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Jesus Christ Superstar cover
Your June 2007 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In

Tagline: And now, the movie......

Son of God? Heal lepers? Save souls? Phooey! It turns out Jesus' best trait was rock singer.

For the Preshow Entertainment, we watched some of the extraordinary documentary PLANET EARTH. This footage is incredible, astounding, and at times mindbending. Sometimes you think, "Wait, they're just putting me on. This is CG." Not only do we see Earth's surfaces and creatures as they've never been seen before, but we also see some animal behavior never before witnessed by humans. This installment, ICE WORLDS, showed us Antarctica and the Arctic. We were just about to make it to the polar bears when the pizza arrived. PLANET EARTH is fascinating and at times even suspenseful. And in HD, well, it's all simply jawdropping. I highly recommend PLANET EARTH, especially if you've got High Def. WOW.

And now our feature presentation...

I suppose it's fitting that The Who's rock opera TOMMY, about a boy who gains followers the way religious figures do, would be followed nary a year later by fellow rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Yes kids, Jesus beat Molly Shannon to the title.

Jesus (Neeley) and Judas (Anderson)
JCS is an imaginative and exciting musical. With its mix of anachronisms (fighter jets) and minimalist sets and props (I swear, the art direction budget paled in comparison with what they spent on hats), we follow JC (Ted Neeley) and his loyal then not so loyal fans through his last days, all sung (remember, it's an opera) to an infectious rock score. And it's all told largely through the eyes of that Benedict Arnold of the Bible, Judas (Carl Anderson, now sadly departed). The conceit is a Bus and Truck acting troupe doing the story in the Holy Land.

Like any good rock star's E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY, Jesus gets stabbed in the back by his close friend, hangs out with prostitutes, gets arrested then bounced around the legal system (proving bureaucracy existed long before the DMV), only to die a tragic death that he could have avoided had he changed his ways.

Carl Anderson as Judas
Neeley's vocal performances are perfect, especially bringing it home in the song "Gethsemane" where he gets to show off his chops, range, emotions, and awesome neck muscles. But it's Anderson who steals the show with his passionate, charismatic, and robust (get this guy to an anger management class) Judas. And quite frankly, the man's points made a lot of sense (which led to controversy when the Broadway show was first launched in 1971). He frames the story with the first line of the libretto, "My mind is clearer now," and closes his arc with "My mind is in darkness now" from his last song ("Judas' Death"). Well, we all know the bullet points of the story so I won't bore you with all the fiction. Plus this way you won't crucify me for giving away the ending.

But what I will say is that the shots are breathtaking, with beautiful (not quite PLANET EARTH-y, though) vistas of desert landscape. The pace is perfect, it's surely a fat-free movie. The acting, largely on the money (though the lip-syncing not so great). The voices, soaring into the heavens. Yet it's the rock and funk score that sells this movie. It's the only score Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ever wrote that's worth 30 pieces of silver. And please do not fight me on this or I'll lock you in a theater with a bunch of cats on roller skates. JCS's score is so sharp, catchy, and smart that I am skeptical Webber and Rice actually composed it. But okay, I'll give them this one. It's such a wonderful score that this here atheist knows every note by heart. In fact, when I was a lad, I naively wanted to write a fan letter to the bass player.

JCS was first a record, then it became a show, and then the movie. When this happened, they added the song "Could We Start Again, Please?" and I'm glad they did. Although it's one of only two songs that do not move the story forward, it's the most melodic one in the bunch.

Unfortunately, the music in the movie is mixed so low that the arrangements are almost inaudible. The trade-off is you get to hear every line of every song with so much clarity, you almost wish the sound was dirtier. This is also a misfire because, let's face it, the score is 85% of what makes the movie work. So without hearing it properly, the movie loses some impact as well as its sonic assault.

Ted Neeley as Jesus
On the original record, Jesus was Ian Gillan, the lead singer from Deep Purple. Ted Neeley, though perhaps a bit emotionless at times, does capture much of that same feel. He makes for a fine JC. And he's still doing it today, 35 years later. Currently on, and it's really called this, "The Ted Neeley Farewell Tour," Neeley's now 64 years old. Now, I'm no math genius, but isn't that nearly twice Jesus' age? But who cares. He's great. At this point, the only difference between Ted Neeley and Jesus Christ is that Ted Neeley actually comes back.

The great Norman Jewison (yes, yes, I cry at FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, sue me) made JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. He's got such a terrific eye for detail, composition, and rhythm. His use of long lenses and zooms, which were admittedly more popular in that time, are creative and even fun. Musicals suit him. I wish he made more.

Director Norman Jewison and cast
Now here's your Hollywood folklore tidbit of the day (from IMDb): Norman Jewison's previous project had been the film version of the Broadway hit FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in which he had cast Israeli actor Topol in the role of Tevye, to the bitter disappointment of Broadway's Tevye, Zero Mostel. When Jewison wanted to cast Mostel's son Joshua as Herod in this movie Mostel snapped, "Tell him to get Topol's son!"

My love for this musical is never ending. I've seen it maybe six times now (once with Sebastian Bach as Jesus, and once with Dennis DeYoung from Styx as Pilate...which should give you a clue as to how much I love this show). I also remember back in (maybe) 1991 when Ted Neeley was on Carson (Johnny, not Daly). I thought, Wouldn't it be funny if he panelled after he sang? And sure enough...yep...he did his interview in his Jesus outfit. That in turn gave me the idea to put Jesus on a talk show, which I did in a sketch comedy show in Hollywood called THE TELEVISION SHOW, performed in 1992.

Now dated (I mean, it's largely an ensemble of hippies) JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR proves that even a heathen like me can like Jesus. Of course, if Hitler made a great double cheeseburger, I'd probably like him too.

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