Jesus Christ Superstar


A while back, for Palm Sunday, I posted a clip from the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar” on this blog.



On Easter night, TCM showed the whole movie, which I haven’t watched for years.



I was engrossed.



Some thoughts:


  • I perfectly understand now why Passion Plays have always been popular. The story has everything: tension, heroes, antiheroes, villains who may or may not be well-meaning, love, betrayal, agony, death. And the ultimate happy ending.

  • The 1960s slang – “One thing I’ll say for him, Jesus is cool!” – was dated almost as soon as it hit the stage, and certainly by the time it hit the screen. And there’s a very Haight-Ashbury atmosphere about the cast: long hair, no shirts, lots of jewelry. But it works somehow.

  • The frame – a troupe of actors arriving at a desert site to enact the story, and gradually becoming the characters they portray – has also been done a million times. But it still gives me a thrill. After the opening montage, when everyone has put on his costume, the scenery has been assembled, and they’re all just waiting for the story to begin, I always get a shiver.

  • Some of the symbolism slaps you in the face; other bits are very subtle. It wasn’t until the other night, for example, that I noticed that, after Judas in the desert is buzzed by two jets, they perform a maneuver and turn, and their silhouettes in the air are two small crosses.

  • Pilate, with his ever-so-subtle British accent, is slightly foreign, which is appropriate for a Roman among Israelites. He also evokes a kind of early Bowie sensibility, which is perfect for the role.

  • Josh Mostel as Herod is utterly perfect: comedy relief at just the point in the story you don’t expect it. (I learned online that Josh’s father Zero Mostel was furious that he’d been passed over by director Norman Jewison for the lead in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Jewison had casted an Israeli actor named Topol. When Josh told his father about Jewison casting him in “Superstar,” Zero raged: “Why didn’t he cast Topol’s son?”

  • I also noted online that there’s still much discussion over whether this is a “musical” or a “rock opera.” Well, it’s an opera, all right; there’s next to no spoken dialogue. Not quite sure if it’s “rock,” however . . .




And finally:


  • One of the dancers in the “Simon Zelotes” number is very cute. I think, however, he’s also the soldier who flogs Jesus.







About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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