DIRECTED BY: Peter Orton
FEATURING: David Soul, David Bedella, Leon Craig
PLOT: Jerry Springer hosts a typical episode of his show, in which the usual horrible people desperate for one moment of fame bare their sordid lives to the world. In the ensuing mayhem, Jerry is shot. He finds himself in Hell, where Satan makes him host a special edition of his show featuring Biblical characters—who are strangely similar to the guests in the first part—with the aim of being reconciled with Jesus and gaining admission to Heaven. So long as Jesus apologizes…
WHY IT’S WEIRD: It’s an opera about Jerry Springer! Tirades of incredibly foul abuse are sung with the utmost operatic seriousness. The KKK tap-dance. And then we find ourselves in Hell, where the holiest cultural icons in Christendom bicker like redneck trailer trash. “Les Mis” this ain’t!
COMMENTS: Technically, this isn’t a movie, it’s a stage musical. However, the version specially filmed by the BBC is available on DVD, so for our purposes, it’s a movie. And oh boy, is it weird! Most people can’t imagine David Soul in any context other than a certain long-past cop show. Well, if you’re one of them, his performance here may surprise you. As the only non-singing character, he makes a very convincing Jerry Springer, whether he’s ignoring the demands of his conscience (in the shape of an “Inner Valkyrie”), recounting the true story of the real Springer’s liaison with a prostitute, or spouting empty platitudes in a desperate attempt to solve all the world’s problems—-and more importantly, to avoid the torments of Hell, which, as the Devil constantly reminds him, include anal rape with barbed wire.
Another stand-out performance comes from David Bedella. Like everyone apart from David Soul, he isn’t really a movie actor, although parents of young children may know his voice from his performances as Victor and the Duke of Boxford in the US version of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” franchise. Which doesn’t mean you should let the kiddies watch this! There’s a staggering amount of very strong language indeed. David Bedella as the over-ambitious warm-up comic is responsible for quite a lot of it, especially in the second half, in which he really comes into his own as the Devil. In fact, he’s displaced Peter Cook in Bedazzled as my favorite movie Satan.
But it wasn’t profanity that caused a record-breaking 55,000 complaints received by the BBC, 47,000 of them before the show had even aired… or the protesters picketing the live production… or the unsuccessful lawsuits. It was the blasphemy. Technically (and as it turned out, legally) the show isn’t blasphemous. The second half obviously takes place in the head of the seriously wounded and delirious Jerry, which is why the celestial beings look and behave exactly like the people he’s just interviewed. And indeed why, in an interlude in Limbo, his guilty conscience causes him to imagine the accusing presence of guests who have died horribly as a result of appearing on the show we’ve just seen, although there hasn’t been time for this to happen yet.
Alas, religious maniacs have no imagination! It’s Leon Craig’s performance that caused most of the trouble. In Act I he’s hilarious as a man who gleefully reveals to his horrified fiancée that his secret sexual fetish involves dressing as a baby and pooping his pants. In Act II, he reappears as Jesus Christ (by the way, he’s a stout black man who in no way resembles the traditional Jesus), and portrays him as a well-meaning but naïve fellow who is ultimately very selfish. He also admits to being “a bit gay,” the line that caused at least half the fuss. Leon Craig sings very well and has a gift for comedy, but he doesn’t seem to have appeared in anything else since; perhaps being the focus of so much hatred scared him out of the profession.
In fact, this musical subverts religion more subtly by saying that none of us are all good or all bad, and by exploiting these desperate, damaged people, Jerry Springer is neither better nor worse than they are for letting him do it, or indeed we are for watching his show. And all concerned have a tremendous amount of foul-mouthed fun reaching this not terribly profound conclusion. Ironically, the one person genuinely entitled to be offended, Jerry Springer himself, actually liked it! Well, anyway, he said he did. But he can afford to be generous, given that, as the lyrics tell us, he’s:
“Bigger than David Letterman, bigger than Bob Hope;
And give or take a few million, bigger than the f***ing Pope!”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: