to finally have the ENTIRE film, not the poorly "formatted for your screen" video, I am one happy aging hippie.
Having read other comments and agreed with many, I won't gush on about the superb performances of Carl Anderson and Ted Neeley, Yvonne Elliman and Larry T. Marshall. I must say that, back in the 70s, I found personally that THE most fascinatingly charismatic roles/performances (after Ted Neeley's "I Only Want to Say") were that of High Priest Caiaphas, played by Bob Bingham, and his perfect adorably slimey co-hort, Annas, played by Kurt Yaghjian. And okay, I admit: Anderson, Neeley, and Bingham and the dude who played Peter, just to mention a few of the male cast members, have been MOST pleasing to my eyes at every viewing.
One note on another user's comment: I have always felt that the Israeli Army tanks rolling over the hill, chasing Judas into the temple to crank out "Damned for All Time", represented his inner demons pushing him to begin his "terrible, bloody crime", as opossed to representing the Romans. The Israeli Army jets flying off to "So long Judas . . . Poor old Judas . . . " were the release of those demons, juxtaposing the ancient with the modern, setting the end in motion.
This will always be one of my VERY diverse list of top 10 films!
What it is, really, is a very agnostic piece. Not atheist, but agnostic. It is asking questions, not providing answers. And the questions are those of a modern person looking back on the Jesus story and wondering "What happened here?"
The whole question of the divinity of Jesus is kept delicately ambivalent throughout. On the one hand, those closest to him, those who know him best-- Mary Magdalene and Judas-- repeatedly assert that he's "just a man". Herod is completely willing to be won over to Jesus if he'll merely perform a miracle or two, but Jesus' only reply is seemingly impotent silence. Similarly, he refuses to perform any miracles to help the beggars ("The Temple"). Indeed, we don't see him perform a single miracle throughout the show.
On the other hand, many are firmly convinced that he *can* perform miracles; where did they get that idea from? And no explanation is offered for the way that Jesus accurately foretells Peter's triple denial. Most interesting is the song "Gethsemane", where it certainly *feels* like Jesus is talking to God (or is it just a delusion?).
But if Jesus *is* divine, does the story make sense? I think this is hard for believers to see, but to those who aren't believing Christians, the Jesus story is... shall we say, curious. And so we have Jesus Christ Superstar, a work from the perspective not of a believer, not of a *dis*believer, but from a questioner. From someone looking at it all and trying to make sense of it.
And so, at the very climax of the story, when Jesus is sentenced to death, the whole story freezes, and the authors step out from behind the curtain to speak directly to us, through the voice of Judas, speaking to us from beyond the grave, speaking to us today, in the modern present. Speaking to us to ask the questions at the root of this opera, as if to say "Ok, here was the story, what do you make of it?" And so he sings the key lyrics, those that embody the entire meaning and message of the production:
Every time I look at you, I don't understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand. You'd've managed better if you'd had it planned; why'd you choose such a backwards time and such a strange land? If you'd come today you would have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication. I only want to know: Jesus Christ, who are you? What have you sacrificed? Do you think you're what they say you are?
This is it. This is the core. THIS is what the show is about. Not a glorification of Jesus but an inquiry into him. If you're a person of faith, there is enough there for you, yes. But if you are an unbeliever (as am I), there's something there for you too. And this is a big reason that Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a personal favorite.
And oh yeah, about the movie itself... :)
Well, I wrote an extensive review of the film itself, but sadly this thing is complaining about a 1000 word limit, so I just deleted it all. So in a nutshell, there are weak points and strong points. Weak points: Neely looks the part of Jesus but can't sing at all, Caiaphas on the album has a much better bass voice, the instrumental tracks are mixed way too soft relative to the vocals, and the lyrics have been changed in places to water down the ambivalence and avoid offending Christians ("HEAL YOURSELVES!"). Strong points: some added verses and two extra songs that aren't on the original album ("Oh this is new! Respect for Caesar!"), the visuals, the mixing in of modern markers to help tell the ancient story. And I leave my original final paragraph:
And finally, there's the closing shot, of Carl Anderson (now no longer Judas), looking back at the set that they are leaving, and peering at the still-standing cross. His searching, questioning expression seems to ask "What happened there?" and beautifully summarizes the whole opera. Because Jesus Christ Superstar is about questions, not answers.
It is a credible historical presentation despite its rock opera format. It's easily Andrew Lloyd Webber's best work.
There's a lot to recommend this "hippie" version over some later ones.Jewison's decision to use Shakespeare-like staging with modern props may be influenced by his exposure to Stratford, Ontario's Shakespearean presentations. They're a Southern Ontario institution like himself. It should be said that Jewison's not Jewish, he's a Methodist (Jewison says people make that mistake a lot). Jewison's deep political empathies play throughout this story, which clearly echoes the modern Holy Land - coming as it did in 1973 at the tail end of the Israeli-Arab wars, and at the height of the New Age re-examination of Jesus as a human being. I think it plays well as an authentic retelling of its time, including the highly staged piece at the end where Anderson's voice is featured again. It can't age, because, it really does say both "First Century" and "hippie era", and it does what needs to be done to emphasize what is similar about those times: unaccountable authority resisted by people intent on adopting a more peaceful way of life which echoes traditions and morality more ancient than any they can be taught using any ritual.
This film belongs on a very short list of those that portray religious lives and sacrifices in an emotionally deep and rigorous way, one that doesn't simply present the religious believer as a cartoon to admire (wow you're brave - glad I'm not you!). The passion is strongly felt.
Because it's specifically a *Christian* passion, it's wholly appropriate that the secular Romans, the shallow Herod, are presented as uncaring, unaware or unwilling to stand up to the scheming Pharisees. The story resembles that of the later Gospels in blaming the Pharisees, not the Romans. This is thought by some scholars to reflect the post-70AD reality when the Temple was destroyed and Christianity sought converts among Romans not Jews: in which circumstances, emphasizing the Romans' attempts to find and apply justice and their political inability to stand up to the Pharisees, made more sense than painting them as sole villains. Scholars comment often on the Sanhedrin procedures being wholly discarded in Jesus' "case", and much is made of the trial being held at night, and the unanimous condemnation, which in proper "unanimity minus one" Sanhedrin rules is an acquittal for failure to field a proper defense. Webber doesn't make so much of this but the "trial" is obviously a set up, and the Pharisees obviously political players (though not wholly unsympathetic, they think they are saving their state from a Roman crackdown). Musically, the Pharisee's four-part debate is one of the highlights of the film (I'm biased, I sang the bass part myself on stage once).
But the highlight of the film version is Carl Anderson's solos. Make sure you see this film with a great sound system, even if you have to rent it.
If you buy the soundtrack, the film version soundtrack is the best one.
(pardon what may be spoilers in the above, but if anyone can spoil the Jesus story for you... well OK maybe they can, if you've never been exposed to any Christian stories at all, if so this is a great way to learn)
I thoroughly recommend this presentation. Here I feel I must single out four performers who standout as the best of a nearly perfect cast: Judas, Simon the Zealot, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus. Their tonal quality and how they weave the emotion and feeling of the moment into their performance of the musical score can lead the viewer into forget that this is a musical and not a traditional film (although the music is beautiful and unforgettable in its' own right).
I've watched this movie over 50 times and every X-mas and Easter I try to watch it again. When I was younger it made the bible fun.
It's songs are all outstanding and at different points in my life I had the soundtrack in 8-track, cassette, album, and CD.
They did a great job with the amount of extras while filming on site.
If you've never viewed it, shame on you, :-)
Give it a play you'll be glad you did.
It's very strange...I'm not a religious man (though I am a spiritual one) but I enjoy watching movies about the Bible (The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Last Temptation of Christ). For some reason, they seem to validate my views on modern organized religion.
JCS in particular shows a considerably different view on the Bible. To be honest, Jesus comes off as a bit of a jerk at times (please don't email me about that terminology, I am not trying to raise hackles, just describe what I feel about the film), and I find myself having sympathy for Judas and his actions. Both men are doing what they think is right, but Judas seems to get his reasons across to us in much more clear terms...he wants to be free but he also wants he and his people to live. He doesn't understand what Jesus has offered and is disillusioned, because he really doesn't have the "faith".
Ted Neeley may play the title role, but Carl Anderson steals the show as Judas...he is a fantastic singer and actor.
The motifs in the sets are naturally a bit dated, but the entire message of the movie still comes through loud and clear.
When I did it instantly became one of my favorites--- certainly my favorite of Webber & Rice's.
I revisted and exposed the film to my girlfriend not too long ago (inspired by Holy Week, of course) and realized how much appreciation I have for Jewison's extraordinary interpretation.
Neeley and Anderson are outstanding. I considered other reviews while listening to the soundtrack and must argue that the entire cast delivers entirely real and stellar performances.
The fact that the movie has 1970's imprints is not to be brushed off as just something that dates the film. In the closer, Judas is asking Christ why he didn't come to earth today:
("Why'd you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? / If you'd come today you would have reached a whole nation / Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication...")
Therefore, Judas' groovy threads are necessary. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see JCS live--- even luckier to see Neeley and Anderson as the leads--- they've kept with that philosophy and the entire cast (save the priests & Jesus) were dressed in nineties clothes... I also should note that King Herod was an Elvis impersonator (quite funny).
This movie is simply unforgettable.