A Look Over The Shoulder
Jesus Christ Superstar,
The Best of Youth,
Balboa Theatre, San
This review/remembrance was triggered by a habit of mine. While
dressing or getting undressed I sometimes turn on the cable TV and watch
a movie - for whatever amount of time it takes me to get dressed. The last
day of the year, Saturday, 31 December 2005, I did that, and discovered
that the only thing half-way interesting was "Jesus Christ Superstar"
with Ted Neeley. It was, perhaps, the proximity of other experiences that
drew me to this movie, and it evoked a strange response - tears. They weren't
tears about the suffering Christ, or the beauty of redemption. At another
moment in time all of these things would have counted for something. What
did count were the tears that flowed for the sake of lost youth. Not some
other young person - but rather myself - the loss of my youth.
I had forgotten how all the players in JCSuperstar were so young.
They were about the age I was when the film was released. What came to my
mind was the idealism not only inherent in the film, but my own remembered
idealism, my own still relatively intact innocence. That sentiment was preserved
until I saw the "Roman guard" who whips Jesus, and later laughs
at him on the cross. I saw his dirty blonde hair, his beard, his tanned
body, and I remembered my thoughts when I first saw him - "I want this
So as much as I might want to wander off into a theological discourse
on these three films, I am really more interested in talking about how the
three of them, as a troika, if you will, have spoken to me.
Lost youth - Jack and Ennis, and their lost opportunity - these
things come quickly to mind. "Brokeback Mountain" is one of those
films that I was reluctant to see, but knew that I had to see. I didn't
want to be sad. I didn't want to see the reaction of wives, fathers, and
supervisors. I didn't want to hurt. Having lived my own duplicitous life
as a Lutheran pastor in Massachusetts and New Jersey, I knew all too well
the fear of discovery, and the hiddenness of living. The agendum of a gay
life is of greater importance to Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) than it is to Ennis
(Heath Ledger). It is he who draws Ennis to himself, it is he who pursues
"other options" in spite of his deep love. It is he who is consumed
by what he is. I remember, and I know the feeling. Life is to short to be
ham stringed by convention or courtesy.
The one who moved me, however, was Ennis. In his held-in communication,
in his quick and brilliant bursts of passion, in his denials and indecision
he is everyman, regardless of orientation. This man needed time and space
to figure it all out, and it wasn't coming easily. The attentions of daughter,
or even of Jack, seemed not to allow for this pondering - this remembering
that would put it all together.
There are no enemies in this film, evil beyond redemption. There
are just people on the way. From the boss who hires the boys to watch over
the sheep (geez. I saw this the day after Christmass!) and who seethes with
his discovery to Jack's mother who communicates without words, and gesture,
but merely with the look that every mother uses to greet someone who share
the love of her son - there is a range of people caught in the same dilemma
of wonder and wondering.
Some days after the film, I realized the beauty of the Canadian
Rockies, where this was filmed, had almost been unseen by me. The beauty
of a simple, but flashing, sparking, and fire-hot love had taken my eye.
At the end of the week, Arthur and I went to see "The Best
of Youth". As far as I can tell, this film, very successful in Europe,
has only been shown in the United States in San Francisco, perhaps New York.
It is largely unknown. The website for the film says that play dates are
coming for "Select Cities", as the New York Times would put it.
Going to this film dislike seeing "the Ring" or "Nicholas
Nicklesby". It is a clear commitment of time. It is shown in two parts,
each lasting three hours. And it is worth every minute of it.
Here, again, I was lured into the lost youth pangs of this end
of the year spate of movie viewing. Although the events are probably more
telling to the intended Italian audience than to the average US audience
(the floods in Florence, the massacre of judges in Sicily) the zeitgeist
of each of the decades was in tune with what I was and where I was. Sharing,
it appears, the same ages as the main characters, I was propelled into their
journey, as we would say now. But this film is not about lost-youth. It
is about beauty and all the things that attend beauty (death, joy, grief,
birth, pain, self-discovery, setting aside, dreams - the whole list). It
is best said in a post-card, revealed later in the film and in time, in
which Nicola talks about grabbing hold of the beauty of the world now.
Before what! So many things accentuate the beauty of the world
of Matteo, Nicola, Julia, Carlo, and the others - and so many things get
in the way. In one stunning scene, Julia, who has been incarcerated for
being a member of the "Red Brigade", has been sent some books
to read by Nicola. They are scores of music by Beethoven, Bach and others.
She opens up the score to "Singet dem Herren", and is quickly
pushed into the music by pulse of Bach's cantata. She just as quickly shuts
it off - closing the book and sending it back to the sender. No time for
beauty now - it deceives, it hides the real.
The film is perhaps a little too neat - but not nearly as neat
as an American producer would have made it. It is messy enough to convince
the viewer that this is the beauty of life that is being shown and discovered.
This is that same beauty that sometimes looks like hell.
It was a good movie with which to end my lost-youth binge. I along
with the actors had/have aged. Patterns are forming, and new beauty is being
seen. That is the way of life.