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Jesus Christ Superstar

Fifty+ years after its release, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR still packs a punch thanks to its eccentric and at the time, controversial staging.

Filmed entirely on Israel locations by Director Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof, Moonstruck, In the Heat of the Night) he begins the film with a busload of young people arriving in the ruins of an ancient temple, unloading a bus and costumes. During the overture, they shed their seventies garb for ancient costumes as Andrew Lloyd Webber's music soars.

The film is entirely sung through, the only dialogue spoken is Tim Rice's song lyrics. This has always been one of Webber & Rice's greatest collaborations, a rock opera that carved out very new ground in the early 1970's.

Anytime you start to feel comfortable, Jewison drops in a modern visual reference into ancient times. People either loved Centurion tanks chasing Judas across the desert or they hated it, there was very little middle ground.

I loved it then and still find some serious full body chills in some the best numbers, which for me are "Gethsemane", "Pilate's Dream", "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Superstar".

Ted Neeley is perfectly cast as Jesus, a role that he has continued to play in the decades since in stage revivals of the musical. Seventeen-year-old John Travolta auditioned for the role of Jesus. He didn't get the part, but producer Robert Stigwood would remember him four years later when he cast Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever".

Carl Anderson (The Color Purple) is powerful as Judas, his rendition of "Heaven On Their Minds" is classic and a great opener. "Judas' Death" is also a powerhouse, with Israeli jets flying overhead and voices whispering around him.

Yvonne Elliman is also good as Mary Magdeline, with "I Don't Know How to Love Him" equaled by the latter "Can We Start Again Please?".

Barry Dennan has great presence as Pilate, offering up strong drama to offset the comically staged visit to King Herod, nailed by the hilariously off-putting Josh Mostel, showing the same comic chops as his dad, Zero.

Fast paced, beautifully shot by Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lion in Winter) and edited by Jewison regular Antony Gibbs (Fiddler on the Roof, Rollerball) it's got true visual style in those stark landscapes.

Notable for it's somber ending that ends the story with the crucifixion, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is an interesting take on music very much of its time, the very best of which still holds up perfectly half a century later.

A solid B.




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