By: Jane

Apr 25 2011

Category: God, music


Last night, Easter night, I watched the film version of “Godspell.”

I have no skill or knowledge as a film critic. I don’t know, artistically speaking, whether it’s a well made film or not. I do know that the reviews it got were just ok, and that the movie itself was a box office flop. One of the original reviewers said that Stephen Schwartz’s songs all started to sound the same after a while. I am a musician, and I disagree with that assessment, but that’s neither here nor there.

The show was conceived as a masters thesis, and originally executed as New York street theater. I have to wonder whether the thesis was on drama or theology, because it shows a side of Jesus that I rarely think about or recognize, and on that level it’s like a book whose characters you miss once you’re done reading. It’s still on my mind this morning.

Honestly, I usually think of Jesus as a rather two dimensional person. I know a photograph of Him, instead of all of Him. When I read about Him in the Bible I think I get the same impression that Cecil B. DeMille seems to have gotten – intoning, somber, joyless. Probably, that’s because His story on earth is one of enormous grief, torture and death, and because His mission here was of life and death, heaven and hell.

But don’t you ever wonder what He was like on a day to day basis? Did He tell jokes? I know He’s got a sense of humor, because I have one, and He’s more than me. How did He show affection? Did He hug Peter? Did He have inside jokes and understandings with John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas and the rest of the disciples? I know He gave them nicknames….He called the brothers Zebedee, (the BeeZees?) the Sons of Thunder because of their quick tempers. (Hmmmm…that sounds like He accepted them just as they were.) If I could REALLY write, I’d write a book of conjecture on what they were all like. Maybe their tempers were a function of sibling rivalry. Maybe Jesus was constantly having to say “Don’t make Me come back there!” But I digress.

Those are the kinds of things that Victor Garber, (long before “Titanic”), tried to capture in his representation of Jesus. It’s been making me think…..

“See Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly, day by day….”

Yeah, Jesus, I’d like to know the 3-D You; the sense of humor, the affectionate nature, the interpersonal relationship – not between You and the whole world, but just between You and me.

If you can find this movie and spend a couple of hours watching, I’d like to know what you think.


13 comments on “Godspell”

  1. Well, first off, you can REALLY write, but maybe you don’t know that yet 😀
    I have only seen some of the film, and I agree it seems to be a portrait of the human side that though is not clearly spelled out in scripture, I seem to know He has as the Spirit fills in the gaps in my mental images. I believe it will be just one of the endless things we will find out about Him when we get home. I believe He will take one on one walks with us, talking, laughing, loving on us like we experience with very close friends here now.

    • Thanks Greg. I know I can make my thoughts fairly clear…I just get the feeling there’s a lot more to it than that. And I don’t even know what!

      I think I’ll ask to have a few of my gaps filled in. :0)

  2. Oooohhh…did I hear someone mention the need for a movie critic?

    Well…I haven’t seen Godspell in years so I can’t do a fair critical analysis. My favorite musical Jesus will always be Ted Neely in Jesus Christ, Superstar. The clown makeup on Victor Garber always disturbed me somehow…

    But the real point of your post is not about critical analysis so I’ll stop there….and I’ve wondered myself what it would be like to hang with Jesus….grab a Rita’s Water Ice or play a game of Texas Hold Em….there must have been many such moments like this in His life…especially before the ministry years began…most of the Gospels focus on the last three years…..but there were at least 30 unaccounted for years where I’m sure He had friends…wrestled with the brothers…and might have lived a relatively ordinary life. Ha…I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Nazarene village fathers tried to hook their daughters up with Him……

    I think sometimes we lose the humanity in all of the pageantry…

    This is a great post Jane….and your blog is aces….I give it a thumbs up…

  3. Chris..we just happen to have recorded it, in case you want to do a fair analysis.
    Apparently the clown makeup does disturb some people, but if you look at it all it is is the heart on the forehead (love), and the tears under the eyes. (grief.) The more I’ve thought about the movie today, the more symbolism I see. For example, why do you suppose they used the same actor to portray John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot? Until last night I always found it confusing, but now I think I might know.
    As far as Jesus Christ Superstar is concerned, who can argue with Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Weber!)
    Thanks for reading, Chris…your comment could be your first blog post, ya know!

  4. Glad I found this site,as i just watched the film for the first time last night.As you said is with me:this film,the songs and characters are still on my mind today.There is a freshness and a joy that comes through:the disciples have become as little children hanging around Jesus;they have safety,comfort and joy because they are near their Lord;they can be themselves and let loose,knowing that He will never mock them or put them to shame.And Jesus himself:quite a contrast with the Jeffrey Hunter or Max Von Sydow portrayals-this Jesus is full of positive energy,love overflowing and joy-full of life.This movie was a blessing to me and my brother-thanks God for showing me this side of my Friend and Lord!And thanks for the post my friend,sincerely

  5. I never made the connection between the tears and the heart….that’s awesome…..and I guess the Superman shirt could represent power…and the suspenders could represent his innocence…my gosh….this is more layered than I thought….

  6. Actually the Superman shirt represents his saving power…not just power….duh…

  7. Hi Rob! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you found this site too! I first saw this film in the ’70s. I liked it then, and I like it now. There’s one song that was written only for the movie. “Beautiful
    City” was not original to the show, and the only time I ever heard it was when I saw the movie,
    But it stuck with me, all these years.
    So glad we were able to enjoy the movie together, even though we didn’t know about it until today. I hope we talk again ! :0)

  8. Chris, when he removed all their face paint at the end, I think he was washing their feet. At that point, each of them showed a way of relating to him that none of the others had, and it showed how personal and individual each relationship was. As for the baptist/judas character, I thought maybe it was trying to show that no matter how good a person looks or even is, there’s a treachery within each of us. That may be a stretch, but I just can’t see any other good reason to confuse an audience by having the same actor play 2 parts without even changing his clothes.

  9. Haven’t thought about Godspell in awhile. Haven’t seen the movie but I’ve always enjoyed the stage show. I would like to see it done as street theater.

  10. I am always amazed by people who are creeped out by a clown face. I have done a lot of “Christian clowning” and I love the symbols of the clown face for Christ.

    As to Jesus as a regular guy . . . I don’t know. I think he was modeling what we could be like if we allowed the Holy Spirit full reign within. So, I have to assume there was a lot joy and peace and genuine love.

  11. My all time favorite movie. I still have the lobby cards framed in my home. He is my real Jesus in my heart. I thought the clown make up was for how the pharisees view him. A joke, a magician, a fool. But we that know and love Jesus like Irmbrown said if we would just let go and KNOW the joy and peace that he gave us… What would we look like? The other opinion of the heart for LOVE and the tears for Grief is good too. I always thought it was a big letter on his shirt was a G for God? Maybe it is an S for superman. In any case Jesus is my Rockstar Superhero.

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