With more subtle box office numbers, The Death of Stalin opened as a modest hit. A dark comedy about the transition of Soviet dictators, this film could be seen as a chapter of Monty Python presents Masterpiece Theater. While a Monty Python cast member has a supporting role (Michael Palin), it is Steve Buscemi’s performance as Nikita Khrushchev that steals the show. A conspiracy plotter who coldly exploits the weaknesses of his comrades (especially Jeffrey Tambor as a Stalin sycophant), Bescemi’s Khrushchev is given moments of slow burn comedy as he becomes the leader of thugs and idiots.
Given Russia’s brutal history, there are plenty of gruesome moments that are given dark comedic spin. For example, a medical examiner performs an autopsy of Stalin’s brain, in front of a quibbling government committee trying to determine foul play. The grossness of the scene is punctuated by Stalin’s children walking into the room while their father is literally getting his head examined. The absurdity of human misbehavior is truly revealed in this film.
It has been 42 years since I, Claudius premiered on American Public Broadcasting Television. Shot in soap opera style on videotape and based on Robert Grave’s historical novels I,Claudius and Claudius The God, the 13-part miniseries, presented early days of Roman History, full of political speeches, bloodshed, sex and a surprising amount of nudity for broadcast television. The series ignited the careers of Patrick Stewart, the late John Hurt, John Rhys-Davies and Derek Jacobi as the title character who lived in the time of Christ.
With four months of hype and promotion on NBC, the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar Live in Concert will commence at 8 p.m. on Easter Sunday. With music from Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice lifted from their hit Broadway musical and 1972 motion picture, this production has always been controversial.
Given the counter culture movement of the 1970s, Weber and Rice sought to present a view of an alternative Jesus, in contrast to sword and scandal epics that featured Charlton Heston, Jeffrey Hunter and Max Von Sydow. They chose to present Jesus as a celebrity to be envied. This envy led to betrayal by one of his disciples, Judas. Thus, Jesus Christ Superstar has been referred to as The Gospel of Judas.
Regardless, this musical about Jesus has endured, with a soaring musical score and a popular song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” which will be sung by Sara Bareilles. John Legend will carry the cross for this three-hour live event. In a small, but showy role, expect Alice Cooper to steal the show as King Herod. [See more on Cinema Dave’s adventure to see Alice Cooper perform recently in Orlando at www.observernewspaperonline.com].
Happy Passover & Happy Easter!