Godspell (1973)

Did everybody have a good Easter? Or if you don’t celebrate, a decent regular Sunday? I spent the day with family members I haven’t seen in a year because of, you know, everything, and then came home to watch a movie adaptation of a musical about a hippie clown Jesus. I was born after the 70’s, so Godspell never really showed up on my radar. Yeah, the signature song song “Day by Day” did ring some bells, but I’m pretty sure I had previously heard the Shirley Bassey version. So why watch this? Beyond the spectacle, I wanted to see it for purely gay reasons.

Based on the Off-Broadway play–which was based on the Gospel of Matthew–Godspell is a musical about ten people in New York City in the 70’s ditching their drab lives and going to frolic in a fountain, until Jesus (Mr. Victor Garber) shows up, complete with a poofy afro, a knock-off Superman shirt, and some clown makeup. They follow him and the majority of the film is musical numbers and skits telling various Biblical parables, like the Prodigal Son and the Sower of the Seeds. The actor playing John (David Haskell) does double work, also playing Judas, so things get a little somber towards the end. Judas betrays Jesus–in this version Jesus kisses Judas on both his cheeks–and the crucifixion scene is Jesus being tied to a chain-link fence by his wrists with red ribbons. After Jesus dies, his followers carry his body off and… wait, why are the credits rolling? There’s nothing after that? You told the story of Jesus and skipped the Resurrection?!

Gotta say, bold move. Too bad Jesus Christ Superstar–which came out the same year–had a similar ending.

The only reason I found this movie was because someone on Twitter (you should all follow Anthony Oliveira) mentioned it. Victor Garber to a lot of people is Thomas Andrews, AKA the chief architect of the Titanic in Titanic, but to me he’s always going to be Dr. Martin Stein from The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. And he’s gay, which–to me–makes him playing Jesus delightful. I’m working on a list for Letteboxd called something like, “Films where Jesus was played by a gay actor who would later play a superhero,” but so far all I have is Godspell and 2015’s Killing Jesus starring Haaz Sleiman, showing up again whenever Eternals actually gets released.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re pretty good. For the majority this was their first IMDB credit as they were primarily stage players before this (that applies to Garber, too). Lynne Thigpen stood out to be because I recognized her as the Chief on the 1990’s kids game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (the one with Rockapella, if that rings any bells), but she was also the mostly unseen DJ in The Warriors. Jerry Sroka (the one doing the silly voices who kind of looks like Lou Albano from The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!) has done a bunch of voice acting, but no major reoccurring gigs. As for the rest, they didn’t do much noteworthy–Katie Hanley was in Xanadu and that’s the only movie I really recognized–but then things get a little sad looking into some of their personal lives. Merrell Jackson and Jeffrey Mylett both died under the age of 40, and while I couldn’t find a cause of death for Jackson, Mylett died of complications of HIV/AIDS. I don’t want to broadly say that those two were both gay, but it sure seems like their lives weren’t as lucky as the happily married and successful actor Victor Garber. The 80’s were a dark time for the queer community–especially gay men–and despite what some articles written in poor taste during the Trump administration claimed, not everybody survived the Reagan years.


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