Dance Scenes That I Love: Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem from Jesus Christ Superstar

Today, Arleigh and Pantsukudasai have left town to attend the Anime Expo and I find myself momentarily alone here at the TSL Bunker, curled up on the couch in my beloved Pirates t-shirt and Hello Kitty panties, and cursing my asthma.  As I lay here, it occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve shared a “scene that I love” here on the site.  So, why not rectify that situation now?

Norman Jewison’s 1972 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar is a film that I’ve been meaning to review for a while but for now, I just want to share my favorite scene from that film, the performance of Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem.

There’s several reasons I love that scene but mostly it just comes down to the fact that it captures the explosive energy that comes from watching a live performance.  Larry Marshall (who plays Simon Zealotes) has one of the most fascinating faces that I’ve ever seen in film and when he sings, he sings as if the fate of the entire world depends on it.  That said, I’ve never been sold on Ted Neely’s performance as Jesus but Carl Anderson burns with charisma in the role of Judas.
Mostly, however, I just love the choreography and watching the dancers.  I guess that’s not that surprising considering just how important dance was (and still is, even if I’m now just dancing for fun) in my life but, to be honest, I’m probably one of the most hyper critical people out there when it comes to dance in film, regarding both the the way that it’s often choreographed and usually filmed.  But this scene is probably about as close to perfect in both regards as I’ve ever seen.  It goes beyond the fact that the dancers obviously have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that they all look good while dancing.  The great thing about the choreography in this scene is that it all feels so spontaneous.  There’s less emphasis on technical perfection and more emphasis on capturing emotion and thought through movement.  What I love is that the number is choreographed to make it appear as if not all of the dancers in this scene are on the exact same beat.  Some of them appear to come in a second or two late, which is something that would have made a lot of my former teachers and choreographers scream and curse because, far too often, people become so obsessed with technical perfection that they forget that passion is just as important as perfect technique.  (I’m biased, of course, because I’ve always been more passionate than perfect.)  The dancers in this scene have a lot of passion and it’s thrilling to watch.

4 responses to “Dance Scenes That I Love: Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem from Jesus Christ Superstar

  1. Audition for next Kid Rock video? Lenny Kravitz showed up late and looks pissed. Seriously, this *is* terrific – give me passion over perfection (Lennon over McCartney, etc etc) every time. Something that’s “real” or at least feels real. Yes, KR (Neeley) is the weakest link, but I still think it all works. Has been one of my faves since I saw play as a kid and then later this film a few times. Nice post – thanks:)


  2. When I was about 6 years old, I was riding home with my father and older brother and his little league baseball teammates from a camping trip. There had been a thunderstorm earlier, and I remember nighttime beginning to fall, and mist over and around the Appalachian Mountains as we drove through. The radio station that was tuned in was playing the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar (actually, it was the earlier album version with the great Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan as Jesus.)

    I was fascinated by this music. My father tells n me that I hung over the back seat listening the entire time it was playing.

    Once I was older, and a fan of hard rock, I was able to appreciate this great music from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice (lyrics) even more. The power and exuberance of the dancing in the film is consistent with that of the songs. Profound melodies, infectious grooves, cool vintage early seventies rock instrumentation, and kickass vocals, especially from Jesus and Judas (on both the studio album and the film soundtrack). I love this music. And though I know little about dance, I feel the same as you about the energy and pure expressiveness of that in this film.

    I don’t remember Ted Neely lacking in charisma of his own, but it has been 20 years since I’ve seen the film. But say what you will, he sure delivers the vocal goods in this scene –

    He has some seriously white teeth to be reckoned with, as well.

    Carl Anderson also provides some great vocals in his own right.

    Great to see and hear that Zealots scene again. Yet another re-watch film to look forward to soon.

    Thanks for the memory. 🙂


  3. “Passion over precision” is a concept that a lot of entertainers these days do not understand. You hear it a lot in what passes for music these days. That’s not to say that you can’t have both, but a lot of music and dance these days doesn’t impress me, due to the fact that many performers don’t project their passion to the audience. I remember the time when I had front row seats to this dance performance at the Melbourne Arts Centre, and the show overall left me really underwhelmed. Even though it was technically brilliant, with everything in its place and the timing impeccable, I felt zero passion from the performers (and that’s a pretty damning observation when made by someone in the front row). Too many dance performers move like machines (not a good thing, unless you’re doing the robot–and even someone doing the robot really well ought to make the robot “feel” human and seem alive).

    It’s great to witness a movie like “Jesus Christ Superstar” where the singing, dancing and energy leap from the screen. You know, a lot of film snobs waffle on about how Norman Jewison (director) isn’t one of the “masters” of cinema, because he doesn’t have the technical brilliance of (insert the names of usual directorial suspects here). To those people, I say get real. You may think that you comprehend cinema, but an understanding of cinema is useless without an understanding of life and how to transfer energy and passion from the screen to the audience.

    The lack of perfect synchronicity between the dancers in “Jesus Christ Superstar” reminds me of how well the game sequences were executed in “Rollerball”. Again, Norman Jewison managed to convey a feeling of spontaneity, with the rollerball segments feeling alive and non-staged, despite the fact that the scenes were very well structered. Compare that to the “Rollerball” remake, where the game footage always looks incredibly fake and delivers zero excitement. Norman Jewison understands this type of stuff; he understand not to make things too polished, since life is often spontaneous and unpolished. “Jesus Christ Superstar” carries such tremendous energy, and I’m surprised that the film version is not regarded more highly by the general film buff population.

    Liked by 1 person

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