G, despite the fact that the protagonist is crucified (admittedly using red arm bands) and there's some references to illicit activities. Listen, these G-ratings are really hard to cover. There's almost nothing to object to, outside of the general psychadelicness of the whole thing. I suppose if you really wanted to throw up a stink, someone might consider the portrayal of the Gospel of St. Matthew heretical or blasphemous, but even that seems like a stretch.
DIRECTOR: David Greene
Okay, I have a bit of momentum. I can do this. I can catch up on a list that has gotten way out of control. (Of course, I finished not one, but two movies last night.) I have to tell you, I directed Godspell once. Okay, I helped direct Godspell once. It's weird how your brain can purge weird things once time has passed. As much I had some things memorized from this show from the sheer repetition of it over the course of a month, there were genuine surprises while watching Godspell this time. I don't think I've seen this version before. I had watched a lot of the Broadway and stage versions before directing it, but not the film itself, despite the fact that this movie was Victor Garber's claim to fame.
Adaptations of religious stories always kind of weird me out. I throw stones (allusion intended) at my wife for never giving Jesus Christ Superstar a chance despite the fact that she loves Godspell is one of her favorites AND that Godspell is way weirder than Jesus Christ Superstar. But the hypocrisy of it all is that I don't really care for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, except for that one song that I can never really get out of my head. But I make a lot of assumptions about when Broadway adapts religious stories. It's always odd for me because they are done lovingly, but I always get the vibe that few people are actually all that religious. I know that's a huge assumption. And, right now, it feels like I'm attacking that notion. I don't think I am. It's part of how I approach watching something like Godspell. There is a secular approach to who Jesus is compared to the religious approach to who Jesus is and that's not necessarily something that is in conflict. If anything, that conflict has been nurtured, most likely on the part of the religious. There's something odd to the notion of Jesus existing without the element of worship.
I mean, Godspell, from this humble nerd's perspective, straight up says that "Jesus is Lord." I think a director has to make the choice before starting the story. Maybe that's what I'm trying to pick apart in this blog. Does David Greene think that Jesus is Lord and I'm going to treat him as if he's the Son of God or is Jesus a great dude who changed the world through his teaching and was killed because he upset the status quo? I know. I'm going back to that binary because both can be true. But that's what is kind of happening. And in the case of Godspell movie, I feel like the words are saying, "Jesus is the Son of God", but the production is saying that he's a hip guy who changed the world through his actions. The insane part of all this? Godspell is the worst --but potentially the most accurate --allegory for what is going on in my faith life.
Godspell is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew. It's being pulled from the Bible directly. Yeah, the words are changed to make hip language and it's skipping over sections where Jesus ends up being a huge bummer at times. It's reflecting the times and the need for change in society. In this case, it's the hippie movement. I'm not writing off the hippie movement yet. I'm going to talk about that later if I can get my act together and keep a sense of organization in this blog. Considering that it is from the Gospel of St. Matthew, it has to say that Jesus is Lord and divine. But when the film treats Jesus in a secular humanist way, there's something very attractive about that Jesus. One of the big things about early Christianity / Catholicism is the understanding that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. That's a really heady concept. Emotionally, we tend to treat Jesus as one thing or another. But Godspell hits the story in a really weird way that verbally highlights his divinity while stressing his earthly mission as a man. The frustration I've had with my message is people ascribing things to the divine Jesus that we have little evidence for (but wait, isn't that faith?!) and forgetting that the man Jesus did.
I would like to point out that the human element of Jesus wasn't as cool as Victor Garber's Jesus, by the way. There are moments where Jesus can be kind of rough and I should point that out. But the Victor Garber Jesus is a cool takeaway of what we should be. I'm about to spiral into my frustrations with my specific faith life in a second, so get ready for some real vulnerability. The Victor Garber / secular humanist Jesus is about being counter-culture in the best possible way. I'm going to put myself in the shoes of the creators of Godspell. Like the forefathers of America, the people of Godspell probably saw the best parts of Christianity and distilled it into lessons for everyone. Give to the poor. Have empathy for sinners. Be the best version of yourself, despite what other people tell you. The following is all my theory that I think about way too much. The notion of secular humanism kind of disgusted devout Christians. After all, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. You can only get to Heaven through accepting Christ. The notion that you could be a good person and not through the worship of Christ, but simply his teachings about behavior is slightly sacralige. So what did devout Christians do?
They decided to act opposite of secular humanists. "We don't want to be like any of those people who claim that Jesus isn't God." So all the teachings that Godspell advocates somehow come across as cheap platitudes. Do you need an example? This is preachy as heck, but I am talking about Godspell, so I probably get a bit of a pass. When I see "God, Guns, Country", I have so many issues. "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." Also, isn't it putting America on par with God? It's because Christianity has moved to distance itself from the secular humanist Godspell. But it does it such a kneejerk reaction that it misses the point of God in general. You can have a problem with the notion that Godspell and secular humanism miss the point, but not change the behavior or belief system in a means to distance yourself. Without going too deep, but it's a major reason for the rise of radical conservatism in the Catholic Church.
Phew! Anyway. Can I talk about how something is both cool and off about Godspell? It's my blog? Fine. Let's talk about how John the Baptist and Judas are the same person. I have such a love/hate John-the-Baptist/Judas-Iscariot relationship with this idea. John the Baptist is often seen as one of the most thankless roles in the Bible. He's Jesus's cousin and, as his song suggests, prepares the way of the Lord. He knows that, as holy as John's mission is, that it pales in light of the Messiah. John the Baptist will die with his head literally on a platter defending this belief. To make him Judas Iscariot is kind of an insult to who John the Baptist really was. Man, that irks me a bit.
But on the other hand, the players in Godspell are more archetypes than roles, outside of Jesus himself. Jesus stays Jesus throughout, but the other players fill in either characters in parables or civilians of Jerusalem. But John / Judas is actually named. And if you are telling the Christ narrative through a storyteller's lens...it's kind of cool? There's a thread in the Bible, in faith, and just in day-to-day life that people --for all of their good intentions-- kind of suck. We are always reminded that we are sinners. We're defined by our own dissatisfaction. While the real John's story didn't end the way it did, imagine being John. John is the one who prepares the way for the Lord. He knows that he has this great destiny. He's going to open the door and Christ is going to take over. Now, John the Baptist was a real weird dude from what I understand. But here? He's probably one of the more normal people in the troupe. A normal dude fulfills his great destiny and has nothing to show for it? He has this moment in the sun where everyone is looking to him for deliverance and then his cousin takes over? It's interesting from a narrative perspective.
But, again, it didn't happen that way.
The last thing I want to say about Godspell. I liked it a lot. But I loved the opening that the film does. There is too long of a time where no singing is happening. The film takes an aggressive stance against giving you much in terms of tone in the first moments. There's no singing. It's not that weird. People are in boring jobs and their frustrated with the world. It's this screaming at the audience that these characters are avatars for you. They become weirdos. They aren't weirdos who find a similar person in Christ. Instead, they're almost actively distant from God and they turn to him because the world does nothing for them. I told you I wanted to talk about hippies. They all turn to hippies because they're meant to be the representatives of counter culture. But I don't know why productions keep pushing the Victor Garber Superman Jesus. The visuals have become so iconic that they've lost their meaning. Godspell needs to change for its message to continue. Yeah, the music screams late-'60s / early-'70s. But there might be a way to tell this story to every generation if enough work was put into it.
I dig it. The movie isn't perfect. It's really retro and I don't really get the guy who is the equivalent of Robin Williams here. Sometimes it's a clown show (literally, not as criticism), but I like it overall. If you are looking for good music and a good story about a groovy dude who had some good ideas, there's something here. If you are aching for spiritual revelation...I mean, God works in mysterious ways, I guess.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.