• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Silverscreen Beats:Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar

    I've been continuing to enjoy Silverscreen Beats, although more via BBC online than live. I notice that Mark Goodacre has responded to my question about his role in the series as follows:Well, the clip of me speaking, as well as a lot of the rest of the content, is taken from a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast on Easter Day 2004 and entitled Silverscreen Superstar. I blogged on it briefly at the time (Silverscreen Superstar, 15 April 2004). I didn't know about the new version, so I am interested to see how it pans out and whether they'll be using any more of me in it.In other words it is a new series made by interspersing recycled content from another programme with new comments from Miles Jupp (who the BBC introducers are keen to stress is a theology graduate).

    On Tuesday it looked at Godspell which is one of Jesus films that I appreciate less than most. Both of these films have dated significantly in the 33 years since their release, but Godspell possibly more than Jesus Christ Superstar. That said, hearing the music again has given me a new appreciation for the music in the film.

    The biggest strength of the film for me is the way it gives creative interpretations of the parables. Most Jesus films tend to produce these in a rather stodgy format, presenting them as the sacred texts they have crystallised into over 2000 years of church history losing the vitality of the dynamic, creative, challenging nature of storytelling. It's also worth pointing out how the parables were very much part of the wider culture in Jesus's time, a little like how the film tries to re-imagine the story into the culture of its time.

    The programme made a couple of interesting points. Firstly, one of the interviewees comments on how at the time Godspell was widely accepted by church groups, but has now fallen into disrepute as fundamentalism has risen. This strikes me as an interesting contrast to Jesus Christ Superstar which was considered scandalous in its time for it lack of resurrection amongst other things, but is gradually being rehabilitated. Whilst I don't imagine it's any more popular than Godspell amongst fundamentalists (especially as it also excludes the resurrection), it's curious to see these two films level out in acceptability having come from very different starting points.

    The other point that was new to me was the discussion of the movement between sharps and flats in "Day by Day" and how that reflects the back and forth of prayer.

    For what it's worth there's a 30 second clip of "All for the Best", one of the songs from Godspell, here. This clip has become infamous now for being shot from the roof of one of the twin towers, and it feels strangely inappropriate post 9/11. I've also just discovered Big Bopper which has music and a number of pictures from the film.

    One of the most interesting discussions about Godspell is in Richard Walsh's book "Reading the Gospels in the Dark" which I touched on st the end of this post from last month.

    Yesterday (Wednesday) the series looked at Jesus Christ Superstar, which whilst it also isn't one of my favourite Jesus films, is certainly my second favourite musical (behind Sweeney Todd). There's a nice article on this film by Mark Goodacre (who has appeared in all three programmes so far) at the Journal of Religion and Film.

    One of the things the programme didn't really talk about is the way Tim Rice harnesses the full potential of the musical to give us a new way of looking at Jesus. The Musical is one of the only dramatic art forms that allows a number of different characters to express their inner feelings whether through the solo (monologue), or songs with a number of the leads (which can either be dialogue or consecutive monologues). Of course, in theory, other dramatic forms can, and indeed do, do this on occasion, but it is perhaps in the musical where this feels most natural. What Rice does is include a high number of solos, giving us the internal monologue of a number of the lead characters. So for the first time we hear the "thoughts" of Judas, Jesus, Mary, Pilate, as well as Herod, Peter and Simon Zealotes to a lesser extent, all within the same piece.

    It was interesting to hear how the title "Superstar" got associated with the song, film and album. I must admit that I tend to think of this as a musical first, rather than an album as Rice was suggesting we should. But then since I'm such a big fan of the music in this film it shouldn't be too hard to make that leap.

    The series continues today at 3:45 BST with a look at the music from Life of Brian.

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    • At 9:23 am, July 06, 2006, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      Doesn't it seem strange that Godspell would become less popular with Christians over the years? If anything, it seems to me that conservative evangelicals have come to embrace the goofy-approach-to-biblical-stories aesthetic in a big way, via things like VeggieTales.

    • At 4:42 pm, July 07, 2006, Blogger Matt Page said…

      It does, but then that's perhaps because in my country at least I'm used to attitudes gradually becoming more liberal. But I suppose that if a culture is sliding towards conservatism then it makes a bit more sense.



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