On the Thursday before Easter Sunday, I was strolling home from a thoroughly nonsecular dinner of ramen with friends. Walking up the side-street in my quiet neighbourhood, I caught myself feeling nostalgic for the Holy Thursday church service of my childhood. Even at the time I didn’t hate it. That one, and the service on Christmas Eve night always felt kind of magical.
Parenthetically, that reminds me of a funny story. At the Holy Thursday service, it’s custom in some churches for the priest to wash the feet of 12 male members of the congregation in remembrance of Jesus humbling himself by washing the feet of the 12 disciples at the last supper. An unconventional uncle of mine was chosen to be one of the 12 congregants, and, perhaps to test the priest’s sangfroid, prepared for the service by writing “Dry-clean only,” across his toes.
Every Easter I watch that film classic The Ten Commandments. This year, much to my delight, I happened on an audio described version of that other film classic Jesus Christ Superstar. Apart from the totally fantastic music of the later film, why do I love these so much? They’re both really powerful stories, really well told. Both tell of individuals who sacrifice all for the greater good.
The Ten Commandments has it all: love, lust, loyalty, betrayal, courage, suffering, devotion, terror, sacrifice, trial, temptation, sin, redemption, and some of the most excellently cheesy one-liners in film history. Here’s a list of some of my favourites, just cause I can’t help myself.
- “Your fragrance is as the wine of Babylon.” (I keep trying to get my boyfriend to tell me this, but he says he’ll only do it if I strew his path with rose petals first.)
- “And Moses took the rod of God into his hand…” (Come on, you just can’t beat that!)
- “Her lips were tamarisk honey, and like the breast of a dove her arms were soft.” (He won’t say this to me either.)
- “They did eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” (Yum!)
- “And they did practice all manner of lewdness and vile affections.” (Oo, sign me up.)
- “You are a sharp-taloned treacherous little peacock.” (He’d probably let me have this one.)
Alongside these gems, there are of course profound and poignant nuggets you can’t toss off in one line, which make the 3 1/2 hours well worth it. Each time, I reliably laugh at the cheese, and shed a tear or two at the powerful parts: self-sacrifice for an ideal, true and enduring love, and respect for the dignity of every human.
The full answer to why the stories told in these films endure is more obvious in Jesus Christ Superstar. Though the tale is grim, it’s told vibrantly and even insouciantly. Dancing and singing aren’t the first things you think of when you read the gospels, but the film’s creators are relentless in their insistence on portraying the vigorous, passionate, timeless, and celebratory aspects of a story that has been central to western culture for 2000 years. The flamboyant costumes and the deliberate anachronisms insist that we evaluate the story not only on its own merits, but on the meaning it holds for our culture, and for each of us as individuals.
Heaven On Their Minds: film version 1973
Everything’s All Right: film version 1973
Heaven On Their Minds: Indigo Girls
Every Easter I watch these great movies, and each time I do I accrete more nostalgia around them. Energetic narrative, lyrical language, and fantastic music keep me coming back despite my fervent agnosticism. In my weekly forced attendance at church as a kid, my favourite part, after the music, was the third reading where they read from the gosples, i.e. the stories of what people actually did. Stories have power, especially ones that have been around for a long time. Religious traditions are agglomerations of individuals expressing and passing on ideas that have meaning to them. People tell stories; it’s in our nature. All religions have stories, and retell them. There’re lots of complex reasons why I feel nostalgic about church stuff (especially as a recovered Catholic,) even if I don’t really want to be a church-goer. Stories we know all our lives have force.` Maybe some year I’ll find a Catholic church to wander into for a Holy Thursday service, but this year, as in so many other years, my nostalgic itch has been fulfillingly scratched by cinema.