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Zach Odenthal SRT 281 March 20, 2017

Forgiving the Mark of Evil Within All Humans in David Greene’s ​Godspell

Godspell ​was originally formatted for theatrical audiences as a musical. From this, David Greene transformed it into a musical film. Through the use of film and various camera works, the viewers get a more “intimate contact with the characters” (Baugh 2000, 34). The point of view is not of audience members, it is angled from the characters. Through this, deeper meaning is provoked for the viewers to immerse themselves in. Instead of thinking of people “acting,” the movie version draws attention to the characters and their feelings due to the evoked intimacy of the camera. This up-close character development helps to give viewers a broader perspective of each character, making the point of view more third person omniscient, as opposed to the limited conscious emotion in a stage production. With this new perspective, Green’s message of forgiving each other’s sins is brought to light. Greene’s Godspell ​developes a forgiving-teacher image of Jesus, radiating his divinity, which ultimately works to make viewers recognize the mark of evil within all of us that is forgivable through the word of God. This further unveils that good and evil cannot be defined in black and white; wrongful acts do not make someone completely evil. This manifests through the modern location, the musical theater aspects, and the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection. The film is not set in a Biblical setting that the audiences would expect from a Jesus-film. ​Godspell is set in modern day New York City. In Lloyd Baugh’s book ​Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film​ he states that, “New York here is representing any great metropolis, or urban civilization, or humankind, in need of salvation. It ends with the same noisy, chaotic

metropolis, but now about to be ‘invaded’ or blessed by the saving grace of the Christ-event just renewed” (Baugh 2000, 43). The goal of the movie is not to reconstruct Jesus’s life based on historical foundations within a new-and-shiny setting, but to rather devise “an ‘actualizing’ in a contemporary setting, in contemporary language and cultural modes, and in contemporary spirit, of the Christ-event” (Baugh 2000, 42). As Jesus is introduced, the atmosphere changes. The scenes a shot in what seems like another dimension of time and space, moving into a “mysterious, timeless realm of Divine” (Baugh 2000, 47). The alternate dimensional atmosphere suggests metaphoric meaning behind the title: “​Godspell​ as the spell of God, the fascination, the ecstasy of God, the mystical experience of God” (Baugh 2000, 47). This services the overall experience as being “both real and mysterious” (Baugh 2000, 47), and establishing the “spell-of-God” (Baugh 2000, 47). The time and location of the film accentuate the timelessness of Jesus’s teachings, in the sense that the genuine meaning behind it all is the significance, not the setting or time period. The musical comedy aspect of ​Godspell​ is essential to the films identity, which enlightens audiences to clown-like costumes, and the enacted teachings of Jesus. The disciples are visualized as regular everyday people before their baptism; their clothes look modern and casual. After their baptism, the characters are dressed in clown-like clothes to symbolize being saved, hence the song they are singing “Save the People.” Jesus’s clown portrayal creates an atmosphere outside of everyday life, one of secret divinity. “Jesus-the-clown calls his disciples out of the everyday world of routine, obligation and stress into a mysterious wonderful world, a world in which everything is possible, in which the play-reality is more authentic and significant than the objective, scientific realities of everyday living” (Baugh 2000, 47). Jesus is costumed in a superman t-shirt, how ironic; this is the beauty of musicals. Musicals can get away with using this type of costume play-ons to represent further meanings.

Jesus wears a superman shirt because he is the savior. In Richard Walsh’s book, Reading the Gospel in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film, ​he expresses that the clown costumes are not just instruments used to create a thematic environment, but to depict Jesus and his followers as ‘otherly,’ and divine (Walsh 2003, 77). Through this, Jesus is imaged as all affirmingly divine, and as a liberator. “His teaching is meant to free his disciples from what limits them and to allow them to free one another” (Baugh 2000, 45). Greene manifests this through the Last Supper. To represent the washing of the feet, Jesus wipes off the face-paint from the disciples faces , and then they wash each other, manifesting the liberation of people by others. This experience is one of the final stepping stones to the disciples salvation, they get to this point my enacting Jesus’ teachings and parables. “By placing the teaching of Jesus’ parables in the hands of the disciples, ​Godspell​ is suggesting two important biblical-theological concepts: the closeness of the disciples to the Master, and the oral tradition of the teaching of Jesus to the Christian community” (Baugh 2000, 44). ​Godspell​ is enacted through meta-plays: plays within plays. The disciples who are acting in a musical film act out a series of scenes within their own scenes. The most significant of the meta-plays is when “Jesus comes face to face with a giant monster-puppet, animated from within by the disciples, and which suggests the presence of evil even in those closest to Jesus” (Baugh 2000, 44). The disciples are acting as the “evil” in this Biblical moment. The actors are acting as actors, making the viewers of ​Godspell​ see themselves as their part, viewers. With this, an intimate experience occurs that makes the viewers see the actors/disciples as just being other humans like themselves, further suggesting the presence of evil within themselves as well as the disciples. Two of the most substantial strays from Biblical examples are Greene’s choices to have John the Baptist and Judas be the same character, and the exclusion of a bodily-Jesus-resurrection. John the Baptist also takes on the

Biblical plot of Judas, in the sense that John and Judas are the same person, not just being double-casted. John-Judas is the “ringmaster” (Walsh 2003, 77), who begins Jesus’s teaching by gathering the disciples, and ends Jesus’s life with his betrayal for money. John-Judas is the one to actually crucify Jesus in the movie as opposed to the Biblical version of the Romans and Jews. He physically chains Jesus to the fence in a crucifixion-like form. As explained in Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD, ​“the disciples share Jesus’ suffering as a community, screaming out and flailing against the fence with Jesus” (Staley and Walsh 2007, 70). The reasoning behind Greene doing this is to signifying the sin/evil within all humans being the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion, just like the choice to have the disciples act as the evil-puppet as expressed in the above paragraph. When look into the question of “who actually crucified Jesus,” Gordon Robertson suggests that, “I did. Every one of my sins cried out, 'Crucify Him!' Without Jesus, there is no forgiveness. There is no hope for me. With Him, there is. But I have got to recognize and I have to own that every one of my sins is responsible for the Crucifixion. I can't lay the blame on Pilate [or in this case John-Judas]. I can't lay the blame on the Sanhedrin. I have got to own it. That's what it is all about when we come to the Cross is acknowledgment that it is our sin that put Jesus there” (Robertson 2014, par. 5). Ultimately, Greene is forcing viewers to recognize their sins, and how forgiveness can be found in Jesus as well as other fellow people. Jesus is the answer, but other people are the answer too, which, I would argue, is why Greene decided to exclude Jesus’s bodily resurrection. “Godspell imagines Jesus as a teacher who enlists disciples that continue his work after his death” (Staley and Walsh 2007, 72). There is not a direct depiction of Jesus’ resurrection within the film, there is only a suggestion. The disciples carry Jesus back into New York, spreading the Good News. “After the death, the disciples danced with him, and the dance and song go on” (Baugh 2000, 47). Jesus is resurrected through the disciples, and their duty to bring

salvation into “the everyday hustle and bustle life of the metropolis” (Baugh 2000, 46). Comedy does not need a resurrection to convey a strong and meaningful message. Comedy is about giving viewers the “ability to see life differently” (Walsh 2003, 79), which is what Jesus’ teachings are all about. Good and evil cannot be defined in black and white; wrongful acts do not make someone completely evil. This manifests through the modern location, the musical theater aspects , and the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

Greene’s ​Godspell d

divinity, which ultimately works to make viewers recognize the mark of evil within all of us that is forgivable through the word of God and fellow humans. The question becomes: was the film successful in it’s portrayal? “What happens to the Christ of faith when he is represented singing contemporary lyrics, surrounded by singers and dancers, and amplified by Dolby stereo sound and spectacular filmic effects? What happens to the Good News, the message of salvation in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, when it is mediated through the musical film?” (Baugh 2000, 35). The musical orientation is what makes the film most effect in it’s ability to connect with the audience, it entices viewers to look past the divinity. The use of the meta-plays makes them see a reflection of themselves to get the film’s message. Greene’s Godspell ​definitely diverges from usual Jesus films, but it brings a new perspective, enlisting all humans as obligated to take a small portion of “the savior job.” Shades of gray are the only way in which life comes; sins will be made, and we are all part of the puzzle of forgiveness.

evelopes a forgiving-teacher image of Jesus, radiating his


Baugh, Lloyd. "The Jesus Musicals: Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell." In Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film​, 33-47. Franklin, Wisconsin: Sheed & Ward, 2000.

Robertson, Gordon. "Who Crucified Christ?" The Christian Broadcasting Network. September 14, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2017.

Staley, Jeffrey L., and Richard Walsh. "Godspell, 1973." In ​Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD,69-73. 1st ed. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Walsh, Richard. "Location, Location, Location: Godspell and the Teachings of Jesus." In ​Reading the Gospel in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film​, 69-89. New York, New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark , 2003.