In February 2007, I interviewed a Jesuit priest who was a visiting scholar at Campion College about a lecture he was scheduled to deliver at the university on the subject of the representation of Jesus in film.
I attended Sunday school when I was a kid, and was an intermittent church-goer until my late teens, so I was familiar with most of the Bible stories associated with Jesus. Still, my denomination was United, and this guy was a freaking Jesuit priest, so it was somewhat intimidating to sit down with him to talk about the most important figure in Christian theology especially when, in recent decades and centuries, in my opinion anyway, so many powerful people have corrupted the ideal of Jesus to further their own putrid agendas.
During our talk, the priest made the point that since the dawn of cinema in the late 19th century Jesus had been depicted in many different ways by filmmakers. Invariably, he added, these depictions were misleading because, depending on the political zeitgeist of the time, they tended to focus on select aspects of who He was to the exclusion of His totality as an historical/divine figure. Even in the New Testament, the priest added, the portrait of Jesus drawn by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in their respective gospels was inadequate. To truly appreciate the Jesus of Christian faith, he added, it was necessary to read the four gospels together.
"If you had to recommend four films then that you felt, together, best captured who Jesus was," I asked him, "what would they be?" The films he ended up picking were The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Jesus of Montreal, The Chronicles of Narnia and an Italian film named I Giardini dell'Eden.
When I asked the priest about satiric portraits of Jesus, he replied: "We live in a culture that allows and promotes free expression. In addition to being a historical and religious figure, Jesus is also a figure of world culture. So I would allow someone who wants to make Jesus Christ Superstar to make it. If you want me to comment on your play, well ... great songs, great music. But theologically, disastrous."
I mention all this now because the travelling production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, with Ted Neely in the title role, is at Conexus Arts Centre tonight. Here's the trailer for the 1973 movie version. (YouTube)