on September 19, 2002
I'm a child of the 60s/70s, you'd think I would have seen this film before 2002! I didn't think I could get past the idea of Jesus with a big afro and clown makeup. As it was, I was on my second viewing of this film before it really hit me. So if you think you don't care for it after the first viewing, try again.
Once you get into the fun, innocent, tie-dyed feel of the early 1970s (or at least when it doesn't jar you so much) you can begin to see Godspell for the brilliant production that it is. The musical score is fabulous and I have heard most of it used in church over the years. The scenes of NYC are both breathtaking and poignant, considering the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And how did they get the streets empty during the daytime?
The cast absolutely shines here. Young, energetic and all very talented. John/Judas is the strongest of the supporting cast members. Some people had a problem with the same actor (David Haskell) portraying both parts, but I see it as an important reminder that no one is all good or all bad; that we all have both John and Judas within us. Each cast member is showcased in one or more of the parables, and they all express their emotions vividly and handle the comedy, along with their musical numbers, expertly. Besides the 70s feel, there is also a strong vaudevillian component (they are clowns, after all) so be prepared.
And then there's Jesus. I can't say enough good things about Victor Garber's AMAZING performance! The young Mr. Garber (later of such films as "Titanic" and "Annie") is almost painfully thin and pale, which adds to the other-worldly quality of Jesus. Yet he comes across as unfailingly human: loving, caring and joyous, but also at times angry, awkward and doubtful as events unfold, a charasmatic leader for his motley band of disciples.
As happy and carefree as is the first 3/4 of this movie, so is the last quarter depressing and tragic. The inevitable advance toward the crucifixion is heartbreaking as Jesus sits at the last supper with his disciples and then moves to each one with a personal and emotional goodbye. The song, "On the Willows," with its beautiful harmonies will make the tears brim in your eyes. If you can get through this and the subsequent crucifixion without crying, with Jesus dying while his followers writhe and scream below, you must be made of stone. Finally Jesus is gently taken down and laid across the shoulders of the disciples and borne through the empty cityscape.
While there is no resurrection scene, it is certainly implied which was enough for me. The film ends on a hopeful and joyous note, with the disciples singing softly at first and then breaking into "Prepare Ye" and "Day By Day" with mounting happiness and enthusiasm as they move down the street.
Do yourself a favor and also buy the soundtrack recording on CD; you'll want to be able to listen to the music over and over even when you can't be watching the movie. Victor Garber's clear and beautiful tenor voice conveys all of the same emotions as the visuals, from silly and fun to tragic and painful. You can hear the last breath leave him as he softly sings, "Oh, God, I'm dead." Actually, you pick up more subtle emotional nuances from every cast member as you listen. It's best with headphones!! There is an old saying that goes, "God respects you when you work, but He loves you when you sing!" God must love Victor Garber and company very much for this incredible film. Bravo to all involved in bringing this production to the screen and thank you, thank you, Thank You!!
This colorful hippie romp through the Gospel According to Matthew is a classic for kids of all ages, with its attractive, talented cast, and Richard Heimann's wonderful cinematography, with great vistas of New York City as the backdrop; many have the eerie beauty of the World Trade Center as its focus, with one scene taking place on the roof of one of the towers, with the city spread out beneath it.
The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz are delightful, though my favorite song, "By My Side", was written by Peggy Gordon and Jay Hamburger.
The comedy is broad, and of the many parables told, the story of the Prodigal Son is hilarious, using clips from silent films to illustrate it.
The energetic, gifted ensemble have a wide range of talents, and though this film did not propel any of them to stardom, some have had good careers (mostly with TV work) since this film was released in 1973, especially Victor Garber, who is so marvelous as Jesus, with his lovely, sweet tenor voice and angular movements, Lynne Thigpen, the effervescent bundle of joy who sings "O Bless the Lord My Soul", and the very funny Jerry Sroka.
As a group, they are all equally strong in their vocal, dance, and comedic skills, and are a large part of why this film works so well.
The Last Supper scene is a great piece of staging, and I especially like the added touch of blessing the bread and wine in Hebrew, and the subtle, though gripping handling of the darker portions towards the end keeps this an excellent family film, as even very young children will enjoy the slapstick humor and clever costumes.
This film is one of the best stage to screen adaptations, and is a jubilant celebration of life and God's love.
on April 19, 2000
I first saw this film in 1976, and I tried for years to get a tape of it. To me, Godspell was far superior to Jesus Christ Superstar in content and message--and as entertainment, too. The superb cast was inspiring and joyful, moving and poignant. I remember being extremely impressed with Victor Garber and David Haskell the first time I saw the film, and I still marvel at their performances today, particularly Haskell's. It once "bothered" me that the characters of John the Baptist and Judas were played by the same person, but now I see the reasoning behind that: we are all capable of good and evil. Our good deeds can be easily eclipsed by the ill which we also do. At any rate, those of you who love good modern theatre, who are willing to be inspired, and who enjoy stirring music and performances will love the film version of Godspell.
on February 24, 2000
I am in a production of "Godspell" myself at my high school as John the Baptist. The movie was the perfect way to really see how David Haskell performed it. Not only that, but the power of the final scene made realize just exactly what I'd undertaken. The music, the characters, and the scenery made this a very moving show. The only bad comment that I would have to make is that the sound quality on some of the songs deteriorates, which made me a little edgy. However, I cannot believe that someone could call it a mockery of the New Testament. I consider it one of the best. Suddenly we can see Jesus, in a modern-day situation, and relate to him. The songs add more brilliant color to the movie, with songs varying from jubilant (Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord), to sad (By My Side, On The Willows). I would say that even if you aren't a religious person, the music and the acting is worth watching.
on August 6, 2005
I was a teenager when Godspell opened on Broadway in the early 1970s. The music was compelling, the show's concept and spiritual connections was deep and spoke to my heart on a multitude of levels. I recall enjoying the movie when it came out, and hadn't seen it in nearly 30 years when I ordered it from Amazon.
Generally, my expectations and memories were fulfilled. The movie is actually quite well done, both in its performancees and the cinematography/concepts. In particular, the backdrop of the city of New York -- its majesty, awsomeness, and beauty as well as the back alley, trash dumps and poverty portrayed. Indeed, there is a very strange experience in the film when the finale of the song "All for the Best" is shot on the top of the World Trade Center, and the camera pans back to show the two towers against the New York skyline. The combination of the theme of the song (that we will suffer in life, but we wait for heaven's reward), the scene, and the eventual history of 9/11 makes for a most chilling moment.
The cast is, for the most part, simply the Broadway players reprising thier stage roles, and they all do a fine job. Yet we have a very young (and much thinner) Victor Garber making his debut as Jesus, and a very young, dynamic Lynne Thigpen dancing and singing up a storm (her solo "Bless the Lord My Soul," is my favorite number in the show, and it fits her so well with its joyful, gospel-tinged bounciness). Its a shame she's no longer with us.
I think you also have to accept the concept of the original show to enjoy the film. "Godspell" is an allegory, a gentle retelling of the message of the Gospel of Matthew, in particular the parables of Jesus, almost as if each of the parables retold, and the songs, are seperate little vignettes loosely tied together by the common thread of trying to draw closer to God. The presentation of these vignettes is almost like children's theater -- very "over the top" and comical, very much in the style of Vaudville, or kids' cartoons. Jesus is portrayed as a clown. His followers have the mentality of small children. If you can accept the premise, and see through the outer trappings to the tender message at the core, well, then Godspell speaks volumes. When I brought it home, i shared the video with my teenage daughters, who generally like films of musicals, and are both very devoted in thier personal Christianity. Sadly, they didn't get it. The question posed to me was "Is this the Hippie Jesus?" Generation gaps are hard to undestand, I guess.
I have two quibbles with this film. One is a quibble with the concept of both the movie and the original stage play, in that the resurrection of Jesus is not portrayed. I have seen local theater productions remedy this issue at times. As the conerstone of the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 15:14), its a disappointment that its missing, and it sort of leaves the show hanging.
i also am a little disappointed with the difference between the movie and the stage play (although this is minor). The film alters the opening of the show. The play had each cast member enter, singing and representing a different world religion and/or philosophy in a noisy cacaouphony, each trying to drown out the other in a musical number called "Tower of Babel," and then the character representing John the Baptist enters, blowing the shofar and singing "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord." The film takes a more sublte approach, portaying the cast in thier regular lives, the mundane, the demeaning, the frustrating, the sadness of our day to day lives, when each are drawn to the call of God through the intervention of the "John" character. Its probably more appropriate for a film adaptation, and I suppose it makes the opening more "personal" for the viewer (that is, if you figure out what's going on), butI miss the original opening. It was a more intellectual approach, for sure, but I found it more dramatically effective.
Also, two of the show'songs are cut, and a new song added. One of the songs cut (We beseech thee) was important as a message about Christ's forgiveness and mercy in the face of our sin nature. It was replaced by the "feel good" and vaguely humanistic "Beautiful City," which is more poliically correct, but doesn't really fit into the show's concept.
If you're a "Godspell" fan, you'll enjoy the movie. If you can embrace the film's concept, you'll enjoy the movie. And, maybe if you're like me, just a little nostalgic for the time in your life when you could approach the world through the eyes of a child, I think you'll enjoy this movie. We need a little less cynicism in the world, and a little more child like faith. Give the film a try!
on August 21, 2001
Several years ago I was involved in two back-to-back productions of Godspell. It is and always will be one of my favorite shows, both to watch and work in. I hadn't realized the movie had been released to video until a few nights ago, when I saw it at the local video store. So I rented it, fell in love, and next went out and bought the DVD.
I bought the DVD rather than the tape, because I like the availability of Wide screen edition. I don't yet own a DVD player, so I had to go over to mom's house to watch it. :-) Anyway, I think the movie is terrific. It's upbeat, happy, colorful, and timeless. The characters are lovable and realistic, and they tell the story of the Gospel without becoming preachy.
Especially adorable is Jeffrey Mylett (1949-1986) in one of his regretfully rare film appearances. I did not really understand what it means for an actor to have "presence" until I watched his performance. No matter how small his part is in the scene, your eye is drawn to him. The camera doesn't love this man, it downright WORSHIPS him.
The only negative things I can say about this film are that I HATE that they excluded the song "We Beseech Thee". It's one of the best numbers in the show, performed onstage by Jeffrey Mylett. By leaving it out, the filmmakers missed out on a great opportunity to showcase the musical talents of possibly the best actor in the troupe. And it ticked me off, too. :-(
The other negative thing is related to the first, in a way. "Beautiful City." Blecchh. The troupe valiantly does the best they can with a real bow-wow of a number. How the producers could think this would be a better choice than "We Beseech Thee," I will never know. It's tedious, repetitive, forgettable, and sticks out like a sore thumb. It looks like it was thrown in at the last minute. This feeling is increased by the "choreography" of the scene; everyone walking and skipping down the street... and I mean for the WHOLE SONG. I suspect that the producers were hoping to generate another hit single with this piece, as it seems to have more of a pop sound than the folk of the rest of the numbers.
I've watched the film about 6 times now, and I always bawl during "On the Willows," one of the most beautiful songs ever written. And the tears flow again during the refrain of "Prepare Ye" at the end. Not too many films can do that to me.
In general I can't give this film a high enough rating.
Godspell takes the story of Jesus from the Bible and transposes it to "modern" (read 1970's) New York City. It uses a small cast to act out various parables and stories from the life of Christ. Interspersed are songs inspired by the events the cast has been reenacting.
This movie musical has several drawbacks. The biggest is that it is obviously a 70's musical. The costumes and arrangements just scream it out. The second is a personal pet peeve. They removed the song "We Beseech Thee" and added the song "Beautiful City." I've tried, but I just don't think it's a good substitute. Third, the "crucifixion" scene is almost laughable in this version. Lastly, with the small cast, everyone but Jesus plays multiple "rolls" in the overall story. This can be very confusing and often interrupts the message that segment was trying to get across.
In my mind, the positives out way the negatives, however. The cast is obviously having fun with the material and each other, which makes the movie more enjoyable. There are many good songs, including my favorites "God Save the People" and "Day by Day." The video choreography for "All For the Best" and "Light of the World" are imaginative as well. All in all, I enjoy it.
The DVD only includes the movie. Some behind the scenes info would have been interesting. But it does include both wide screen and full frame versions of the movie.
If you're looking for a strict filming of the life of Christ, you will be disappointed. If you want a fun, slightly cheesy musical that is relatively faithful to the gospels, you'll enjoy this movie. It's not for everyone, but it is fun.
Godspell retains its energetic force decades after its cinematic release. Godspell tells the story of Jesus and his followers--only with a highly creative twist. Instead of the action taking place in the Middle East thousands of years ago, the backdrop scenes are from the then modern day (1970s) Manhattan. Jesus' followers and even Jesus himself are dressed as hippies; and although the costumes are dated the emotional impact and the artistic quality never suffer. Godspell takes its subject matter and infuses it with a flawlessly beautiful score by Stephen Schwartz; and the actors work so hard to make the story come alive. They succeed.
The action begins with John Haskell playing John the Baptist crossing a bridge into Manhattan; and soon he beckons to people to meet him in Central Park for a group baptism. Jesus first appears in the Central Park baptism scene; and from the word go Victor Garber plays Jesus as an energetic, enthusiastic young man who loves God with all his heart. John the Baptist and the other people form a group with Jesus as their leader. As a group Jesus and his followers, who are now dressed as hippies, re-enact several parables and passages from the Bible.
During the numerous scenes that ensue we get some of the most wonderful, delightfully arranged musical numbers I've ever witnessed on screen. Robin Lamont's "Day By Day" moves me with its beauty; the simplistic lyrics coupled with a beautiful, folk music style arrangement stand out as a musical highlight of this film. Lynne Thigpen performs a marvelous rendition of "O Bless the Lord My Soul" with all her heart; Lynne's acting as a follower of Christ remains convincing and impressive throughout Godspell. In addition, Joanne Jonas turns in a great performance as a follower of Jesus who helps to highlight Jesus' disdain of comparatively superficial things that materialistic people crave. Excellent!
Look also for an excellent Last Supper scene in which Jesus hands out the bread and wine after blessing it using traditional Hebrew prayers to bless bread and wine. The Last Supper scene is very tastefully done.
Of course, Jesus' ministry ends tragically with his betrayal by Judas, who is also played by David Haskell. I agree with the reviewer who writes that it's good that David Haskell plays both John the Baptist and Judas--it does indeed demonstrate how there's good and bad in every human being. Jesus is crucified in a Manhattan junkyard while his followers weep for him; and the next day they carry Jesus' body through the empty streets of Manhattan while singing upbeat numbers from the score. This would appear to imply that Jesus will be resurrected.
Choreography doesn't get any better than this: the numerous musical numbers are carefully staged and the timing amongst all the cast members remains flawless throughout the movie. It is a bit eerie to see them dancing on the top of the former World Trade Center; but they dance there so ably it's truly remarkable. Cinematography also shines with the panoramic views of Manhattan with streets both crowded and empty; and all the characters are well framed within the picture frame to create an even stronger impact on viewers.
Overall, I highly recommend Godspell as a prime example of how artistic creativity can take a story thousands of years old and breathe new life into it as if it were actually happening in the here and now. The acting by Victor Garber and company leaves nothing to be desired; and the musical numbers reflect extreme attention to detail and great thoughtfulness. It's not a movie for very young children, primarily because of the crucifixion scene; but otherwise there's no reason not to see this movie and enjoy it over and over again.
on December 29, 2004
If you're over 40, and consider the term "Jesus Freak" to be a compliment you'll love this dvd. If you're under 40 you'll probably just stare at the TV and wonder, "What we're they thinking?" Godspell was my first exposure to Christianity at the age of 15 in the 1970's. Yes it's disjointed, it's weak on theology, but as a 15 year old pagan this movie touched my heart and was the beginning of an almost 30 year walk with the Lord. The musical score is excellent, and the movie is quite funny. Some reviewers have complained about the "clown Jesus"...the lack of the cross in the movie, etc. Please remember...IT'S ART FOLKS!!!! It's not the Bible and it's not meant to be a theology text. In this age of megachurches, and rich Christians with way to much political power, the simplicity of Godspell helps me to remember what's really important in my walk with God. Highly recommended!!
on August 12, 2005
This review is for anyone unfamilar with the musical Godspell. Expect the movie version to appear dated and incoherent. However, some insights on the time, 1970's, and understanding the play may help explain what you are watching and, hopefully, make your viewing enjoyable. Also, other reviewers provide a lot details that I will not try to repeat, so take the time and read them too.
During the early 1970's, the hippie lifestyle or look was commonplace. Also, there was a spiritual revival occurring of which included the "Jesus Freak" movement. "Jesus Christ, Superstar" was the tour de force at the time. Quietly, the musical Godspell opened in a few major cities. The play is based on the Gospel of Matthew. Specifically, the focus is on Jesus' ministry and the parables he told. The only two cast members with distinct roles are Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas. Everyone else play non-descriptive disciples of Jesus. Though the play is the about Jesus and his parables, the time is set to our present time and everyone is made up to be circus clowns. The reason for the modern setting and clownish make up is to present Matthew's Gospel in a fun, comical, and light-hearted way. It is to contrast the stuffy and serious tone often heard at many Sunday worship services. The play's stage is simply a linked fence, like the backstop used at baseball games, with saw horses, wooden planks, and various small props laying around.
With the details of the play in mind, the movie needed to move beyond the simple confines of the stage. (As several plays must do under the circumstances.) To enhance the view, the movie was filmed at various locations around New York City. One scene was at the World Trade Center and unfortunately will give you a chill due to 9/11. Since this is a movie review, one should know that some rearrangements were made. The movie does include the prerequisite movie tune and two original songs are not performed. Sadly, the changes diminish the entertaining aspects of the play. Buy the Original Broadway CD to hear the songs and learn why I am making these critical points.
Though I find Godspell fun and uplifting, it may be a difficult movie to view. Another reviewer said their children didn't understand or enjoy it, but my son thoroughly loved it and plays both the DVD and CD regularly. One question I pose to anyone is this, if given a choice, how would you like to listen to the Scripture on Sunday... from a serious-tone reader or a Godspell-like performer? How you answer my question will help you decide whether or not the movie is worth viewing.