cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar

So, I just watched an interesting film. I'd imagine that you already know what it was; that's sort of what the title is there for. I'd like to talk about it a bit, but a warning; I am aware that this is the internet, and I know how anything with even slightly religious connotations tends to get handled on the internet. I will not be looking at it from a religious perspective, or from an anti-religious perspective. I will be looking at it as a film loosely based on the events documented in a historical text. Got it?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

 Rather than summarize the plot, I'm going to be lazy and link you to this lovely tv tropes summary . (Note: The one I watched was the '73 one. No homoerotic Jesus/Judas subtext. I'm very sorry.)

First I'd like to talk a bit about the music, since that's where it all started. It was, of course, a rock opera, meaning that all the dialog was sung rather than spoken, and I'm not going to go through and analyze every song for you. (Although, if you're interested, this lovely gentleman did an excellent job of it.) So, broad generalizations it is. 

There were some good and bad things about the music. Overall, I thought it was a very impressive soundtrack. It was extremely 70's, and full of energy. In fact, if I were to describe this movie in one word, it would be 'energetic'. The actors just had so much raw passion invested in their singing and dancing; it was kind of amazing to watch. I mean, just look at this clip from the film:

On top of the energy, there are a lot of really great moments, and for the most part the singers are very good, although the falsettos on some of those dudes can take a bit of an adjustment.
There aren't really many problems with the songs. At times, the rhymes can seem a bit forced, or a bit obvious, but rhyming an entire movie can't be an easy job.Oh, and also there's this:


You may have noticed something else looking at these clips; I feel like the visual choices are interesting and deserve some mention. The setting has an odd blending of ancient and modern, in clothing, in the soldiers' weapons, and in a few other places. It gives the movie a kind of cool, distinctive look.

Just look at their centurions.

So, on to the story. (yaaaay) I'm sort of acting on the assumption that you've got a basic familiarity with the Bible; if you don't, you may have to use Google.

The story, while ostensibly about Jesus, revolves mainly around Judas and the internal conflict that led to his eventual betrayal of Jesus. I would consider Judas to be the main character, despite the fact that he dies with a good bit of the movie still left to go. (Oh, yeah, um, that may have qualified as a spoiler. Or did it? I'm not entirely sure.) To a good degree, it seemed to me like the movie was the story of Christ from Judas's point of view. While he is typically looked on as a heartless traitor, this film sees him as a tragic figure, afraid at the way Jesus's fans have gotten so out of control, worried that the Romans will get wind of what's happening and try to end it by force. He honestly regrets the choice he has to make, and Carl Anderson, the actor, really sells Judas's anger and confusion, making the payoff of his betrayal and eventual suicide both believable and heartbreaking.

Somebody give this man a medal.
Judas isn't the only oft-villified Biblical character the movie attempts to humanize. Pontius Pilate is also treated surprisingly well, being brought to the point of desperation at the prospect of having to sentence an innocent man to death, but feeling that he has no choice but to do so. Mary Magdalene, who is frequently seen as a prostitute, is, well, a prostitute, but she's just handled so well and she gets a really good, sad musical number at one point talking about how she totally wants to do Jesus... You know, because she loves him.

Of course, the movie hardly ignores its title character. Jesus, too, is treated as very human. The film really plays up his sadness and anger at the role that's been thrust on him, hurt by Judas's betrayal, but still trying to put on a nice face for the crowds. I feel a bit bad that I was so distracted by the fact that he seems to have a lazy eye. Look, tell me I'm not just seeing things:

There! Do you see it?
Okay, I think I'm a bad person now.

Anyway, I really liked the fresh, slightly irreverent take on such old, familiar characters. It breathed new life into a very old story, and gave voices to some people who were for too long unable to speak in their own defense. It was a very fun, campy, high energy piece that still had some very solemn, sad moments. Plus, some of the songs are damn catchy. Overall, I'd say it's worth watching if you ever get the chance.

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