25 APRIL 1992, Page 48


No profit in Jesus

Martyn Harris

Fifty years back the British Board of Film Censors still banned depictions of Christ on screen. One result was that in the 1935 Barabbas everything was 'seen' from Jesus's point of view, which gave the film that rather giddying handicam effect throughout, and was actually more blasphe- mous when you come to think of it.

Jesus Christ Movie Star (Channel 4, 7 p.m., Monday) traced the story of Jesus in the cinema from Henderson Bland's upper- class English Christ of 1903 (`Ai shall dwell in mai Father's hice') to Martin Scorsese's libidinous Lamb of 1987 (The Last Tempta- tion of Christ). Few made money, even in pious America, and the films that did relied on other attractions. Cecil B. De Mille (King of Kings) supplied Mary Magdalene with tin bra and G-string; Norman Jewison (Jesus Christ Superstar) borrowed a rock 'n' roll score; Pasolini (The Gospel According to St Matthew) laid on an impasto of primi- tive Marxism. George Stevens, for The Greatest Story Ever Told, hired every star in Hollywood, including John Wayne as cen- turion at the foot of the cross — 'Truly this was the son of Gand' — and still it flopped. The trouble with Christ, as Jewison remarked, was that he did not get into fights and he did not kiss girls. After the failure of King of Kings Hollywood never risked big money on a Jesus movie again.

The pop iconography of Christ is enacted now not on the screen but in the rock 'n' roll arena, where heavy metal axe-man assumes the trappings of holy torment: the straggling hair and hollow cheeks, the sweat-beaded shoulders and catatonic twitchings. The rock star plays out, some- times in hamfisted theatre, sometimes for real, the elemental story of the isolated hero, the prophetic insights, the uncompre- hending world, the faithful band of follow- ers, the struggle with private demons and often the public martyrdom. And he gets into fights and kisses girls.

Even resurrection is possible, as we saw

'They're new — condom-flavoured straw-

with the Freddie Mercury Aids concert (BBC 2, 6 p.m., Monday), where one wrin- kled rocker after another emerged cleaned up, capped and re-bored by the Betty Ford Clinics to strut his stuff anew. The modest- ly talented Mercury loomed again from the video banks as a thousand lookalikes waved back from the Wembley crowd. Could that really be Roger Daltrey singing `I Want It All And I Want It Now?' His leathery old libertine's face said he'd had it all already, and if he wanted more he could use his platinum Amex card. And was it really credible that a band as dreadful as Def Leppard could still stand on stage in their stone-washed denims and big hairdos and not be drowned in universal hilarity?

The rockers mimed the routines of rebel- lion, but they were as dangerous as fat old tabby cats, as subversive as Victor Sylvester with their cliched props of leather jeans and ponytails, perms and pectorals. All that desultory air-punching and lassitudinous arm-windmilling. All the easy, unexamined self-pity swilling around the image of Mer- cury as Messiah. The only people with any edge, and still under pensionable age, were Guns 'n' Roses (whose singer wore a cruci- fied Christ T-shirt). They did a passable set, though half of it was a cover of a 20- year-old Bob Dylan number.

High point of embarrassment was Eliza- beth Taylor, looking like a freshly dub- bined football. 'You are the future of the world,' she told the audience, 'the bright and shining light that illuminates our future' — and I knew that by now any self- respecting Sixties crowd would have laughed the fat old phony off stage. But there was more: 'Always use a condom for straight sex, bi-sex, all sex. Love your- selves. You see, we really love you. We really care.' But if there had been anyone on stage who really cared about anything, they'd have been kicking her silly bottom.