It’s time to dig into some of the previously un-reviewed (for me) recommendations in the Musical section of the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, and I was rather surprised with how much I enjoyed Norman Jewison’s anachronistic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic rock opera.
Christian theology has never really been my thing, but growing up in the West, and going to a Catholic school, I got a healthy dose of it, so I know a portion of the stories, and understand the basic tenants.
Diving into this film, stunningly shot on location in Israel, I was surprised that considering that I had never seen the film before, I knew a good portion of the songs (and they are surprisingly catchy). I guess it shows how much a number of them had sunk into the popular culture.
The film follows the last few days of Jesus Christ (Ted Neeley) as his final fate draws closer. Even as he considers what is to come, and perhaps a little quiet, it seems everyone around him want something from him – his apostles, some of them would love for him to position himself as a political leader and lead a revolution against Rome, the pharisees see him as a threat to their own power, and the sick and poor want to be healed.
As Christ preaches peace, and refuses to politicise his message, Judas (Carl Anderson) no longer sees Jesus as a friend, their beliefs and intentions have changed too much. I think this would have played even better if a stronger friendship between the two had been established.
Sure everybody knows the story, Judas betrayed Christ, but in this version he does it with a great amount of anguish. It hurts him to turn on this messiah. Just imagine the kick to it, if they were best of friends…
And lets talk about his followers, definitely marrying itself to the hippie vibe of the late 60s and early 70s, I won’t say that they are cult-like, but I will say that they are definitely at odds with the governing powers of the time, and seem to be very flower-power, and love child.
Not that it’s a bad thing, in fact it helps to modernise the telling of the story and make it more contemporary. I love the way the story is told, sparse sets, anachronistic clothing, and accessories, and yet the heart of the tale is, in essence, timeless.
As solid a performance as Neeley gives, the film is really Anderson’s and he turns in a stellar presentation as Judas.
I very much enjoyed this one, and it rouses my excitement for the musicals still to come in this chapter that I have never seen.
I can’t wait to see what is next…