My brother and I watched his DVD copy of 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar. This movie, since I was young, was being shown on TV at times during Holy Week or at times when a TV station feels like showing it. I didn’t like it first time or second time or third time I’ve seen it. Probably because I was uncomfortable seeing Jesus Christ singing. But I do love Mary Magdalene’s song “I don’t know how to love him” and Judas Iscariot’s “Superstar.” I was comfortable seeing Mary Magdalene and Judas, and the other disciples, dancing and singing except Jesus Christ. And I didn’t like the appearance of the guy who played Jesus Christ, played by actor Ted Neeley. My attitude was like this because I’m a big fan of Jesus of Nazareth starring Robert Powell, which was a serious movie, and any movies about Jesus Christ is to me, just nothing. There is only one movie about Jesus that I liked and that is Jesus of Nazareth. And I think Robert Powell looks handsome to play Jesus than Ted Neeley. But this was before.
Watching Jesus Christ Superstar on DVD for the first time, something has changed. Unlike before, I watched the movie from start to finish. And there was this song that had a profound effect on me.
Because for the first time, I saw this scene of Ted Neeley who played Jesus Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane. In that scene, he was praying to his Father about his impending death, his fear. Since this is a rock opera musical, the prayer was rendered in a brutal rock rendition through a song called “Gethsemane” and because of this song that I truly felt Jesus’s vulnerability. I felt the pain. It was intense! Ted Neeley’s surprising high note in the latter part of the song really made me feel the heavy burden of being “the only begotten son.”
I said Robert Powell looks handsome as Jesus than Ted Neeley. I take my word back. It’s not about good looks. Ted Neeley, who was 28 years old at the time and thin which made him so effective as Jesus Christ particularly when he was already being prosecuted in a barbaric way by the Romans, made me feel strongly that Jesus was simply human. I liked it that he was angry, doubting himself, and in this superficial world where we are taught by the self-righteous to suppress our anger, that expressing anger is abnormal, seeing Jesus in his weakest moment was at the same time a very cathartic moment for me.
I also like Carl Anderson who played Judas Iscariot. It was because of Carl Anderson that I began to like and understand Judas, even Peter who betrayed Jesus. Because you know what, if you were alive during Jesus’s time, you would have done the same thing that they did.