Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I Never Thought I’d Come To This. What’s It All About?


I’ve been changed. Yes, really changed. In these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else. I don’t know how to take this. I never thought I’d come to this .What’s it all about?

Probably anybody over forty with a ‘normal’ American background will recognize those lines as coming from the Rock Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar--from the song which Mary Magdalene sings to the sleeping Jesus. Just about anybody but me that is and those like me with backgrounds in isolationist fundamentalism in which movies in general and especially movies like this one, with interpretations of our sacred stories presented in a far from solemn manner and taking liberties with the sacrosanct text and traditions, were taboo. Me, I remember some of the hullabaloo about Jesus Christ Superstar back when I was in Junior High. I remember most the day an English teacher played the album in class and I nearly went into a panic attack before the first track finished. I had to ask to be excused. A form of conscientious objection I suppose. But my aversion had been mixed with a strange attraction and my conscience was convicted by the fact that I didn’t leave sooner than I did. I felt contaminated for days and the melody and lyrics of that one track (the title track) stayed with me for years. Even to this day. Well, the melody anyway. I think I remembered the lyrics wrong. And in such a fashion as to exacerbate the dismay. For I remembered them thus: Jesus Christ, Superstar! Who in the world do you think your are? Whereas, the movie that I have just seen for the first time does not have that line at all. It is: Who are you? What have you sacrificed? Do you think you are who they say you are?

I was shocked to discover that the movie does not dis Jesus, debunk the Gospel or deny Christ as I had been led to believe back in the seventies. It stays fairly faithful to the Gospel accounts while telling the story through the eyes of Judas. And in this way forces the viewer to encounter Jesus with fresh eyes and heart and makes the questions Who are you? What’s it all about? new and personal and imperative. And it emphasizes that all who encounter this Jesus, no matter how they answer those questions, are profoundly changed by it. Such is the power of the story of Jesus still.

Ironically, Jesus Christ Superstar, may have just given Jesus back to me--the Jesus of the Gospels stripped of all the doctrinal encrustation and all the toxicity of the breakup of the church I was raised in. Especially Mary Magdalene’s song: I Don‘t Know How to Love Him. After watching the movie straight through, I watched several of the scenes over with the English subtitles AKA closed captions. A fifty percent hearing loss causes a frustrating loss of crucial syllables but my visual impairment makes it difficult for me to watch the captions and the film at the same time. So I like to save the captions for a re-watch. I also like to watch significant scenes of movies (or taped TV shows) repeatedly, focusing on something different each time. And that is what I have spent the last eight hours doing with Jesus Christ Superstar. I gave up my intended online session for this. I watched several of the scenes repeatedly but none as often as Mary Magdalene’s lullaby to Jesus.

At some point I discovered the repeat function on my laptop’s DVD player and about the same time discovered that I could have it playing in the background while I typed in my word processor. (Why did it take me three months to discover this?) So I’ve been composing this while listening and occasionally glancing at the video in a screen resized to cover the upper right quadrant of the monitor while my word processor window is in the lower left quadrant. I’m sitting up in bed which is the only place to sit in this room and thus serves as office, library, sewing-room, theater. My laptop sits on a board atop a pillow on my lap. One cat curls against my right shin while the other one presses up against the sole of my right foot. My tailbone is asleep. The overhead light is off and my keyboard is dimly lit by the monitor and by the indirect light from a reading lamp aimed at the wall behind me so as not to reflect off the monitor or disturb my husband, snoring to my right, his elbow knocking mine with semi regularity. I have to keep pressing the earphones back into my ears as the clenching of my jaws and occasional yawns work them loose. I’ve lost count of how many times the track has played. Twenty? At least two hours.

The first time I watched and listened to it, I began to tear up. I wanted to replay it immediately but did not want to interrupt the flow of the story. I don’t know why this song moved me so. I’m still trying to figure it out. I think it will have to remain a mystery. But I was seriously moved by it. The first two times I replayed it, I did more than tear up. I wept. Strenuously. Yes, the melody has a plaintive tone and Yvonne Elliman’s performance is evocative of anguish, confusion and fear as well as hope and passion and amazement. But none of that fully explains the impact it has had on me. Somehow the words and the mood of the song and the emotive dramatization of Elliman have combined to express my own heart to myself. I’m sure it has much to do with the fact that recent events in my life have made me ultra sensitive to the themes evoked by this song; this movie; this story. But for now this feeble attempt to unpack the meaning of my reaction is going to have to be continued as my eyes are gluing themselves shut, the yawns are nearly continuous and I have to secure my laptop before I succumb or one of the cats would be sitting on the keyboard before the first hypno-gogic image illuminates the back of my eyelids.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Hope to be posting more substantially again soon. Exegencies of the holidays, health, mood and weather have seriously limited my productivity as well as internet access. Meanwhile have a wonderful New Year and join me in making a resolution to get a grip on our dreams and never let go even when it lifts our feet off the ground.

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