• 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


    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Scene Guide - Jesus Christ, Superstar

    Having reviewed Jesus Christ, Superstar via my podcast a couple of weeks ago, I've been meaning to post a scene guide ever since. The film / musical is so well loved that there are plenty of resources for it online, and I'm sure that if I'd looked for long enough I would have found one which does exactly this. It may well have been quicker. The plus side is that I've been able to add times (although these are approximate), song titles, and a few more subtle references than normally. As per my usual procedure I'll continue to preference Mark over the later synoptics where appropriate.
    0:00:00 - Overture
    0:05:30 - Heaven on Their Minds
    0:09:00 - What's the Buzz? - (Matt 6:34; John 14:1; Luke 10:38-42)
    0:11:30 - Strange Things Mystifying - (John 12:3-7)
    0:13:30 - Then We Are Decided - (John 11:47-48)
    0:17:00 - Everything's Alright - (Luke 8:1-3; Matt 6:34; Mark 14:3-9)
    0:21:30 - This Jesus Must Die - (Mark 14:1-2; John 11:49-50)
    1:25:30 - Hosanna - (Mark 11:1-10)
    0:28:00 - Simon Zealotes - (John 6:15)
    1:32:30 - Poor Jerusalem - (Mark 10:45)
    0:34:15 - Pilate's Dream - (Matt 27:19)
    0:36:00 - The Temple - (Mark 11:15-19)
    0:39:00 - Gethsemane/See my eyes - (Mark 1:32-34; Luke 11:29)
    0:42:30 - I Don't Know How to Love Him
    0:46:30 - Damned for All Time / Blood Money - (Mark 14:10-11)
    0:51:30 - The Last Supper - (Mark 14:17-31)
    0:58:00 - Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) - (Mark 14:32-42)
    1:04:30 - What's the buzz (reprise) - (Mark 14:43-50)
    1:06:15 - The Arrest - (Mark 15:1)
    1:08:15 - Peter's Denial - (Mark 14:66-72)
    1:11:00 - Pilate & Christ - (Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:6-7)
    1:13:00 - King Herod Song - (Luke 23:8-11)
    1:16:45 - Could We Start Again, Please? - (Matt 16:22)
    1:20:00 - Judas's Death - (Matt 27:3-5)
    1:24:30 - Trial Before Pilate - (John 18:29-38, 19:4-16; Matt 27:24,26)
    1:31:30 - Superstar
    1:36:00 - Crucifixion - (Mark 15:22-27,34; Luke 23:34, 46)
    1:38:45 - John Nineteen: Forty-One - (John 19:40-41)
    1:41:15 - [Empty Cross] - (John 10:11-15)
    1973JCSSRoadtoCross.jpgAside from the opening few songs, Superstar is essentially a Passion play, albeit one set to music. That said, it is also a significant deviation from that genre as most of the action takes place prior to Pilate's decision to execute Jesus rather than from that moment to his death. It is noticeable that the crucifixion is over very quickly in this film, and the road to the cross section is limited to a few brief shots during the title song.

    The film's use of the biblical sources is particularly interesting. As is fairly standard for a Jesus film, the various gospels are harmonised into one telling. Since the libretto holds fairly loosely to the texts this is generally unproblematic, but one exception is the scene where Pilate condemns Jesus - Trial Before Pilate. This draws on John 18:29-38, as well as 19:4-16 and two verses from the gospel of Matthew 27:24,26. This song seems a little overcomplicated as it seeks to explain why Pilate condemned Jesus. It's the one aspect that the 1999 recording of the stage version of the opera does particularly well - explaining why the brutal Pilate we find recorded in history appears to act meekly in the case of Jesus.

    Elsewhere however the film picks out random bits of the gospels to use as throwaway lines in other songs. Typical of this is the priests' discussion of Jesus referring to his miracles, or Judas referring to his teaching. Likewise Jesus's anointing is placed in an entirely new context. One further example of this is the way in which Simon the Zealot is given a far more significant role here than in the gospels. His surname, which may have referred to his past or present beliefs (or may even have been ironic), is used as the basis for a whole song.

    Whilst I've expanded the list of references here there are more I could have included. One of the useful sources in constructing the above information is Stern, Jefford and Debona's "Savior on the Silver Screen". There they include a few verses that I did not, such as the use of Mark 16:8 to refer to the actors getting on the coach in the silence at the end of the film. This hasn't been included mainly because this scene is outside of the historical referencing of the play, and those verse refer to different characters both in person and in function.

    In order to simplify things, the film combines a number of characters. So Pilate's wife is absent and does not, therefore, appear to be warned about Jesus in a dream - all this happens only to her husband. Likewise the various parties opposed to Jesus are brought down to just two leads, Caiaphas and Annas, and a few priests.

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    • At 8:19 am, April 14, 2007, Blogger Christopher Heard said…

      "As per my usual procedure I'll continue to preference Mark over the later synoptics where appropriate."

      It has always seemed to me that Jesus Christ Superstar presents Mark's Jesus (think "Messianic Secret") in John's storyline. I know this is an oversimplification but an interesting thought nevertheless.

    • At 11:45 am, April 16, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…


      I really like that as an observation. It defintiely feels like John's story, but as you say the Jesus is the more Marcan than anything else.




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