Let’s Talk About Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert (dir by David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski)


On Sunday night, my family and I ended our Easter Sunday by watching Jesus Christ Superstar Live.  Now, before I say anything else about NBC’s latest live musical production, there are a few things that I should make clear:

In college, there was this girl in my dorm who started the semester as a pagan, spent a month as an evangelical, and then ended the semester as a pagan again.  When she was going through her evangelical phase, she would listen to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack constantly, with the volume turned up so loud that you could hear it up and down the hallway.  Seriously.  24 hours a day.  7 days a week.  After three days, I was sick of hearing it.  I found myself wondering if anyone had ever been driven to murder over having to listen to Heaven On Their Minds one too many times.  Fortunately, something happened to cause her to once again lose her faith and she went back to listening to Fall Out Boy.

For quite some time afterward, I would instinctively cringe whenever I heard any of the songs from Jesus Christ Superstar.  In fact, it wasn’t until I first came across the 1973 film version that I was able to once again appreciate it as a musical and overlook its association with that annoying pagan.  From the first time I watched it, I really liked that movie and, every time I rewatch it, I like it even more.  When I started watching Sunday’s production, I was seriously wondering if I’d be able to set aside my feelings about both the pagan and the movie and judge the television version on its own merits.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried.  While I still prefer the original film version, Sunday’s television production was wonderfully conceived and executed.  From the first note of music to the final curtain call, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert captured my attention and refused to let it go, keeping me watching even through the lengthy commercial interruptions.  The musicians and the singers sounded great, or at least they did once the audience mics were turned down.  (At the start of the show, the audience was so loud that they threatened to drown out Heaven On Their Minds.)  The production design was simply amazing, combining downtown New York with ancient Judea in a way that reminded us just how timeless the musical’s story truly is.  (The 1973 film opened with a bunch of hippies driving through the desert.  The 2018 production opened with Jesus’s name being spray painted on a wall.  Both openings felt perfect for the story that was being told.)

As for the cast, Brandon Victor Dixon was compellingly intense as Judas and Norm Lewis was properly intimidating as Caiaphas.  The big marquee name was Alice Cooper, who obviously enjoyed playing the production’s burlesque version of Herod.  That said, the entire show was stolen by Ben Daniels, who was wonderfully conflicted as Pilate.  I wasn’t as impressed by Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, or I should say that I apparently wasn’t as impressed with her performance as everyone else on twitter.  (To me, she seemed a bit too peppy, especially in the early numbers.  I know I’m in the minority as far as that goes.)  Finally, in the role of Jesus, John Legend grew on me.  Of course, in the show, Jesus doesn’t really become an interesting character until he sings “Poor Jerusalem” and that was the moment that Legend himself seemed to truly feel comfortable with the role.

It’s probably pointless to compare the 1973 film to the 2018 version but still, I did find it interesting how the live version reimagined the relationship between Jesus and Judas.  In the 1973 version, Jesus is largely aloof for almost the entire film.  Judas seems to be frustrated because he can’t figure out what Jesus is planning to do and Jesus himself never seems to feel that he can allow himself to get truly close to anyone.  In the film, Judas’s anger is the anger of someone who has spent the last few years of his life following a leader and who is now wondering if he’s been wasting his time.  He’s like a Democrat who has just realized that his party is even less interested in reigning in Wall Street than the Republicans.

In the live version, the Jesus/Judas relationship came across as being a bromance gone wrong.  In this version, Judas’s disatisfaction is less political and more jealousy over Jesus being closer to the Magdalene than to him.  When Judas snaps at Jesus in the 2018 version, Jesus actually seems to get personally offended.  The dynamic between Dixon and Legend is definitely different from the one between Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson in the original version.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s one of the wonderful things about theater.  When successfully done, each subsequent production brings something new to an old story.

Jesus Christ Superstar definitely worked.  As far as the current wave of live television musicals is concerned, this was the best one yet.

Lisa’s Week In Review: 3/26/18 — 4/1/18


It’s the start of April.  Last night, I spent four hours at Easter Vigil in high heels and Lent is over.  We’re a third of the way through 2018 and I’m going to make the rest of this year a great one.  Here’s my week in review:

Movies I Watched

  1. The Apostle Peter: Redemption (2016)
  2. Barabbas (1961)
  3. Crisscross (1992)
  4. Full of Grace (2015)
  5. Gor (1988)
  6. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
  7. In The Arms of a Killer (1991)
  8. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
  9. Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert (2018)
  10. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
  11. The Last Picture Show (1971)
  12. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
  13. A Matter of Faith (2014)
  14. Shy People (1987)
  15. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  16. Wildflower (2016)
  17. Zodiac (2007)

Television Shows I Watched

  1. The Alienist
  2. The Americans
  3. Ash vs Evil Dead
  4. Atlanta
  5. Barry
  6. Brooklyn 99
  7. California Dreams
  8. Degrassi
  9. Ghost Whisperer
  10. Good Girls
  11. iZombie
  12. King of the Hill
  13. Live PD
  14. Lucifer
  15. The Magicians
  16. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
  17. Night Gallery
  18. Roseanne
  19. Saved By The Bell: The New Class
  20. Silicon Valley
  21. Splitting Up Together
  22. Survivor 36
  23. Trust
  24. UnREAL
  25. The Walking Dead

(photograph by Erin Nicole)

Book I Read

  1. 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen (2010) by Leonard Maltin
  2. Al Capone And The 1933 World’s Fair (2017) by William Elliott Hazelgrove
  3. A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length (2012) by Roger Ebert

Music To Which I Listened

  1. Adi Ulmansky
  2. Avicii
  3. Big Data
  4. Britney Spears
  5. The Chemical Brothers
  6. Crud
  7. The Crystal Method
  8. Dan Croll
  9. Dillon Francis
  10. DJ Ten
  11. Etan Salomon
  12. Jakalope
  13. Knife Party
  14. La féline
  15. Moby
  16. The Orwells
  17. Panic! at the Disco
  18. Paul Orwell
  19. Peach Kelli Pop
  20. Saint Motel
  21. Swedish House Mafia
  22. Taylor Swift
  23. Tetish
  24. Thelma Houston
  25. Tinie Tempah
  26. Walter Murphy

Links From Last Week

  1. Joe Wright will be directing the film adaptation of A.J. Finn’s The Woman In The Window!
  2. On SyFyDesigns, I demonstrated how George Orwell predicted social media and shared a poem from Christina Rossetti!
  3. Over on my dream journal, I shared a nightmare, a dream about shoplifting, and a poem from W.B. Yeats!
  4. On her photography site, Erin shared a super creepy doll picture!
  5. From Horrorpedia, learn all about Bloodsuckers From Outer Space (love the title)!
  6. From the Daily Grindhouse, a look at the 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar!

Links From The Site

  1. Erin presented us with the covers of Mammoth Detective, celebrated the opening day of baseball season, and wrote an open letter to ABC regarding It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!
  2. Gary reviewed Shaft and Kill The Umpire, took a look at Summertime Blues, and wrote about the horror stars of The Ten Commandments!
  3. Ryan reviews Flayed Corpse and Other Stories, Pride of the Decent Man, and I, Tonya, along with sharing his weekly reading round-up!
  4. I reviewed a cheap little sci-fi film called Gor!
  5. Jeff reviewed Razorback!
  6. And finally, Doc had a special announcement about the future of this site!

Finally, take a look at this notification that I got from WordPress today:

Woo hoo!  Here’s to another eight years of nonstop film, book, music, and television reviews!

(Want to see what I did last week?  Click here!)

Have a great week, everyone!

Film Review: Barabbas (dir by Richard Fleischer)


Who was Barabbas?

The simple answer to that is that Barabbas was the prisoner who, according to the Gospels, Pontius Pilate released during Passover.  As the story goes, Pilate gave the people the choice.  He could either release Barabbas or Jesus.  For what crime was Barabbas being held?  The Gospel of Matthew merely says that Barabbas was a “notorious prisoner.”  Mark and Luke both write that he was involved in a recent riot and that he was a murderer.  The Gospel of John refers to him as being a bandit, which may have been another term for revolutionary.  Regardless of what crime he had committed, the people overwhelmingly called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.  What happened to Barabbas after he was set free is not recorded but has been the subject of a good deal of speculation over the centuries.

(Of course, there are some scholars who believe that the Barabbas story was simply an invention of later writers, designed to shift the responsibility for the crucifixion away from the Romans.  There’s also some who say that Jesus and Barabbas were actually the same person and that the inclusion of the Barabbas story was meant to indicate that Jesus was actually a revolutionary who was working to free Judea from Roman role.  I imagine Dan Brown will eventually base a novel on this theory, so look forward to hearing your grandma debating the historicity of Barabbas at some point in the future.)

Back to the original question, who was Barabbas?

According to the 1961 film of the same name, Barabbas was Anthony Quinn.

Based on a novel by the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author, Pär Lagerkvist, Barabbas opens with Pilate (Anthony Kennedy) making his infamous offer.  Barabbas or Jesus?  Perhaps the only person more shocked than Pilate by the people’s decision is Barabbas himself.  A brutish and violent man, Barabbas is looking forward to returning to his old life but, as he leaves the prison, he finds himself fascinated by the sight of Jesus stoically carrying the cross, heading to the fate that Barabbas was spared.  Later, Barabbas witnesses the Crucifixion and is shaken when, upon Jesus’s death, the sky turns black.

(Director Richard Fleischer shot the Crucifixion during an actual solar eclipse, so that the sky actually did turn black during filming.  It’s a stunning scene.)

For the rest of his life, Barabbas is haunted by both his narrow escape from death and his subsequent notoriety.  When Barabbas tries to reunite with his former lover, Rachel (Silvana Mangano), he discovers that not only does she now want nothing to do with him but that she has also become a follower of Jesus.  (Later, in a surprisingly graphic scene, Rachel is stoned to death.)  Barabbas becomes convinced that he cannot die and he becomes increasingly reckless in his behavior.  Over the next few decades, he finds himself sold into slavery and forced to spend 20 years working in the harsh sulfur mines of Sicily.  He befriends a Christian named Sahak (Vittorio Gassman) and, with him, is trained to be a gladiator by the sadistic Torvald (Jack Palance).  Eventually, Barabbas finds himself rejected by both the Romans and the Christians while Rome burns all around him.

Barabbas is a film that really took me by surprise.  I’ve seen a lot of Biblical and Roman films from the 50s and 60s and I was expecting that Barabbas would be another sumptuously produced but slow-paced epic, one that would inevitably feature stiff dialogue and overly reverential performances.  I mean, don’t me wrong.  I happen to love spectacle and therefore, I enjoy watching most of those old historical and religious epics.  But still, for modern audiences, these films can often seem rather … well, hokey.

But Barabbas was totally different from what I was expecting.  As wonderfully played by Anthony Quinn, Barabbas wanders through most of the film in a state of haunted confusion.  Even at the end of the film, after he’s met St. Peter (Harry Andrews), Barabbas doesn’t seem to fully understand what he believes or how he’s become one of the most notorious men in Rome.  Quinn plays Barabbas almost like a wild animal, one that has been cornered and trapped by his own infamy.  The more Barabbas struggles against his fate, the more trapped he becomes.  Barabbas may be a brute but, the film suggests, even a brute can find some sort of redemption.  Quinn gets good support from the entire supporting cast.  Jack Palance is perfectly evil as Torvald while Vittorio Gassman, Silvana Mangano, and Ernest Borgnine bring some needed nuance to characters who, in lesser hands, could have just been cardboard believers.

Barabbas is a surprisingly dark film.  When Rachel is stoned, the camera doesn’t flinch from showing just how cruel an execution that was.  Nor does the camera flinch from the violent brutality of the gladiatorial games.  When Barabbas is sold into slavery, the sulfur mines of Sicily are depicted in Hellish detail and practically the only thing that saves Barabbas from spending the rest of his life being smothered under a cloud of sulfur is a giggly Roman woman who decides to buy Barabbas so that he can serve as a good luck charm.  The scenes of Barabbas’s skill of a gladiator are contrasted with the bloodthirsty crowd demanding and cheering death.  Even when Barabbas joins the Christians in the Roman catacombs, he discovers that they want nothing to do with him, suggesting that they believe in forgiveness for everyone but him.  The spectacle of Rome is displayed but so is the terror of what lies underneath the city’s ornate surface.  If Barabbas is occasionally a ruthless or unsentimental character, one need only look at the world he lives in to understand why.

With the exception of a few slow scenes at the start of the film, director Richard Fleischer does a good job of keeping the action moving.  It’s a long film but it never becomes a boring one.  In the end, thanks to Quinn’s performance and the film’s unflinching portrayal of life in ancient Rome, Barabbas is a biblical epic for people who usually don’t like biblical epics.

 

The Horror Stars of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Paramount 1956)


cracked rear viewer

Last night, as I usually do during the Easter/Passover season, I watched Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. It’s a movie buffs delight, an All-Star spectacle featuring three Oscar winners ( Charlton Heston ,Yul Brynner , Anne Baxter ), one who should’ve been (Edward G. Robinson ), and a literal cast of thousands! Something that’s always stood out to me is the number of horror movie stars that appear in various parts, a plethora of Hollywood practitioners from my favorite genre:

John Carradine as Aaron

Carradine’s  credentials in horror films are well documented, and he deserves his spot in the pantheon of Monster Movie Greats. As Moses’s brother Aaron, Carradine has his best “straight” role since THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

Vincent Price as Baka

Our Man Vinnie plays the evil slave master Baka, who gets his just rewards at the hands of John Derek’s Joshua. Price was…

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Easter Scenes That I Love: It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!


Dear ABC,

What happened?

When I was growing up, you used to show It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown every year.  Why have you stopped?  Why has it been four years since you last aired one of the best Charlie Brown holiday specials?  You still show It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and I watch every October but It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is just as important.  Easter Beagle concludes the story that starts in The Great Pumpkin.  In Easter Beagle, Linus is finally proven right.  Even if he missed the Great Pumpkin, he still gets to meet the Easter Beagle and he even gets an egg.  The Easter Beagle has eggs for almost everyone.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the first airing of It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown.  Please don’t let that year pass without giving everyone a chance to laugh at Peppermint Patty trying to teach Marcy how to paint eggs or a chance to watch scenes like this one that I love:

Next year, ABC, I hope you will air It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown and allow audiences new and old to enjoy it.  As Lucy put it, “It’s the gift getting season,” and this would be a perfect gift to us.

Sincerely yours,

Erin Nicole Bowman, a lifelong believer in both the Great Pumpkin and the Eater Beagle

Celebrate Easter With Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick!


To those who observe the holiday, happy Easter!

Above, we have a picture of Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol posing with two rabbits.  I’m not really sure whether or not this picture was actually taken for Easter but let’s pretend like it was.  Andy certainly doesn’t look very happy with his rabbit.

Fortunately, he appears to be in a better mood in the picture below, which also features both Edie and Catherine Deneuve.

And, finally, in this next picture, Andy is finally actually smiling.  How couldn’t you smile with that many rabbits around?  Seriously, rabbits are incredibly cute.

Finally, let’s end this with Andy Warhol’s 1982 painting, Eggs:

And now a very special announcement from the Shattered Lens…


Hi everyone!

Today, I have very exciting news about something that has been going on behind-the-scenes for a while here at the Shattered Lens.  Today, one of my humans — I call her the flame-haired one but you probably call her Lisa Marie — finally convinced Arleigh that it’s time to turn the Shattered Lens into the internet’s number one Twilight fan site!

The flame-haired one has been trying to convince Arleigh to do this since she first joined the site in 2009.  Even though no one has really cared or thought about Twilight since 2012, the flame-haired one is convinced that she will be able to once again get everyone in America wondering if they’re “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob.”  So, say goodbye to the all of our old reviews and features and get ready for endless polls, memes, and out-of-date gossip about whether Rob and KStew are still as close as Edward and Bella!

Congratulations, Flame-Haired One!

April Fools!

From the humans and the cat here at the Shattered Lens, happy April Fools Day!  Please be kind with your jokes and remember that April Fools Day ends at midnight!  Any pranks pulled after midnight will no longer funny and will instead just be annoying.  Meh.