Category Archives: Musical

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, Norman Jewison)

There’s a lot bad about Jesus Christ Superstar. Some of it is casting, a lot of it is Jewison’s direction choices. He’s clearly thrilled to be shooting in the Middle East, but it doesn’t connect to his actual narrative. It connects to the subject matter, just not the film Jewison ends up making. The one where there’s little or no connective tissue between scenes and where Jewison can’t figure out where to have his actors look while they’re singing. It’s kind of important in a musical and sometimes they look to the sky–occasionally even when it’s appropriate–other times they look directly into the camera.

Or, a lot of the time, Jewison never shows them singing at all. Instead, the music of Jesus Christ Superstar is a soundtrack to their otherwise silent lives. Very silent. There’s maybe a baaa from one of the symbolic sheep. It gets to be a real problem in the second half, when a crowd is chasing Jesus (a very blond, Robin Hood-goateed Ted Neeley) and it’s clear there ought to be ambient noise. Of course, the movie’s jumped into the deep end by that time so it doesn’t really matter.

The film’s first act is the strongest, even if Jewison can’t figure out how to direct Carl Anderson’s scenes. Anderson plays Judas, who gets the opening number. Jewison’s solution is to make Anderson tiny, letting the scenery overpower. It takes Jewison until the second act to get comfortable showing his actors actually singing. With Anderson it works. Anderson acts while singing. Yvonne Elliman is phenomenal at it, even when Jewison edits her songs horribly. Neeley’s not so good. He’s a stone-faced Jesus. Though still somewhat likable.

During the second act, anyway. In the third act, when he’s just a prisoner, there’s so much other bad stuff going on, there’s no point in keeping track of Neeley.

The bad stuff in the third act are Barry Dennen and Josh Mostel. Dennen’s bad. Some of it is Jewison’s direction of the scene. Some of it isn’t. Mostel is just plain horrible. The scene’s terribly directed and probably should be offensive if Jewison weren’t just so lame at it and Mostel is horrible. If the film has any good will left at that point, Mostel burns it up. Dennen might be tolerable without him. Though the looping is atrocious on Dennen’s song.

Decent singing and performance from Bob Bingham. Not from Kurt Yaghjian.

Neeley’s got a fine voice. He can’t act but he’s got a fine voice. And it’s not like if he could act, the movie would be much better. Jewison’s got a lot of bad ideas, for symbolism, for narrative, for composition.

Good photography from Douglas Slocombe. Able if terribly conceptualized editing from Antony Gibbs–except when he’s cutting between Anderson’s final number and Neeley’s walk to Golgotha, that sequence is awesomely cut. Kind of lame as far as the cruxifiction scene plays out–Jewison lets his pretense run loose and it fails the promise of Anderson’s finale–but that editing is excellent.

Jewison just does a bad job with it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Jewison, based on the opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Lloyd Webber; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jewison and Robert Stigwood; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ), Carl Anderson (Judas Iscariot), Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), Barry Dennen (Pontius Pilate), Bob Bingham (Caiaphas), Larry Marshall (Simon Zealotes), Kurt Yaghjian (Annas), Paul Thomas (Peter), and Josh Mostel (King Herod).


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Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour (2012, Laurence Connor and Nick Morris)

Besides having an unwieldy title, Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour does have quite a few things to recommend it. Within reason. It’s still just a video taping of a live performance–albeit an occasionally rather decent one, albeit with the ability to do complicated shots. Lots of crane moves and zooms. Unfortunately, taping director Morris isn’t very good. Melanie C gets some particularly bad shots during her solos and it’s clear she knows she’s being filmed, but apparently not from where.

Don’t tell me a Spice Girl doesn’t know how to make a music video.

And Laurence Connor, the director of this staging of the musical, integrates live video footage of the performance already. It’s on a big screen–it’s the Arena version after all–and occasionally you’ll see the timing on the big screen footage is better on the cuts to Morris’s version. There are five credited film editors–including Morris–so I’ll just make it easy by blaming Morris for all of that stuff. Especially all the religious imagery at the end, which is actually counter to how an audience member would be seeing the performance.

Got to make it a little more churchy for Morris, apparently.

As for the performance itself, there are ups and downs. Tim Minchin is good. There are occasional weaker moments, but he’s good. And he gives a great performance. He’s the only principal who acts. Mel C and Ben Forster (as Jesus)… well, I was going to say they perform but not exactly. Mel C performs. Forster just sort of mugs. He’s not good. Mel C is all right, but Forster is just bad. At performing and singing. And acting.

For the first act, I couldn’t stop cringing when he’d sing and then Morris would ineptly capture it.

The supporting cast has some real standouts. Alexander Hanson is awesome. Gerard Bentall is awesome. Pete Gallagher is pretty good, Chris Moyles is okay but Morris really flubs the Herod number. He also starts cutting to cheaper DV for some weak shots in the last quarter or so. Michael Pickering’s duet with Mel C is nice. He doesn’t stand out in anything else (at least, not in a good way), but their duet is nice.

I’m not exactly sure what a good taped performance of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Arena Tour would look like, but it’s not this one. Morris is either lifeless or incompetent. He’s annoyingly obvious. Though, then again, it’s not like Forster’s his fault. Apparently Forster is the fault of the great British public, who cast him through a reality show.

Connor’s production, Minchin, some of the supporting cast, they get it to the finish. The second act, even with Morris’s taping worse, is a significant uptick from the first.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Laurence Connor and Nick Morris; written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice; lighting director, Steve Nolan; edited by Morris, Brett Sullivan, David Tregoning, and Guy Morley; produced by Dione Orrom and Sullivan; released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Starring Tim Minchin (Judas), Ben Forster (Jesus Christ), Melanie C (Mary Magdalane), Alexander Hanson (Pontius Pilate), Pete Gallagher (Caiaphas), Gerard Bentall (Annas), Michael Pickering (Peter), and Chris Moyles (King Herod).


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The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)

So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.

Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.

This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.

The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.

Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage musical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and ideas by George Hurdalek; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by William Reynolds; music by Irwin Kostal; production designer, Boris Leven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Gilchrist Stuart (Franz), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl) and Eleanor Parker (The Baroness).


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Rock Rock Rock! (1956, Will Price)

Some of Rock Rock Rock! is awful. Director Price goes for the most boring shot every single time–with his cast members on cheap sets, never making it into location establishing shots. Just once would’ve been great. There’s some really bad acting too. Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jacqueline Kerr. Randazzo has the “excuse” of being a singer acting, but Manfred and Kerr are just atrocious. Price can’t direct, of course. When there’s a good moment from Jack Collins, it’s because he’s visibly bored and trying something with his performance.

But some of Rock Rock Rock! is great. Chuck Berry’s performance is great, some of the other performances are excellent too. Of course, these performances are when Tuesday Weld–who plays the lead in the rather strained narrative tying together live rock performances–is watching Alan Freed on television. When Weld and the rest of the cast go to their prom–Randazzo has arranged to have Freed come and DJ the prom, bringing a variety of performers with him–those performances aren’t so good. The narrative, at its most dramatic point, stops.

And it’s a bunch of groups performing on a terrible country club banquet hall stage. Still, La Vern Baker’s performance is good; the rockabilly guy seems a tad embarrassed to be situation in front of a giant paper maché fireplace though.

And Randazzo’s performance–after two generally okay in scene numbers–is weak. Probably because the film doesn’t acknowledge he’s part of the narrative. He just steps out of it for a second, even though his performance should have all sorts of dramatic overtones. Like I said, bad direction from Price.

Weld’s pretty darn good. She gets some terrible scenes, some terrible writing, but she gets through it all. She’s great at lipsyncing to Connie Francis too.

Blandine Hafela’s editing doesn’t help things–it’s amazing how there are clearly good dancers and Price and Hafela butcher their abilities.

And the film does have one excellent scene where Weld, previously played as something of a dope, outsmarts her nemesis.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Will Price; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on a story by Subotsky and Phyllis Coe; director of photography, Morris Hartzband; edited by Blandine Hafela; produced by Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Dori), Teddy Randazzo (Tommy), Fran Manfred (Arabella), Jacqueline Kerr (Gloria), Ivy Schulman (Baby), Jack Collins (Dori’s father), Carol Moss (Dori’s mother), Eleanor Swayne (Miss Silky) and Alan Freed (himself).


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