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Masterpiece. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – The Easter Story

2 April 2010

It’s Good Friday, Easter. My thoughts go to that most intelligent interpretation of the Easter Story, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, specifically, to the 1973 Oscar-nominated film version. It actually is the Easter story, but all seen through the eyes of the most perceptive of all the Apostles, Judas, and his take on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, Trial and Crucifiction. Which is were it ends. Not that the musical says that Christ DIDN’T rise from the dead on Easter Sunday (the fundamental point of Christianity – as we know it…), but that’s were the musical ends, everyone scratching their heads, utterly lost and bewildered by the whole ostensibly tragic drama…

Now I’ve never been into Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals, but this one is, in my opinion, a masterpiece – musically, and particularly due to the lyrics by Tim Rice, screen version by Melvyn Bragg.  Click on the link for not the most spectacular number of the musical, but certainly one of the most thought-provoking: Played by the inspired Barry Dennen, Pontius Pilate’s Dream.

In a nutshell, Pilate is starting to realise (as do other key figures in the story) that they’re pawns in a plot they cannot understand, a plot they can only view as Jesus’ deliberate self-destruction.  (In a momentary shot at Jesus’ trial, even the infamous High Priests look at each other realising they’ve just been ‘played’.)

I cannot resist including the utterly clever, UTTERLY FUNKY finale of the musical where the awesome Carl Anderson, as Judas, essentially begs of Christ: “What you just did back there, as far as I can figure – and I’m still trying, makes no sense.  Who ARE YOU?”

As you read this, my dear parents are midst-Good Friday Mass: Listening to the long, long Gospel readings of Good Friday, in the Catholic Church unique in the whole year’s readings in that they’re delivered as a dialogue between at least two readers, including a verbal recreation of Jesus’ trial scene where, though Pontius Pilate tries to help him, Jesus doesn’t accept his help.  I find it oddly apt that this single ‘theatrical’ element in the Church Year was introduced to Easter ceremonies shortly after the release of Jesus Christ Superstar – the Rock Opera that even mild-mannered, middle-aged Catholics were talking about in 1973.

If you’re a fan of great guitar music or just great music in general and have never seen this film, hire it on DVD.  If you  saw it ages ago, hire it again: For, in terms of music (not to mention lyrics, acting, costume and locations), it is, in a word, Marvelous.  Ah, from the days when the electric guitar was a political statement, an assertion of the new dominance of Youth.

Superstar Vinyl Album Cover from my childhood

Now I think of it, they even played electric guitars at Mass in those days…  Indeed, this film had no small cultural impact in 1973: It wasn’t just Rock Opera, but a Rock Opera about Jesus Christ.  Nuns went to see it!  By association, it lent Rock (up till then ‘the Devil’s music’) a sort of holy validity.  For a moment, Christ was Cool.  A Young Man.  Who came to buck the Establishment, to threaten the existing Church because it was Corrupt Old Men.  Because a brand-new one was needed.  He could come back today and do Exactly the same thing.

In any case, it seemed that Father O’Casey thought electric guitars might get the Youngsters back in to church on a Saturday night…  And the old boy was right!

HAPPY EASTER.

Justin Sheedy

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