Entertainment » Movies

Jesus Christ Superstar

by Louise Adams
Tuesday May 7, 2013
Jesus Christ Superstar

The 1970 London concept recording was my Bible: to this day, I can still recite every breath, nuance and the agonized vibrato of Ian Gillan's Savior. My sister and I played the famous brown album every Easter.

Norman Jewison's 1973 film "Jesus Christ Superstar," now in its 40th anniversary re-release including feature commentary from 2004, cast Ted Neeley as the white, hippie prophet in the last days of his life. Set entirely on historic Israeli ruins, the "Hair"-like tribe of actors and dancers perform the Gospel According to Meta, arriving on a tour bus, costuming themselves in mostly modern dress, and singing the mythology from Judas' (a fraught Carl Anderson) point of view (after all, the story wouldn't exist without him).

Sir Tim Rice (who's interviewed in a Blu-ray extra) and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera, a follow up to their famous "Joseph" retelling (which was right after The Who's "Tommy"), didn't focus on Jesus's divinity, but on his human side, notably when both Mary Magdalene (the soulful Yvonne Elliman) and Judas sing "He's a man; he's just a man."

"He’s a man; he’s just a man."

Since the movie was drawn from an album only, its interstitial action has a tendency to fall flat as the sweaty, multi-racial/religious troupe trudges from desert to scaffolding in 115° heat. There are some incongruous shots of tanks, planes and crucifixion paintings, and a cheesy re-creation of da Vinci's "Last Supper" tableau. And Neeley - who, as of 2010, still tours in the role - has an annoying penchant to sing behind and off the well-crafted beat.

But the lyrics still hold up with lines such as "pretty good wages for one little kiss," 'did Mohammed move the mountain or was it just PR," and "one thing I'll say for him, Jesus is cool." And I still tear up during "Gethsemane," where Jesus is "scared to finish," and when he says, "To conquer death, you only have to die." I must have too much heaven on my mind.

"Jesus Christ Superstar"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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