Thinking Out Loud

October 30, 2008

Godspell 35th Anniversary – The Christ Story Stands Up Well Whatever You Do To It

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:32 pm

I know lots of evangelical people who don’t like Godspell.   They didn’t like it 35 years ago, and they don’t like it now.

To me, Godpsell was a transformational moment in time.   I saw it the first time at the Bayview Playhouse in Toronto.   I think a young Paul Shafer (from the David Letterman Show) may have been the keyboard player.   The classic story in my black, leather-bound, King James Version bible suddenly exploded on stage in the rock music of my generation.

I’d seen the movie when it first came out, but hadn’t seen it since.   When Columbia Pictures released the anniversary edition, I couldn’t resist buying one.  I decided the other night to just watch the opening song; after all, it was nearly 10 PM.   I ended up watching the whole thing.

Let me say at this point, I’d love to sit down and watch this with a group of pastors and leaders.   Each of us would have a legal pad, and the time indicator on the DVD player would be visible.   We would jot notes and note the time of each reflection or observation; and then for several hours after we would discuss the things we considered in the movie chronology in which we noted them.   There is much to think about here.

Knowing what I know now, I saw things in the movie that I know not to not be Biblically accurate.   But the Christ story stands up well, whatever you do to it.   It’s a hard story to wreck.   I loved the part where the disciples are “called out” of their everyday routines, just as today the “ecclesia” are called out to be Christ followers.   I liked the idea of putting all the accusations of the Pharasees in a single “Wizard of Oz” type confrontation wtih Jesus.   I liked the idea of including both male and female actors in the inner circle.   I was challenged with the concept of placing the wilderness temptation’s three questions in the scene in the garden just before Christ’s arrest.

But the disciples were chosen by Jesus, not simply ‘drawn’ to him by some invisible magic.   The Pharsees’ confrontations were part of an ongoing strategy to prove or disprove his messiahship.  The inner twelve were male.   The wilderness temptation was at the outset of Christ’s ministry years, not at the end.

I know all that.  But the story, the joy, the grace, the huge amount of the screenplay that is directly lifted from the pages of scripture; …it’s hard not to resonate positively with all that.

Some of the songs improve on the movie.   “All Good Gifts” tries desperately to get away from its operatic (i.e. very non-contemporary) sound on the original soundtrack.  The song unique to the movie, “Beautiful City,” continues to strike me as completely out of place.   “Day by Day” continues as the anthem of Godspell.

Visually, the movie brings an entirely new dimension to the Prodigal Son story; probably my favorite scene this time around.   Then there’s the costumes:  35 years ago — actually a few years earlier when the stage production opened — the biggest objection to the production was the casting of Jesus as a “clown.”   Try as I might, I still don’t see it that way.   I see brightly colored costumes on all the disciples, with makeup applied as a ‘mark’ of being part of Jesus’ tribe.   But Jesus himself removes the makeup to send the disciples back into the world that will await them when he is no longer with them.

I only wish the movie had a resurrection scene.   That’s the biggest drawback.   He was who he said he was, and he proved it by his triumph over death.   Godspell, the movie, ends with the disciples bearing the body of Jesus.   Nearly four decades removed from the original, it’s hard to say what intent was behind that decision.   If he hadn’t risen from death’s grip, would there be any interest in his story 2000 years later?


  1. So sad. Twenty-first century and men still try to use the bible to lower the status of the other half of humanity.

    Just a little taliban, don’t you think?

    Christ calls me to love, but with people whose judgment still remains like this, I prefer the company of sinners.

    um, as I recall Jesus did too.

    Comment by SnottyNozeBratt — July 16, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

  2. I think perhaps my statement was unclear, MANY of Jesus’ followers were women. They prophesied in the new testament and served in many ways.

    They’ll have to again, as so many chaps are sitting at hooters instead of church buildings.

    sorry to be so negative. Just being relagated to second class citizenship in the “kingdom” (or I guess I should be more specific and state in the power structure of the organized religion) taxes you after awhile.

    Comment by SnottyNozeBratt — July 16, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

    • Your first comment threw me a bit. Who was being judgmental? The people who made the movie, the people who didn’t like the movie, or myself?

      Unfortunately, when you post comments to something buried 9 months back, you’re not going to get other feedback, but I’d like to discuss this — particularly what you regard as ‘second class citizenship’ — with you off the blog if you want to go through the contact page. Or maybe you should consider having a blog yourself.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 17, 2009 @ 7:09 am

      • There IS a resurrection scene in the movie. Perhaps it’s too subtle for most bible-thumpers. Watch it again.

        Comment by DT — August 3, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

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