In our continuing series of 47 films to watch before you are murdered in your dreams, we look at Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Choosing a favorite Monty Python film is like choosing a favorite dad, utterly pointless. All your dads are fantastic and if you want them to take the blood test to find out which one is the real one then I pity your feeble-minded pedantry.
Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and John Cleese were both collectively and individually responsible for some of the finest British/American comedy ever made. Their first film And Now for Something Completely Different was a rehash of their sketch show repackaged for non-Brit audiences. The Quest for the Holy Grail has a frail pretense of plot but is essentially a sketch show around a theme, but is a work of anarchic genius that has managed to survive endless quote-athons. It is a ballsy, funny film, which throws ideas out as soon as the comedy has been done and includes some moments of such comedy perfection, it’s breathtaking.
Their next film had more plot and a tighter focus for the satire. The Life of Brian tells the story of the reluctant Messiah, Brian, the poor bastard born in the stable next door to Jesus. Along the way it rips the merry piss out of religion at a time when Christianity still had a stranglehold on the censors in a number of countries, leading to it being banned in a number of countries, leading to the hilarious poster tag ‘So funny, Norway banned it.’
Monty Python were no doctrinaire enemies of religion as such: their targets were the humorless. These included political fanatics ‘SPLITTERS!’; the authority figures of the Roman administrators ‘Biggus Dickus’ and the religious authorities ‘No one is to stone any one until I blow this whistle’ as well as the religious fundamentalists, who take little over three minutes from the creation of a new religion to the murder of the first blasphemer. Jesus is a distant figure preaching too far away to be properly heard, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers?’
In 1979, people were spitting feathers about this film, but I know priests who now use sketches from the film to prove their point about the twisting of religion to evil ends. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could have a Muslim Monty Python merrily upsetting the Ummah, and in the process puncturing some of the pomposity and self-seriousness which allows the most tragically absurd ideas to survive.
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