Music Music Music! Marathon: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

My idea of what this movie is about is even wackier than the movie itself!

Screenplay By: Melvyn Bragg & Norman Jewison
Directed By: Norman Jewison

Halfway through Jesus Christ Superstar I told my wife what I thought the film was about. She laughed out loud when I told her and was still laughing at me when the film had finished. She thinks I’m crazy for my interpretation, and I probably am but I kind of like my interpretation. Said interpretation doesn’t change the problems I had connecting with the greater whole that was Jesus Christ Superstar, but fun interpretations are, well, always fun.

What is my interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar you ask? JFK is the answer, more to the point Jesus Christ Superstar is an allegorical tale from the hippie perspective of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and along with him the death of their dreams. I’m not sure if this is a popular interpretation, for all I know I may be the only crazy person who thinks this. Either way I do think my interpretation is a bit out there, but it is supportable.

I haven’t seen or read the original stage play, so there is the possibility that my interpretation would not hold up to that version of this story. The film is another matter altogether, the more I think about it the more I am convinced it is all about JFK. Jesus is the JFK figure, those who follow him represent the cult of personality that did surround JFK. Judas represents Lee Harvey Oswald, or more specifically Lee Harvey Oswald as an extension of the US government. The scene where Judas is pushed into giving up Jesus by a group of tanks led me to start my JFK connection. It was sealed when after he gives up Jesus a pair of jets shoo Judas away, symbolizing the government turning their back on Mr. Oswald after his job was complete (if you believe the conspiracy theories that is). The tribulations Jesus goes through after his capture are representations of the trials that JFK faced as President. Finally, when the hippies have finished their play and get on the bus to depart they leave behind an empty cross. The sun sets and the hippies are gone, all their dreams ended when they left JFK/Jesus behind.

Call me crazy if you want, but that’s really the way I read Jesus Christ Superstar. It may be that Norman Jewison would laugh in my face if I told him this, but such a wild, yet supported, interpretation is why I love the subjective nature of film so much. Just as subjective is my take on why the film worked for me and also left me somewhat cold.

There was plenty to like about Jesus Christ Superstar. I dug the songs, and I enjoyed the rock opera aspect of the film. I really liked the sparseness of the production, how the songs were all that mattered and the rest was just an empty desert. I was especially fond of the performance of Carl Anderson as Judas Iscariot. He had easily the best voice of the cast, and he was also the most appealing of all the cast members. I can’t put my finger on exactly why that was, but Mr. Anderson struck a chord with me from the very start.

My experience with Jesus Christ Superstar wasn’t all peaches and cream. The film is very episodic, and that did become tiresome. My fun with interpreting the story held me over for the most part, but I did find the lack of flow to the story off putting. Some segments flowed into one another, but often when one episode was over there was an awkward pause before the next episode began. Sometimes an episodic approach can work for a movie, in the case of Jesus Christ Superstar it merely helped to keep me at a distance from the film.

My wife likes Jesus Christ Superstar a lot, and I can certainly see why. It’s an absurd movie that isn’t afraid to take chances with its subject matter and its presentation. The big gay King Herod number should be enough to convince anyone of the originality of Jesus Christ Superstar. The film doesn’t completely come together as it’s episodic nature kept me on the outside at times. Still, Jesus Christ Superstar was a fun film to watch and a fun film to think about. That’s not something one can always say about something where religion is involved.




2 responses to “Music Music Music! Marathon: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

  1. The reason Anderson struck a chord with you lies in the fact that in the play, Judas gets all the best songs to sing. With Anderson having a good screen presence and a dynamic voice, it’s easy for him to steal the show. Have you ever listened to the original studio album with Ian Gillan, Murray Head and Yvonne Elliman? While Murray Head doesn’t quite have the authoritative voice that Anderson has, he still does a great job as Judas. Ian Gillan, of Deep Purple, completely blows away Ted Neeley as Jesus. And Yvonne Elliman sounds much better on the studio album.

  2. I have not heard the original studio album, I’ll have to look into it someday I know my wife would dig it.

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