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  Jesus Christ Superstar Holy Roller BoogieBuy this film here.
Year: 1973
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, Bob Bingham, Josh Mostel, Larry Marshall, Kurt Yaghjian, Paul Thomas, Pi Douglass, Richard Orbach, Robert LuPone
Genre: Musical
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: A group of young people arrive in the Holy Land by bus and set about recreating the Bible story of the last days in the life of Jesus Christ in and around an ancient, ruined temple. In the story, Jesus (Ted Neeley) is riding a wave of popularity, yet one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (Carl Anderson), is unhappy with the attention Jesus is getting and wishes his teacher could be clearer about his purpose, not accepting the line he's taken about being the Son of God. Little does Judas know that he will be playing a bigger part in the story of Christ than he realises...

This rock gospel, very much of its time, was based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) stage musical, here adapted for the big screen by Melvyn Bragg and the director Norman Jewison. We all remember the playground rhyme, "Jesus Christ! Superstar! Looks like a woman and he wears a bra!" and of course this is where that tune comes from, although the words are notably different. At first there were worries that Lloyd Webber and Rice's work would be disprespectful, mainly because it set the tale of the Christ to rock, but it's actually more thoughtful than might appear on its brash surface.

Mainly it wonders why, in an novel way, Judas has got such a bad reputation. As played by Neeley, Jesus sings in a disappointingly reedy manner, often lapsing into a worrying falsetto at crucial moments, so it's no wonder that the stentorian Anderson overwhelms him and pretty much the whole film. Anderson should have played Christ, really, as he has the charisma for it, but Judas is the best role this time around. He wanders in the desert alone voicing his misgivings, confronts Jesus with his fraternisation with Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman), and goes to see the pharisees when he thinks he can force Jesus' hand.

As the basic story is well known by now, the importance is in the telling, and here it looks and sounds like a realisation of a prog rock album (which it kind of was originally) rather than an adaptation of a theatrical success. There's an awful lot of emotive dancing from the chorus, making the film resemble an end of year production brought to us by drama students, and the relentlessly earnest tone can wear you out long before the end. To keep things relevant in a trendy young Christian kind of way, not only is there the music, but also shots of tanks bearing down on Judas, jet fighters zooming overhead, and a finale that sees everyone jiving while dressed in white and bathed in a lightshow.

If there's one word that sums up the approach to the characters, it's doubt; every one of the main characters has serious doubts about their position in relation to God, including Jesus who not only is surrounded by the sick begging for help, but gets to do some whinging about his lot in life to the Almighty. Mary trills "I don't know how to love him" about her relationship with Jesus, Peter has to deny him three times, but it's Judas who suffers the lion's share of heartache, complaining that God, by putting him in this state, has effectively murdered him. Mind you, he does get the reward that Jesus is supposed to get in Heaven if the ending is to be believed, as he descends on a shiny cross to sing the main theme. And as for Jesus? We never see him resurrected. Everybody just goes home.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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