227. Jesus Christ Superstar

Movie: Jesus Christ Superstar

Release Date: June 26, 1973

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen.

Tag Lines: “And now, the movie……”

Relevance: I don’t remember exactly when I first saw ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ but as soon as I did I was hooked. I was familiar with the music long before I saw it as my mom, a huge fan of musicals, had the soundtrack on vinyl and 8-track. Songs like “I Don’t Know How to Love You” and “Superstar” were also on the radio and charting on Billboard Top 100. So by the time I had watched the film on television in the late 1970’s, I was a fan. The visuals only catapulted me to “super fan.”

At that particular time in my life, I was a practicing Catholic, although under the age of ten, it’s not like I had a choice in the matter. But in all fairness, I loved all of the ideas, themes and stories that were taught to me. I loved hearing and reading the parables from the Bible and learning about traditions, the saints and the overall culture of being Catholic. I even loved going to Church. To me, it was like attending a performance. I loved the costumes, music and drama of the mass. I especially loved Easter time. There is nothing more dramatic than the services at a Catholic church during Holy Week. It’s a theater kids wet dream. But in all honesty I truly did love the story of the last days of Jesus on earth.

So when I finally saw ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ I was, well, in heaven. Seeing the talented cast sing those glorious songs put this future theater kid on the edge of my seat. It became the new show I would perform in my room at night. All kids perform “shows” in their bedrooms with singing, dancing and costume changes, right? This kid did. And ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was performed quite a bit. I played all of the parts of course, including Mary Magdalene, but my favorite role was Judas. What an interesting character and the songs “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Superstar” were some of my favorites. During “Superstar” I would even shut off the lights and use a flashlight as part of the number. It was extremely low-tech but extremely fabulous.

The movie became a staple for my family to watch every year around Easter. We eventually owned the VHS of which I confiscated out of the house years later. As I grew up and watched it more and more my love for it did not falter. I did have a new favorite character though. Pontius Pilate. I would watch his scenes more intently than ever. I grew to love his song “Pilate’s Dream” and thought that “Trial Before Pilate” was so epic and dramatic. I stopped putting shows on in my bedroom but I vowed that if I were ever able to audition for this show, Pilate is the role I would covet.

I have watched and re-watched this movie over and over again throughout the years. I have seen various stage productions of it both live and on film and own numerous different cast recordings from the original rock opera album to the 2018 live concert version of the show. ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is my favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, in my top five favorite Broadway musicals and of course its movie adaptation is grand enough to make my list of most influential movies of all time. Not too shabby for a “…Galilean, a most amazing man…”

Today’s Thoughts: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is a superb movie and one that I enjoyed watching today. It just doesn’t get old for me. It’s hard to believe that it is almost forty-seven years since its release in theaters. It totally stands the test of time and had me singing along the entire time.

It is beautifully directed by Norman Jewison. This is his second film on my list. (See 277. Agnes of God for the first.) The cinematography and some of the camera work is absolutely stunning. I was mesmerized by many of the shots, especially a few close-ups on the actors, adding so much drama to an already dramatic score. All of the actors, Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen look and sound terrific.

Unfortunately, I have yet to audition for my dream role of Pontius Pilate. As the years tick on and that dream gets more distant, I have another dream. That one is to direct a version of it on stage. I love the concept in the movie where the actors show up (on a bus), tell the story by performing the “show” and then get back on the bus, except for Jesus, that is. The following Tim Rice lyric (is there any lyricist better) sung by Judas in “Superstar” always stayed with me as well: “Now why’d you choose such a backwards time in such a strange land? If you’d come today you would’ve reached a whole nation.” I am not sharing my complete concept for the show, but those two elements combined could really be a magnificent production. At least in my head it is.

One might say I am a fan of the musical genre. This is the eighth musical to make my list, but with a total number of twenty-four, there is a lot more to go this year. ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ truly is a magnificent movie and in my opinion is a classic movie musical, one not to be missed whether you believe or not. Regardless, it’s one hell of a dramatic story that you can tap your foot to.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation, Andre Previn, Herbert W. Spencer, Andrew Lloyd Webber (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Carl Anderson (nomination), Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Male, Carl Anderson (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Ted Neeley (nomination), Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Male, Ted Neeley (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Yvonne Elliman (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Sound Track, Les Wiggins, Gordon K. McCallum, Keith Grant (winner), BAFTA Award for UN Award (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography, Douglas Slocombe (nomination), Best Costume Design, Yvonne Blake (nomination).

Ways to Watch: YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, DVD Availability.


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