Reviews > Culture

Superstars and reality

Culture | Rereleasing Jesus as mere superstar, superstars as mere humans, & other cultural buzz

Issue: "Clinton: Final straw?," March 28, 1998

Recycled blasphemy
Not everything gets better with age. That fact isn't stopping Universal from shipping a silver anniversary re-release of Jesus Christ Superstar this summer. Now this wretched rock opera passion play can be inflicted on a new generation. Think of this early Andrew Lloyd Webber project as a tour-de-junque of some great cultural weeds of the last 25 years. The counterculture of the 1960s mixes with 1970s kitsch-rock, early disco, and a touch of folk mass into a real mess. Of course the theology is worse than the grade Z cast. Not only is Christ portrayed as a pop star, the musical presumes to portray his life while leaving out little details from the biblical account such as the Resurrection. The filmmakers tacked on a beginning to the film showing the hippy-dippy troupe riding out into the desert to perform the musical, which only makes Superstar more dated and more unwatchable. Superstar was the prototype of cinematic theobabble to come. The crown jewel of the genre, The Last Temptation of Christ, is also back in print, as on laserdisc. Imagine the double feature: Retro-Blasphemy '98! But wait, there's more spiritual nonsense to come. This spring Meg Ryan gets touched by an angel played by Nicolas Cage in City of Angels (rated PG-13 for sexuality including language, and some nudity). The film is an Americanized trip into the world of Wim Wenders's postmodern masterpiece of arthouse nonsense, Wings of Desire. Mr. Wenders's angels are splendid if one-dimensional creatures who live in a black-and-white world lacking the passion of us mortals. They get tired of just helping people and want to dive into the hustle and bustle of humans. In this case, the lead wants a love affair with the Meg Ryan character. At least the 1988 West German original was a directoral masterpiece that became a required text for film students everywhere. The remake will simply cash in on the angel fad, while continuing to confuse God's terrifying messengers with people just like us. Marshal, arrest that fugitive!
You've seen one Fugitive, you've seen them all. Tommy Lee Jones is back as Chief Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in U.S. Marshals (rated PG-13). This time, Dr. Kimble and the one-armed man are long gone and Marshal Gerard gets center stage. He's hunting Wesley Snipes, a tow-truck driver with a Starbucks employee girlfriend who's arrested for murdering two spies in Manhattan. After a Con Air flight crashes, Mr. Snipes runs for it and the chase is on. Naturally, the new Fugitive is as innocent as the old one. Instead of a one-armed man, escapee Snipes must find a Red Chinese saboteur and an American traitor before Gerard finds him. Then things go downhill. Robert Downey Jr. pops up as a spook who becomes Gerard's sidekick. Obviously the federales are manipulating Gerard to keep him from the truth about the man he's chasing, but our hero takes forever to figure this out. The movie slogs through false climax after false climax before heading toward an obvious conclusion. Seeing Mr. Snipes and Mr. Downey in a sequel to The Fugitive is poetic. Mr. Downey's drug problems have kept him in and out of jail and rehab for a few years. In fact, he is currently being let out of prison so that he can finish making his movies, a work-release perk reserved only for prisoners who are movie stars. In 1993, Mr. Snipes led L.A. cops on a merry chase on his motorcycle and was booked on concealed weapons charges. The next year he gave a repeat performance on a Florida freeway. Real-life parallels aside, U.S. Marshals is yet another example of a good idea that doesn't pay off. Police records of the rich and famous
The best thing about the Net is that it's a high-speed pipeline that opens a world of strange, unusual finds for free. But just as the French Revolution opened the way for the Marquis de Sade and an invasion of pornography, so the Internet revolution is now bringing an onslaught of gossip-made-easy. Cancel the subscription to People. Who needs that when you can get Marv Albert's DNA test results straight off the Net? Or the record of Tim Allen's DUI? Or everything we don't need to know about the Gianni Versace murder case. The only good news about celebrity-obsessive sites is that they leave the visitor with a reminder that even the most rich and powerful are flawed, human, and leave a paper trail. But the demythologizing of Hollywood comes with a price tag. The cult of celebrity was once an escape into fantasy. Now, tabloid-fed fans want seamy details. Satiated by image-mongerings, gossipers now want celebrities to be-or seem-real. We have gone from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to the Police Records of the Rich and Famous.

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