Pre-History: Jesus Christ Of The Apes

The focus of this blog is to write about the films I viewed from the age of 7 until the age of 12 that inspired and shaped who I am today. Not so much writing about them as a review, but more of impressions. For me, this time in my life was before VCRs, and most will be films I've seen in the theater (a few on cable TV, which we got when I was 11). This era's beginning is marked by the original release of the first film I ever saw on a VCR (as a bootleg in about 1979), Star Wars.

However, this weekend I Tivo'd one of my favorite films ever (if not the most important film) that could not be included on this blog because it falls out of the perimeters I've set. That film is Jesus Christ Superstar and it is one of the first films I ever saw in the theater. I grew up with the soundtrack on LP, 8-track, and cassette, and eventually purchased the CD, and by the age of 6 I could sing every line of every song. In retrospect, it was a film that (along with my treasured Children's Bible) shaped a good deal of my theological vision about who Christ was physically and mortally, and the relation with his apostles. Though it's not completely Biblically based it can give an insight into the humanity of Christ that you may not get from church. Plus, it had prototype Darth Vaders as the bad guys--the Pharisees were black caped, black leathered duders with square bejeweled chest plates.

When I was 23 my mom got us tickets to see the 20th anniversary touring cast of the musical complete with Ted Neely and late (and AMAZING) Carl Anderson, who played Jesus and Judas respectively--it is something I can't even begin to describe, almost akin to a religious experience.

Fast forward to Saturday, I was watching the film and V came into the room. Having never seen it, after watching the overture for about 30 seconds she said, 'This looks a lot like your other film.'

'Which film?'

'Planet Of The Apes. Even the background music and anachronisms remind me of it.'

'No...' Pause. 'Really?'

You see, one film (or rather series of films) I would never miss on my black and white TV was Planet Of The Apes and it's subsequent sequels. I had to watch it every time it was on, even at my aunt and uncle's house during a sleep over (vivid memories of watching Escape... there one night). The greatest and most frightening film ending ever was to Beneath...--it still haunts me to this day. And I just checked to see if my IMDB review of it from 8 years ago was still up. (Actually, the the first two films of the franchise are interchangeable to me because they are all part of the same event with only days separating the story.) The film has stuck with me through the years so much that even my first personalized e-mail address had the name 'GeneralAldo', one of the Gorilla generals from Battle... (and yes, I know that's a picture of General Ursus below, thank you fanboy).

So, with mere seconds of viewing she had entirely summed up my earliest cinematic influences in 8 words. And then she left the room.

It all started to click in my brain, cascading... The scenery. The juxtaposition. The posturing. The background sounds. The imagery. The starkness. Both played off each other. Both featured outsiders thrust into confrontation. Both ended in deaths. And both dealt with vivid crucifixions. And for Apes, that act was prominent in the intro to it's cartoon spin off:.

Now compare those opening credits to one of the last scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar, especially where the audio is concerned:

Oh, but imagine that you're a 5 or 6 year old already obsessed with both franchises. Yeah.

I only bring this up because I want to share with you, dear reader, what I had going as a foundation for the things I was attracted to. I loved Elvis and the Beatles, but also loved opera and bagpipes. I would religiously watch the sitcoms of the day and the old Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons, but kind of hated Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I was fascinated by science, but not too keen on mathematics. I favored Spock over Kirk. I loved triceratopses, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Billie Jean King, traveling, drawing, Popeye, and musicals; I didn't love electric guitars, strangers, rides with drops, olives, and Villa Alegre. And why I'm so koo-koo for Apocalyptic films.

I find it no coincidence that the Apes... series ended the same year that JCS began. Jesus was there, after the apes ruled the world. Isn't that the timeline that evolution presents us? I'll buy that. And Genesis 1:2 has been interpreted as 'the earth became void'--my money is on that ape/subway human battle at the end of Beneath..., which ends with the voiceover: 'In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.'

Well, that's about all I can add here. Enjoy the show!



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