I have a confession to make – I am totally obsessed with “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Which is a strange thing for a nice jewish Mexican boy who doesn’t particularly like musicals, especially those by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact I hate almost everything else by Andrew Lloyd Webber. But JCS is different. Technically it’s a ‘rock opera’, whatever the hell that means. But really the music has some killer guitar and base riffs, that are really so raw and powerful that by themselves would be enough to justify the existence of the whole thing. But also the songwriting is excellent and the story is interesting. In particular I like the movie version which was directed by Norman Jewison
(see, I’m not the only jew who thinks JCS is awesome CORRECTION: Apparently Norman is not a Jew ) in 1973. It was filmed in the desert in Israel, with no sets except some scaffolding, some Roman ruins and some cool caves. It’s starts with a bus with some Arabic writing on it barreling down the desert, and then as the music starts a bunch of hippies emerge from the bus and start unpacking props and donning their costumes which are of course very 1970’s as opposed to 0030’s. As these guys transform themselves into character, the dude playing Judas (Carl Anderson), clearly in angst, starts harping on Jesus and how he’s egging on his followers in what is probably one of the best songs in the show. It’s really awesome and I get all tingly when I hear it. Plus the guy playing Simon Zealotes is pitch perfect and Pontius Pilate looks like a guy I went to summer cam with.
So how did my obsession come about? Back in the 70’s my parents bought a Betamax VCR machine and they bought four movies – Modern Times and The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar. I’m not sure what drove this initial decision for movie purchases, but as an eight year-old I must have seen each one of them hundreds of times and I still have them all memorized and would recommend them to anyone who likes movies. In particular, I was totally blown away by JCS. Mind you that as a Jew I only had a very vague sense of the gospels. It mostly consisted of some of my classmates telling me that the Jews killed Jesus and that some dude named Judas did something bad. So much so that there was a special day, “la quema del Judas” where they burned effigies of him. Sometimes Judas was depicted as a black person, sometimes as a bull, and sometimes the burning of the Judas became the burning of the Jew. So Christianity didn’t look good for us Jews.
Yet when I saw JCS it was a totally different story. Judas was a cool dude. He was basically trying to convince Jesus that he should cut down on the heaven and son of God business. That they had gotten a nice little resistance going against the Romans, but that he was in danger of turning his following into a religious cult. And Jesus is depicted as single minded, with all his talk about God and the power and the glory. So Judas tried to save him by facilitating his arrest by the local authorities, not knowing that their intention was to kill him, at which point he realized his mistake and hanged himself. Judas was actually trying to save him. Yet Jesus still had a chance to save himself while being judged by Pontius Pilate, but no, and then Pilate sentences him to death. So after watching this, to me it became clear that it was not the Jews that killed Jesus, in fact it was the Romans, maybe egged on by the Jewish priests (which do not count in my mind as “The Jews”) plus everyone else was Jewish, even Jesus, so it didn’t make any sense what my classmates said. It clearly was a lot more subtle and complicated than that. Now, I have no idea whether the story in JCS is anywhere near to how the gospels are taught, but I did read the gospels (some of them) during grad school and the story in the movie seems fairly accurate, other than the movie seeming a lot more secular.
So there you have it. Very cool music, a good film and a compelling story. Plus vindication for my people. What else could you want?