Tag Archives: Andrew Lloyd Webber

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: CATS (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Tom Hooper

FEATURING: Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan… (Indeed, the cast list is so talent-heavy you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone with an entertainment award.)

PLOT: Meow.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Not only did “they” pull the trigger on this one, they emptied all six of the chambers. From the opening nonsense of cat-people-cats spouting the word “jellicle” like it was going out of style, up through to the finale where I swear they send off one of their own to her death, the cataclysm just wouldn’t stop.

COMMENTS: As might be expected of a man of my disposition, I am the owner of cats–two, to be precise. One of them featured in a review of mine some months ago. The other has joined me on a number of occasions while I watched other assignments. So perhaps it was this that led me to volunteer my time and sanity, and sit through a musical that I had mostly knew about from the context of a classic Upright Citizens Brigade sketch. But the transformation I underwent during the movie was comparable to that which bunches of A-list actors and celebrities went through to become Cats.

I could discuss the finer points of the plot here, but I’ll spare you my narrative discourse. If you know anything about Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s iconic work, you’ll know there isn’t really a story. It’s merely a showcase for descriptions of various “types” of cats found about London. (This geographic limitation may explain why the particular archetypes of my own cats weren’t explained to me in song form.) Moreso, you knew whether or not you were the kind of person who’d want to see Cats by the time the first hints of its production sprang up.

And why was this movie made? In a way, I think that it had to be. Some critics complain ad nauseum that everything these days is a remake, sequel, or adaptation, but this has been the norm since the earliest days of cinema. As to how the producers got all these big names on board, I do not know; but then, perhaps you have to agree to performing in Cats if you are asked. However, I can say that I didn’t leave the cinema thinking any less of any of the parties involved, and was actually quite pleased with Idris Elba’s performance as the only two+ dimensional character of the bunch.

I was in a something of a manic state during the drive home as I reflected what I had just gone through. About fifty-five minutes into the movie, I glanced at my watch for the first time and nearly recoiled in terror. After all the song and dance I had watched these “jellicles”1 go through, I was only half-way through. Around that time I noticed two things: first, there was an intermittent but persistent clicking coming from one of the right-hand speakers; second, the latter half went by far more quickly than the first. I don’t know if it’s a testament to the powers of Eliot + Webber + Hooper, or testament to brain damage I suffered five-and-a-half years ago, but I actually started to care about these things. The end of times, to be sure.

So to the other staff at 366, I apologize for putting us on the hook for this. To everyone else: Happy Christmas, Io Saturnalia, and Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cathulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In fairness to the general Cats reaction, the trailer—and indeed, I can say now, the whole movie—is bizarre-looking and freakish and garish and off-the-rails/all-over-the-place and bombastically beyond the scope of fanbrat respectability/acceptability. But here’s the thing: those are points of praise.” -Mike McPadden, Daily Grindhouse (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Norman Jewison

FEATURING: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman

PLOT: The last days of Jesus Christ, including the Last Supper, his betrayal by Judas, and his crucifixion, sung to a propulsive rock score composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Still from Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though the very premise – a rock ‘n’ roll passion play – is inherently offbeat, and this particular version is laced with anachronisms and unusual characterizations, this is at heart a straightforward, earnest account of the story.

COMMENTS: When Superstar debuted on the Broadway stage in 1971, the very notion of a rock-n-roll passion play must have carried an unmistakable air of sacrilege. (Although another pop-oriented take on the story, “Godspell,” premiered off-Broadway the same year, and a film of that musical also came out in 1973.) But the show struck a chord with audiences; spawned from a concept album that had sold millions of copies, the musical ran for nearly two years on Broadway and spent eight years on the London stage, closing as the longest-running show in British history. A film version was probably inevitable; that the adaptaion would be placed in the hands of the director of In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair might not have been.

To Norman Jewison’s credit (the screenplay is credited to him and British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg), the movie faithfully retains the show’s determination to treat its characters as human beings, rather than the religious icons they have become. Lyricist Tim Rice sparked some controversy by suggesting that he and partner Andrew Lloyd Webber simply wanted to portray Jesus as a man, but they doggedly stuck to that vision, and the results are intriguing: Jesus is beleaguered and plagued by doubts. Judas is a buzzkill true believer, hectoring Jesus for being insufficiently pious and ultimately betraying the man he idolizes out of a sense of moral outrage. Pilate is the most reasonable man in Judea, Mary Magdalene is hopelessly confused, and the apostles are shiftless hippies. It’s probably not the version taught in Sunday school, but it lends the events a greater dramatic heft.

If Jesus Christ Superstar is controversial, it’s because it doesn’t traffic in the more mystical Continue reading CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973)