Jesus Christ Superstar is perhaps the boldest of all musicals made during the last seventy years, even though the story it tells is one that has been told, retold, and read for centuries. The way this show presents its subject material, and context has gotten it banned in a heavily Christian nation in Africa, and scolded by many Christian churches, but this musical has proven appealing to both people of faith, and those without. This musical was ahead of its time, starting an era of adaptation for Christianity, which wasn't moving into the new world very well, considering science was beginning to take a stronger grip over cultural knowledge and concepts. I consider this one of the first big steps into making Christianity more believable, and up to the standards of modern society.
Like any great musical the opening is an overture giving us samples of all the music to come. During the overture we see the cast arrive via bus, after being presented with a long landscape shot that shows us the remains of the Roman civilization. Without a single word being exchanged we are presented with our cast, led by skilled singers Ted Neeley, and Carl Anderson. These first shots in the overture are important; in it the actors already give you an idea of how it is that they're portraying their respective roles.
The actual musical starts with the song Heaven on Their Minds which is sung by the disciple Judas Iscariot, who of course would later betray Jesus. There initially was controversy over Anderson, a black man, being cast in this role, because many regarded Judas as the greatest villain in history, and that this was a racist move by the producers. In this first song all thoughts of racism quickly evaporate, as Anderson's powerful singing ability blows the audience away. You quickly learn that Judas is not the villain of this story; in fact he's portrayed as a good, very confused man; someone who doesn't quite know how to cope with his feelings in regards to Jesus. This humanization outraged many in the Christian church, several objecting that Judas was a villain and should've been portrayed as the sniveling, plotting individual in the corner who'd sell you out for pieces of silver. This is one of the main reasons Jesus Christ Superstar is a giant step forward in today's Christian society, because it recognizes that people have weaknesses, and that anyone can act rashly out of confusion, or haste.
The first song performed by Anderson is one of love, and respect for Jesus, but also one of great confusion, because he's shown as not knowing what it is that Jesus wishes to accomplish; he thinks Jesus is becoming self-centered, caring more for him rather than the poor and needy. This entire song is performed by Anderson on the mountains overlooking Christ and his followers, creating one of the best landscape shots in the entire movie, but it also catches the purpose of this song. Judas is far from Jesus and pleading for him to listen to his warnings, but of course he can't be heard from that distance. Perhaps he's too frightened to actually express himself, and confront Christ, or maybe he really is ignored by Jesus. By the end of this song you can easily feel sorry for Anderson's character. After his suicide nothing could've have been more controversial than Judas coming back as an angel.
The same thing that outraged the church about this shows Judas was same for Jesus, who's portrayed more as a vehicle for spreading the word of God more so than a divine being. This Jesus shows human weakness, passion, and even rage, which made him more human than most other incarnations. Jesus would rather not die, and is even tired of his task of spreading the word, losing his inspiration over the last three years, which is why Judas in this story feels that he's slipping in the first place. Jesus, is as he put it in one song, "sad and tired."
Ted Neeley sings the part right, and his eyes provide the best aspect of his portrayal of Christ. In his eyes there lies a great deal of complexity that shows someone who's incredibly troubled from a mental stand-point. He's been slowly beat down over the past three years and his exhaustion isn't present in his mannerisms, or actions, but it's all there in those eyes. He speaks like someone who's obviously a step above your average civilian, and he sounds like a happy person who's simply doing what he feels must be done but those eyes of his...These eyes show someone well over thirty; someone who's tired and teetering on the edge of self-destruction.
Another noteworthy performance is Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, who is portrayed very sympathetically. He is shown as someone who really doesn't want to kill Jesus, because he really has no incentive for committing such an act, but he has peers and the population pressuring him into it from all angles. The performance given by Dennen, though not as grand as Anderson or Neeley, is worth noting in this film, for he performs the songs with full emotion, while acting each scene to its fullest, but never quite going overboard.
With music by the infamous Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera) and lyrics by Tim Rice (based on the book by Rice) this musical was helmed by Director Norman Jewison. Having just finished the future classic, Fiddler on the Roof, Jewison was ready to tackle this obscure rock opera, and was willing to push it to the max. So what did Jewison do to try and provide something new, new, and extraordinary? He packed up the entire cast and took them overseas to shoot the entire film on location; as accurately as possible. The entire movie is shot on the ruins of the Roman Empire, where this story is thought to have unfolded two thousand years ago. It is hard to believe these ruins once housed one of the largest empires in human history.
The desert in this film does not look dry, and forbidding, it actually appears very surreal and not at all some place you wouldn't want to be. You may wonder why I point this out, but if you pay attention to some other movies you'll see that lots of them do not shot deserts in a really fashionable style, often making them look dry, and depressing, or just plain boring; which deserts probably are in real life. Jewison takes the desert and utilizes effective camera angles to capture the beauty of this landscape, and they way he transitions from music number to music number are very effective. No transition here seemed to have been forced onto the viewer, and all of it seems to fit together like some sort of film puzzle, but for the most part it works well.
Jewison's style reminds me of Stanley Kubrick, to a certain degree (mind you no one can compare to Kubrick). It's a very dry filmmaking, not really showing much bias towards any of the characters, for they all get treated with mostly the same camera angles. You get to judge these characters entirely by their actions, and not by the way they are filmed, and that's how any story should be presented, and that is not letting any character get away without having to prove themselves to the audience; even if they are Jesus. In this film you don't have any dramatic shots of Jesus, or Judas that distinguish themselves over the other characters. Jewison's style is beautiful, but he doesn't let the filming control the musical, letting the actors, and the music tell the story more than his film.
This movie isn't at all Christian propaganda (the churches that have scorned the musical can prove that) and is something that everyone should try to be exposed to at some point or another. If you don't believe in the Christian faith you shouldn't avoid this musical, because none of it is propaganda, in fact it's one of the most believable adaptations of Jesus I've ever seen. Come to this musical with an open mind, and remember that it's just a story; forget its inspiration came from a religious text, because as a musical it really isn't something to miss. If you are of faith this musical can bring up some questions for you about it, but you shouldn't dwell on them. If you think what the Bible says is what happened one-hundred percent, no questions asked, I can tell you now that odds are you will not like Jesus Christ Superstar.
Now sit back and let yourself get swept away by one of the most groundbreaking musicals of all time.
I first watched this movie in the late 1990's, 20 years after it came out. At that time, my turnstile record player had gone bust, and I had not heard the concept albumn for years, not having yet bought the soundtrack on CD. I rented this movie from the video store and for the entire time I had it out, I had it playing on the TV continuously just so I could hear the soundtrack. I have always loved the concept albumn for the excellent music and knew all of the songs by heart. I … more
Pros: music hands down, acting Cons: some scenes may be offensive The Bottom Line: _____________ I'll just start with a spoiler alert, so you have been warned One day Tim Rice had some interesting lyrics that were running through his head so he approached Andrew Lloyd Webber, who put them to music. From that developed a stage play, written by Webber & Rice, which eventually resulted in a DVD version … more
Ted Neeley makes for a wimpy looking Jesus in Norman Jewison's screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice "rock opera," which was a smash on stage in the early '70s. Jewison (Other People's Money) adds some good exterior settings in the desert, but Webber and Rice's dialogue-free story (everything is sung, as in a real opera), with its quasi-profundities about the inner demons of principal figures in the life of Christ, is the real hook. Yvonne Elliman sings the show's best-known song, "I Don't Know How to Love Him."--Tom Keogh