Gospel Road (1973)

G | 83 or 86 mins | Documentary | March 1973

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HISTORY

Although the onscreen title reads " Gospel Road ", most contemporary sources list it as The Gospel Road . The onscreen credits read: " Gospel Road , a story of Jesus told and sung by Johnny Cash." Onscreen acknowledgments include Israel Motion Picture Studios, Ltd. and several Israeli citizens. Although onscreen credits include a 1972 copyright for The Luther Corporation, the film was not registered for copyright.
       Gospel Road features country-and-western singer-songwriter Johnny Cash narrating the life story of Jesus Christ. Cash, dressed in his signature black shirt and trousers, is first seen on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, speaking directly to the camera and describing key events from Christ’s life. His narration continues, in past tense, over reenactments of the events by the cast. The film, which was shot entirely in Israel, alternates between the actors, Cash and lyrical nature shots, and is punctuated by ten country-and-western songs written specifically for the film. While most songs were written and performed by Cash, the soundtrack includes tunes from Kris Kristofferson and John Denver, the latter song sung by Cash’s wife, fellow singer June Carter Cash.
       There is almost no dialogue within the action, with the exception of a few speeches by “Mary Magdalene” and questions spoken by “Nicodemus.” During the scene in which Jesus is crucified, the moment of his death is played repeatedly, with the background changing each time from historical Israel to modern cityscapes.
       According to a Dec 1973 NYT article, the film’s concept originated in 1968, when June Carter Cash dreamed of her husband standing on a mountain in Israel holding a Bible, an image mirrored in ... More Less

Although the onscreen title reads " Gospel Road ", most contemporary sources list it as The Gospel Road . The onscreen credits read: " Gospel Road , a story of Jesus told and sung by Johnny Cash." Onscreen acknowledgments include Israel Motion Picture Studios, Ltd. and several Israeli citizens. Although onscreen credits include a 1972 copyright for The Luther Corporation, the film was not registered for copyright.
       Gospel Road features country-and-western singer-songwriter Johnny Cash narrating the life story of Jesus Christ. Cash, dressed in his signature black shirt and trousers, is first seen on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, speaking directly to the camera and describing key events from Christ’s life. His narration continues, in past tense, over reenactments of the events by the cast. The film, which was shot entirely in Israel, alternates between the actors, Cash and lyrical nature shots, and is punctuated by ten country-and-western songs written specifically for the film. While most songs were written and performed by Cash, the soundtrack includes tunes from Kris Kristofferson and John Denver, the latter song sung by Cash’s wife, fellow singer June Carter Cash.
       There is almost no dialogue within the action, with the exception of a few speeches by “Mary Magdalene” and questions spoken by “Nicodemus.” During the scene in which Jesus is crucified, the moment of his death is played repeatedly, with the background changing each time from historical Israel to modern cityscapes.
       According to a Dec 1973 NYT article, the film’s concept originated in 1968, when June Carter Cash dreamed of her husband standing on a mountain in Israel holding a Bible, an image mirrored in the film. In 1971, as noted in the NYT piece, the couple decided to revisit the idea and cast the film with family and friends. The article also noted that they decided on the storyline while reading the book Concordance to the Bible by Rev. Newton Thompson and Raymond Stock.
       Cash was forty-one years old at the time of the release of Gospel Road . After marrying June Carter in 1968, he overcame years of drug addiction and returned to his original Baptist faith. In a Feb 1973 Var article, Cash deemed the making of Gospel Road to be the reason “why he was born into this world.” June Carter Cash co-produced the film with Cash and portrayed Mary Magdalene. Although the Feb 1973 Var article reported that Cash had spent $1,000,000 of his own money on the film, in Mar 1973 Var modified the personal expense to $500,000 and NYT quoted Cash as referring to the financing as “June’s money.”
       Robert Elfstrom, who directed Gospel Road and starred as “Jesus Christ,” had previously directed the 1969 concert documentary Johnny Cash! The Man, His World and His Music (see below). In Jan 1973, as noted in a HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the worldwide distribution rights to Gospel Road . The article also stated that Columbia Records planned to release the original soundtrack album from the picture. The film's premiere was held on 14 Feb 1973 in Charlotte, NC and benefited the Gardner-Webb College student aid fund. According to the Dec 1973 NYT article, Fox opened the film in a series of Southern cities, including Nashville, Atlanta and Memphis, gaining “moderate success in the Fundamentalist South” before moving northward to openings throughout New York in Dec 1973 and Jan 1974.
       In Jun 1974, according to a HR news item, the production company of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, World Wide Pictures Inc., acquired the film for distribution from Fox. Cash was the subject of the 2005 Oscar-nominated film biography Walk the Line , which was directed by James Mangold and starred Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 Apr 1973
p. 4577.
Daily Variety
19 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1973
p. 4, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jun 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 May 1974.
---
Motion Picture Herald
24 Mar 1973.
---
New York Times
13 Dec 1973.
---
Variety
28 Feb 1973.
---
Variety
14 Mar 1973.
---
Variety
21 Mar 1973
p. 18, 26.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Photog
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus arr & cond
SOUND
Loc sd
Studio sd
Re-rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Optical cine
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit secy
SOURCES
SONGS
"Follow Me," words and music by John Denver, sung by June Carter Cash
"Help Me," words and music by Larry Gatlin, sung by Kris Kristofferson
"Burden of Freedom," words and music by Kris Kristofferson
+
SONGS
"Follow Me," words and music by John Denver, sung by June Carter Cash
"Help Me," words and music by Larry Gatlin, sung by Kris Kristofferson
"Burden of Freedom," words and music by Kris Kristofferson
"Last Supper," words and music by Larry Gatlin
"Lord, Is It I?" words and music by Harold Reid and Don Reid, sung by Harold Reid and Don Reid
"Children," words and music by Joe South
"Gospel Road" and "Jesus Was a Carpenter," words and music by Christopher Wren
"I See Men as Trees Walking" and "He Turned the Water into Wine," words and music by Johnny Cash.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1973
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Charlotte, NC: 14 February 1973
Altlanta, GA opening: 7 March 1973
Production Date:
1972 in Israel
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
83 or 86
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
Israel, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In this documentary about the life of Jesus, country-and-western singer Johnny Cash stands on a mountain in Israel and narrates key moments in Jesus’ life. Jesus is shown as a boy, then the story of John the Baptist prophesizing the coming of the son of God is told through song and narration. The adult Jesus appears and asks John to baptize him, after which the voice of God states “This is my beloved son.” John sees the Holy Spirit descend from heaven in the shape of a dove. Soon after, the devil battles Jesus in the desert, tempting him and trying to claim him, but Jesus remains strong. In the synagogues of Nazareth, Jesus preaches his teachings, urging people to help the poor and those in need. Taking the scroll of prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that God anointed him to preach the gospel, prompting the villagers to attack him for heresy. Although Jesus escapes unharmed, the Scribes and Pharisees begin years of pursuit and persecution. Later, Jesus attends a wedding feast in Canaan, and when the wine runs out, he turns water into wine. The faithful begin to follow him, reveling in the miracles he performs, including giving vision to the blind. Soon, he chooses twelve disciples: brothers James and John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, Matthew, Thomas, Simon, Thaddeus, James, Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Simon, the first to call Jesus the Christ, is given the keys of the kingdom. Jesus preaches everlasting life to his followers, as well as the two greatest commandments: To love God, and to love thy neighbor. When John the Baptist is imprisoned and his torment causes him to question the existence of Jesus, Jesus ... +


In this documentary about the life of Jesus, country-and-western singer Johnny Cash stands on a mountain in Israel and narrates key moments in Jesus’ life. Jesus is shown as a boy, then the story of John the Baptist prophesizing the coming of the son of God is told through song and narration. The adult Jesus appears and asks John to baptize him, after which the voice of God states “This is my beloved son.” John sees the Holy Spirit descend from heaven in the shape of a dove. Soon after, the devil battles Jesus in the desert, tempting him and trying to claim him, but Jesus remains strong. In the synagogues of Nazareth, Jesus preaches his teachings, urging people to help the poor and those in need. Taking the scroll of prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that God anointed him to preach the gospel, prompting the villagers to attack him for heresy. Although Jesus escapes unharmed, the Scribes and Pharisees begin years of pursuit and persecution. Later, Jesus attends a wedding feast in Canaan, and when the wine runs out, he turns water into wine. The faithful begin to follow him, reveling in the miracles he performs, including giving vision to the blind. Soon, he chooses twelve disciples: brothers James and John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, Matthew, Thomas, Simon, Thaddeus, James, Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Simon, the first to call Jesus the Christ, is given the keys of the kingdom. Jesus preaches everlasting life to his followers, as well as the two greatest commandments: To love God, and to love thy neighbor. When John the Baptist is imprisoned and his torment causes him to question the existence of Jesus, Jesus sends him word of his miracles. John the Baptist is finally beheaded, prompting Jesus to wander into the wilderness to mourn. A man of consummate peace, he is driven to anger by the thieves who corrupt a temple, and condemns their corruption. One day, the Pharisees, who constantly test Jesus and try to ruin him, bring an adulterous woman to a temple and ask what should be done. Although they know that to forgive her would be seen as lawless, while to stone her would be antithetical to his teachings, Jesus proclaims, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Soon after, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, asks Jesus about eternal life, and even this enemy Jesus treats with love. As scenes of the Jordan River and its waterfowl are shown, Cash reads passages from the Bible, including “Judge not, lest that you be judged” and “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Cash reads the Lord’s Prayer, then discusses Mary Magdalene, who figures only briefly in the Bible but raises much speculation and controversy. Mary Magdalene is seen appearing before Jesus. She states that as he touched her, evil left her body, leaving her rapturous. Cash imagines children flocking to Jesus and playing in the river. With less than four months to live, Jesus is shown his death by God, and weeps. He informs his disciples and commands them to love one another as he has loved them. During the Passover feast, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him, and they each ask “Is it I?” Jesus tells them the bread is his body and the wine his blood. Afterward, he dismisses them and goes to Gesthemane to pray, as Cash states that as a human being, Jesus feared his death. Then, formally charged with blasphemy, he is beaten and sentenced to death, but never backs down. While wearing a crown of thorns, he is forced to carry a heavy cross across the sand, then is crucified as the crowd cheers. The disciples, Mary Magdalene and his mother, Mary, cry as the nails are driven in and the cross raised. He declares, “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” then dies. In a storm, his body is taken down, and for three days and nights, Mary Magdalene attends his body. But on the third morning, he is gone, and the voice of God tells her that he has risen. For forty days afterward, he walks the earth, exhorting his disciples to teach all the nations about the Holy Trinity. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.