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What I Watched Last Night: “Jesus Christ Superstar”

What’s not to love about “Jesus Christ Superstar”? My planned Easter re-watch was thwarted by Netflix suddenly removing it from instant play (bastards), so I ordered up the DVD. Better late than never! Besides, Lexie was mesmerized by a commercial for the new Broadway production and then danced around while I sang the title song, so I decided it was time for baby’s first rock opera. These are just a few of my favorite things about the movie.

jesus christ superstar dvd cover
Pensive Jesus
  • The music. “Superstar” is a rock opera, so every single word of dialogue is sung. Sure, Andrew Lloyd Webber has become a bit of a cliche, but I don’t even care when it comes to the earlier shows. I’ve only watched it once or twice in the last decade but still remember almost all of the words.
  • The costumes. The movie was released in 1973, and rather than even pretend to be historically accurate, everyone’s a hippie. Herod’s court has enough androgyny and brightly colored wigs to pass for the Capitol from “The Hunger Games.”
  • The hippies gyrate a lot.
  • The cast is amazing. Ted Neeley’s Jesus may be a stereotypical bearded white dude in a robe, but damn can he sing. He was still playing Jesus in the national tour in 1995; I made my poor family wait around until almost 1 a.m. so I could get his autograph, and he prayed with several of the other fans. It was so cool!
  • I don’t know if you could get away with a black Judas today without a shitstorm, but Carl Anderson is perfectly angsty and conflicted. He tries really hard to keep Jesus on message and worries that the whole thing is gonna go horribly awry. The foreshadowing kinda beats you over the head, but it’s not like you don’t already know how it ends. Although, I am slightly disturbed that he seemed to be Lexie’s favorite character. I gotta watch my back.
  • I would kill for Yvonne Elliman’s voice, and Mary Magdalene’s songs are the best. I dare you to not tear up during “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” or “Could We Start Again, Please?”
  • Caiaphas and Annas have voices that play off each other really well; Caiaphas has a diabolically deep voice and Annas is piercingly falsetto.
  • The anachronisms are bizarre but fun. I’m reasonably certain that the moneychangers in the temple weren’t selling machine guns and British pounds with Queen Elizabeth’s face on them.
  • Speaking of the temple, I desperately need gifs of Jesus flipping the tables. Somebody make that happen, please!
  • Judas gets chased by tanks and fighter jets. I don’t even know, but it’s hilariously absurd.
  • In Gethsemane, the last supper is a picnic and there’s a brief freeze-frame restaging the Da Vinci painting. I don’t know if I’d never noticed that before yesterday or if I had just forgotten.
  • Throughout the entire movie, Jesus is tormented by the knowledge that he has to die. The look on his face when his adoring fans cheerfully sing “Hey JC, JC, won’t you die for me?” is heartbreaking. After yelling at God for a while, he gives in and agrees to it with a wail in an octave that even I can’t hit.
  • Judas somehow manages to be a sympathetic character. He really feels like he’s trying to protect Jesus’ message and it just goes horribly wrong.
  • In the grand finale, Judas wears the most spectacular fringed jacket ever. See video below.
  • During the overture, the cast piles off a bus and unloads their props and costumes; at the end, everyone except Jesus gets back on to leave. The final shot is a cross silhouetted against the setting sun, and I’d never noticed until this watching that there’s the faintest shadow of someone walking across the screen at the bottom of the hill below the cross. Spooky!

(While the movie is somehow rated G, there are a lot of scantily clad ladies in this clip, and the dancing starts getting interspersed with crucifixion scenes at 3:08. Not graphic, but possibly NSFW.)

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

36 replies on “What I Watched Last Night: “Jesus Christ Superstar””

Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I forgot to watch this for Easter. It’s a tradition! But, I own it, so maybe I’ll pull it out and watch it tonight. I so love JC Superstar. The Broadway album got me through a lot of angsty moments in my younger years – cranked up full blast, of course.

And I adored Carl Anderson. His voice was a gift to the world, as was his portrayal of Judas. I saw him several years later in a stage production of Chess. He was wonderful. Would’ve loved to have seen him in Superstar live. I read, once, that when he got the part his dad asked him why he couldn’t play Jesus. He would’ve been great, but oh, he was such a great Judas. He ripped everyone’s hearts out.

As some could tell by the screen name, I have a soft spot for ALW musicals, though they tend to rely on spectacle over character complexity–I grew up with my mom playing the “Cats” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar”  albums, and the first Broadway show I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera.  Of all of them, Evita may be my favorite, just for Patti LaPone’s and Mandy Patinkin’s voices–but I love the story of Jesus Christ, Superstar.  I think it humanizes the characters in a wonderful way, giving them understandable emotions and motivations.

I saw it in an off-Broadway production a couple years ago.  During the second act, I leaned over towards my friend and said, “Are we on drugs right now?  Because we might be on drugs right now?”  I found it very disorienting.  (But less disorienting than Hair.)  And I definitely agree with @opifex.  The line about Jesus becoming more important than his message always stuck with me.  And the Gethsemane scene?  I’ve heard multiple actors sing that note, twice live.  Chills.  Every time.

The fact that Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light is a wonderful twist in JCSS. I love that he see’s Jesus as a power hungry maniac and while Judas still loves Jesus, he believes that Jesus is just a man, not God (so many references here..) and worries that Jesus’ following will be seen as a threat to the Roman Empire and order and privilege. Oh my god. yes.

Is it when Judas insists that the money used to obtain the oil should have been used to help the poor? And then Jesus gets all backpedally and explains that if he and his followers do not have the resources to alleviate poverty, that his followers will no longer have him and they they will lose their “way”.

There is some larger social comment in here about the non-profit industrial complex. I just know it.

If you have Amazon Prime they have it streaming. I was so pissed that they took it off because I specifically checked a few weeks before; if I’d known I either would have ordered the disc sooner or run over to our storage unit to dig through the massive boxes of dvds to find my copy. A few people also put together youtube playlists; I’m not sure how complete/repetitive they are though.

I’m kicking myself that I didn’t go see the 2000 Broadway revival; I think that’s what the movie you’ve seen is from. I’ll have to check it out! And yeah, the fringe is intense, but some of the other costume choices are even more astounding.

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