Monday, March 24, 2008
My Own Personal Jesus: Victor Garber
I know what you're thinking: Just how do I plan on writing a post about Jesus for Erotica with Soul?
Remember, you can experience erotic influences when sex is the further thing from your mind. This will be my case in point: my personal experience with the 1973 film "Godspell," which I just watched again on Easter night.
I was 16 when I first saw this movie. I fell in love with the spirit of this film: the childlike joy of camaraderie and celebration. The whole cast was wonderful: their antics, their clothes, their love for each other, their happiness at the simple pleasures of friends and fun. The songs were wonderful, of course: I listened to this album more often than any other in my life (including even Les Stroud's CDs!).
And I went head over heels for Victor Garber as Jesus. I think I can articulate better now how that happened than I might have in 1973.
I was raised agnostic and up until that point, had very little experience with churchgoing or Christianity. I became a Christian due more to "Godspell" than anything else, really, and eventually found myself a Lutheran pastor's wife, then an Anglican, and briefly a Roman Catholic, before evolving into what I am today...with which I won't bore you. My point is, this movie had an intense and long-lasting impact on my life, and while you can give credit for that to many things (like the gospel for example), you must give some to Victor.
I see now, particularly in view of the man as he appears today, still handsome, but a grayed, mature figure of some dignity, that Victor played Jesus as about as young as a man can be. He was so fresh-faced, so pure, so innocent, and so beautiful in face and voice, he is truly a paragon of youth. In the context of the rock opera, which in classic 70s style is symbolic and stylized, he plays Jesus not at all as the man he was historically, but as an archetype of one aspect of the Messiah: the child of God.
He is the leader of the ten 20-something children in this sweet, careless playground (which in the film is ironically New York City), and he engages himself with teaching them the simplest, yet deepest, lessons: how to play well with others and how to be good children of God. There is no complex theology here, and no Passion-of-the-Christ-style atonement scene either: even the suffering is a kind of play.
But that is the charm of it all, and the charm of Victor Garber's Jesus. Don't forget, I grew up in the world of Vietnam war footage on the evening news, race riots, campus unrest, LSD and Charles Manson. New York City was no playground in 1973. And yet here was a guy in rainbow pants and a Superman shirt, who was gentle, and funny, and tender, and loving. He had a perfect face, an angelic smile, eyes full of light and warmth. He had a voice that would melt your heart. You just wanted him to find you in some dreary urban setting, and take you to a park, and paint something whimsical on your cheek with his slender fingers.
Are you following me now? Yes, it did work because he was a lovely young man, and I was a 16 year old girl. I never had sex fantasies of him--heaven forefend--but I did think of him in ways I would not have done had he been an old man or a woman. It was an erotic pull that bound me to him, that intensified the delight I felt for his music and the humor I drew from his jokes...and the love I felt from him and for him.
And to this day I think that while this is not the most well-rounded portrait of Jesus on film, it does capture with amazing clarity certain aspects of Him, whether you consider Him a historical figure or an archetype. Grown men, in real life, do not exhibit this kind of innocence, this childlike exuberance, this joyful and potent tenderness...but the Son of God surely would.
Victor Garber brought the role to life in a way that truly touched mine...and he will always be my personal cinematic Jesus.