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J.C. the movie star
by Thanos Kalamidas
Issue 9
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Jesus Christ Superstar
Norman Jewison
Musical is a kind of theater that has existed for a long time and I believe that if they had found the name in ancient times even Aristophanes’ comedies would be called musicals. Somehow musicals became more known with this name at the end of the 19th century and met its highest moments between the 1930s and 1950s.

Musical is the popularized form of opera in a language everybody understands and is accompanied by popular music of the time. With that, I don’t want to underrate contemporary musicals and some of these musicals that have survived better than some operas and they have become classics.

One of the people who contributed to this turn from pop light music concept to a musical, or better a rock opera, is Andrew Lloyd Webber. With Tim Rice’s prelude, Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the music for the life of Christ and to be more precise the last days before he was crucified.

In 1973, the director Norman Jewison decided to make the rock opera film with Ted Neely, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman and Josh Mostel. Listening to rock opera on a CD is one thing, but transforming the entire thing into a movie is another. Norman Jewison was aware of his time and environment, so his Christ is a hippy Christ and the Romans are dressed in army uniforms with machine guns. In his eagerness to show us things haven’t changed much over the last 2,000 years, the director is in a satirical mood leading us - or dances us - through the desert and Jerusalem, showing us the grotesque side of the world we live in.

Don’t forget that just like 2,000 years ago and in ‘70s, when Norman Jewison directed Jesus Christ Superstar, and like 2005, the Palestinian problem is alive and kicking, which is still the reason for an uneasy world and excuse for all sorts of atrocities.

The film chronicles the death of Jesus from before Palm Sunday to his crucifixion, and it starts just after the overture with Judas (Carl Anderson, who caused some controversy since he is black) singing about how he thinks Jesus is not really the Messiah, but has great ideas, and has become too obsessed with power. Judas tries to warn him about his increasing popularity, and some of his alleged hypocrisy, seeing that he’s in love with Mary Magdelene (Yvonne Elliman). The story goes on with the two characters, Jesus and Judas and their conflict that ends up in front the Romans and, at least for me, the funny Pontious Pilate (Barry Dennen) and the crucifixion.

For me, one of the most beautiful moments of the film is when Yvonne Elliman sings to sleeping Jesus, “I don’t know how to love him.” The woman really has an angel’s voice and the moment is so sentimentally charged, while the funniest moment of the film is the cabaret style song of King Herod.

I’m an agnostic my self, but I grew up as a Christian and this is a film about Christ’s life. From my school years I have seen a lot of films about the life of Christ but nearly all of them had something of the stiffness of Sunday school, Jesus Christ Superstar is nothing like that. Here, Jesus is a human with feelings and that’s exactly what the church is teaching, Jesus was most of all human.

Even if you are not a Christian, you should see this film for its unique style and approach to something so sacred. Remember one of the funkiest moments in rock cinema is when King Herod (Josh Mostel from City Slickers) appears with his Elton John-style glasses and a pair of boxer shorts. Somehow I wish there were more funky films dealing with serious issues like this one.

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