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All Movie GuideNorman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar may not be the most tuneful rendering of Andrew Lloyd Webber's beautiful score and Tim Rice's deconstructive lyrics, but that's precisely what makes it the definitive realization of Webber and Rice's work. The 1973 film oozes human emotion, better encapsulated by cracking voices than golden throats. This crucial thematic approach starts with Ted Neeley as Christ, an imperfect, temperamental saint whose frail voice plants him firmly in the world of mortals. Not only does Neeley look the part, he lives it. But Carl Anderson's Judas carries the film. Wiry, acrobatic, and torn apart by anguish and confusion, Anderson is part sneaky fox, part peaceful dove, as complex as the part was written. While many directors have chosen unconventional settings to stage Superstar, Jewison was smart to film on location in Israel, as the stark, arid climate both drives home the themes and gives the Biblical story a sense of place. Jewison understood that the lyrics themselves -- "If you came today you could have reached a whole nation/Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication" -- provided as much anachronism as the film needed. The standout scene is the intense, lively ode from Simon Zealotes (Larry Marshall), which includes an inimitably choreographed number that likens the hippie movement to the followers of Christ. Bob Bingham's guttural Caiaphas also makes a lasting impression. Far superior to Godspell, the similarly themed hippie
eligious outing released the same year, Jesus Christ Superstar remains repeatedly watchable for its rousing, unabashed earnestness that narrowly steers clear of excess. It's also a glorious snapshot of an era and the imagination inspired by it.