Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gospel Road with different music

If you can set the life of Jesus to country-gospel music, you can set it to almost any genre of music. Rock opera shows up tonight on TCM at 8:00 PM with the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is followed by show tunes with Godspell at 10:00 PM.

The framing story is an interesting one. In New York City of the early 1970s (just before Gerald Ford was telling the city to drop dead), a bunch of people are having problems with their personal lives. One by one, each of them sees a bearded man, who through sheer force of personality gets them to go off with him! It's obviously an allegory to Jesus! Er, no it isn't. It's actually John the Baptist, as we see when he takes all of them to a fountain to have them baptized. This, of course, is where Jesus shows up, wanting to be baptized; at this point Jesus becomes the leader of the new group of believers....

In this telling of the story, it's an excuse for "Jesus" and his "apostles" to go around New York retelling the story of Jesus' life, and singing Broadway show tunes set mostly outside in front of suitably impressive backdrops of various locations in New York: Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, Grant's Tomb, and even one number shot in part on the World Trade Center which was still under construction at the time.

As with Gospel Road, it's a bit difficult to give a rating to a movie like this: it's much less about the story then it is about the music. That having been said, Godspell, I think, winds up quite a bit better than Gospel Road. It's not because I prefer show tunes to Cash's style of music; in fact I'm not that big a fan of Broadway. However, the "apostles" here have an enthusiasm that fits perfectly with the music, and the framing story is much better, effectively making its point about how God is (or should be, depending on your religious beliefs) relevant in modern day life. It's a statement that's particularly well-made at the very end, after the crucifixion of Jesus. (Oh, I didn't give away the story, did I?)

Godspell is not only available on DVD; you can get any of a large number of versions of the soundtrack on CD.

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