Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Is Godspell supposed to be an anti-Gospel film?


Jewish date:  24 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Maṭṭoth-Mas‘e).

Today’s holidays:  The Three Weeks (Judaism), Feast Day of Maria Goretti (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Arthur C. Clarke (Church of the SubGenius).

GodspellTopic 1:  Godspell (1973).  I have already commented on this film twice before (see “2012, a senseless plot thread, and a lame Gospel film” and “Cardboard Jesus in Gospel films and profiling”).  Godspell is a variation on the Gospel According to Matthew set in 1970s New York City.  The bulk of this film is spent on humorous creative telling of Jesus’s parables by a clownish Jesus and nine disciples, interspersed with Episcopalian hymns set to new music.  If all one wants is entertainment, Godspell will do nicely.  Theologically it is worrying.  Jesus, as a figure in the New Testament, does not come out of nowhere.  His story is rooted in Judaism and the situation in late Second Temple Period Israel.  Godspell rips him free of most of his original context without attempting to root him 1970s New York City.  Thus Second Temple Period references (the Temple, Pharisees, Priests, Caesar, etc.) end up making no sense here.  Even Jesus himself makes no sense here; what point is there to a savior when there is no one who needs saving?  Jesus and his disciples seem to spend most of the movie in a fantasy world.  Once the disciples heed the call of John the Baptist, they suddenly find themselves in a version of New York suddenly barren of anyone other than themselves, John the Baptist, and Jesus, and they remain isolated from other people until after the Crucifixion.  Even the Pharisee which Jesus argues with is a fantasy, a large puppet which eventually falls apart.  There is no Satan to tempt Jesus (oddly happening close to the Crucifixion rather than near the start of the film), so the disciples have to fill in for him.  There are no real Priests and Pharisees to deliver Jesus over to.  Even though two police cars show up, no police—possibly the equivalent of Roman soldiers—ever emerge, and it is left up to John the Baptist to double as Judas Iscariot(!) and crucify Jesus on a fence.  If the people behind Godspell were trying to give the impression  that they believe Jesus and his followers took part in a shared delusion they did an excellent job.

Topic 2:  For today’s religious humor, submitted by Barry: “The Gayspel According to . . .”:

Somehow this does not seem to be what the Gospels mean, but it is still an interesting interpretation.


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