There’s a plethora of on demand video
out there these days. So much so that sometimes it can be hard to wade
through it all and find something worth watching. Watch This Now is
your guide to instant video on Netflix, Hulu and elsewhere,
highlighting the very best stuff that you can watch right now.
I like Watch This Now because it gives me a chance to write about movies I would never otherwise write about, and it gives me a chance to talk about films and genres you might not know I was into. For instance knowing my general stance on religion you might never expect that Jesus Christ Superstar isn’t just my favorite musical – it’s one of my favorite anythings ever. I adore the musical. Up and down.
The movie version I’m less ecstatic about, but that’s because my experience with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show comes from the Original Broadway Cast recording, and the movie changes up the songs in ways that might seem minor to you, but when you realize that I can sing you the entire show, from beginning to end, a capella, you might understand that I can hear the difference.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera about the final six days of Jesus’ life, leading up to Good Friday (meaning that this entry is a couple of days late, but whatever). And it’s fucking awesome; growing up this show was the first time I became aware that maybe Judas wasn’t a bad dude, and that maybe he got a bad deal. God needed Jesus to die on that cross – it was all in the plan – which means he needed Judas to betray him.
But the show also goes deeper, giving Judas more motivation for turning his pal and mentor in to the Romans. He’s afraid that the bigger and bigger crowds that Jesus attracts will bring the wrath of the Romans on the oppressed Jews in the Holy Land (and he’s right, as tension between occupied and occupier would erupt in the following years). And it gives the apostles – bland, featureless types in too many Sunday school classes – more personality. Even if it is making most of them annoying, self-absorbed twerps.
And then there’s Mary Magdelene. The Last Temptation of Christ has nothing on this Mary. She’s especially great in the film version; Yvonne Elliman is an exotic mix of Japanese, Chinese and Irish. Well, Elliman is on the Broadway recording as well, but here you can see her undefinable beauty. You realize Jesus had to really mean it when he chose God over her.
I’m fascinated by the Jesus myth and its various tellings (four of which, many of them not compatible, are in the Bible. There are dozens more versions out there); to me the story of a man facing a shitty end with only vague promises is inspiring. In a lot of ways we’re all marching towards that cross, and we all have to hope that the things we did in life were enough to make it past our deaths. And I love Jesus Christ Superstar because it makes Jesus human; a guy who is assured of his divinity, who knows for certain what he gets after being nailed to the cross, isn’t a guy I can understand. Here he’s full of doubt, a man who thinks he’s doing the right thing but who is afraid. I don’t understand why some churches avoid this human version of Christ; it’s more compelling.
Norman Jewison shot this movie on location – like in the Holy Land on location – and he brought the understudy for the Broadway Jesus up to the big position. I’m not a huge Ted Neely fan; he’s too slight, and he’s kind of wall eyed, and I think his voice is really whiny. But he’s not terrible, and I’ve never felt that Jesus was the main character. This is Judas’ story, and the great Carl Anderson reprises that role, really belting out a number of killer songs (and running from tanks. There’s a cool anachronism running throughout). There’s an odd framing element – a group of actors arrive on a bus and do the movie, and then leave in the bus, poor Ted Neely getting left behind – and the entire fim is sort of hippy dippy (you can tell nobody had to change their appearance to look like unwashed, hairy people living in poverty), but for me it all works.
While some niggling details were changed to head off Christian outrage (these fucking people cannot be pleased. Even the Pharisees in the show like Jesus. When they’re trying to figure out how to deal with this upstart Rabbi, one sings “One thing I’ll say for him, this Jesus is cool.”), Jewison kept the ending intact: Jesus dies on the Cross, and while Judas descends from heaven to sing one final number, there is no resurrection.
Sounds right to me.