47 FILMS: 27. THE LIFE OF BRIAN

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.

For more of our 47 Films Click Here.

47 FILMS: 26. BRAZIL

HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our series of 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams, we look at Terry Gilliam’s suitably nutty Brazil.

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is an unambitious man working his humdrum job in records, dealing with a fully automated home where everything malfunctions and living happily enough in a society plagued terrorist attacks and an authoritarian regime that suppresses all freedom.  Like Hamlet, he would be happy ‘were it not that I have bad dreams’.  Okay. Sam’s dreams are a Mitty like escape from the fearful drudgery that surrounds him. He is a winged knight forever rescuing the fair maiden, but it is this which will get him in so much trouble when he meets his fantasy in the form of real life trucker Jill (Kim Greist). This leads him to accept the promotion his mother (Katherine Helmond) has finagled to Information Retrieval.

Brazil presents perhaps the most successful cinematic version of George Orwell’s 1984 – there are several direct references in the film. However, Gilliam’s dystopia is not only oppressive by design but arbitrarily incompetent. The whole course of events starts with a typo, the ghost in the machine is a squashed fly. The ludicrous – rogue plumbers who actually fix things on time are considered terrorists, socialites compete on who can have the most radical plastic surgery – mix with the horrifying. There’s something dreadful in Sam’s fate as he is essentially a little boy, cosseted by his mother and who has never questioned the world in which he lives, as he races whooping towards a confrontation with forces he doesn’t understand. Pryce is perfect in the role. And the cameos are all pitch perfect grotesques. Gilliam’s fellow Python, Michael Palin is excellent as Sam’s cheery peer, a friendly torturer who is as much fascinated by office politics as he is committed to his own gruesome efficiency; Bob Hoskins as Spoor, the government plumber and Robert de Niro as Tuttle, the rogue plumber.

Gilliam’s visual sense creates a detailed and visually striking world, the creaking 1940s technology of tubes and ducts. Tom Stopard co-screenwriter is on hand to give the same detail to the language of euphemism and coercion that dominates the film. Or the deputy minister Helpman (Peter Vaughn) with his endless supply of sporting metaphors. Read the posters in the background – ‘Don’t Suspect a Friend, Report Him!’

Brazil was Gilliam’s masterpiece and the troubles he had making the film and getting it distributed set him on a trajectory of awkwardness for years to come, but frankly it was worth it.

For more of our 47 Films Click Here.

MONTY PYTHON PLANS COMEBACK

LONDON – Monty Python – the veteran 73 year old British comedian – is to return to the stage for the first time in over a decade. The show entitled ‘An Audience with Us’ will preview next week at the O2 Arena in London. 

The comedian said:

I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my one man show. I’ll be doing all the characters. I’ll so my Mr. Shouty: John Cleese. I’ll do some songs as Eric Idle. I’ll direct a string of disappointing films as Terry Gilliam. Terry Jones is just going to be there as eye candy basically. Oh and my proudest work is the character I do called Michael Palin. This is my satire on the ineffably stupid idea of someone being a “National Treasure”! Whatever the hell that means.

Monty Python first became famous in the 1960s when he first appeared on British television with the comedy sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Although initially greeted with poor reviews and only modest audience figures, the series went on to become a cult hit and spawned a number of movies. 

Film and television historian Mark Cousins (no relation to film and television historian Mark Cousins) said:

The main stumbling block for many on first seeing Monty Python’s Flying Circus was the revolutionary use of split screen technology which allowed Monty to play a variety of characters at the same time on screen. This led to some people mistakenly believing that he was actually a comedy team, instead of an individual (though admittedly versatile) comedian. Ever the situationist, Python went on to confuse matters further by releasing a series of solo projects by each of his individual characters including hit sit-com Fawlty Towers and the movie Brazil.

   
An Audience with Us will be released on DVD sometime in 2014.

5 FACTS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT MONTY PYTHON

FACTLAND – In anticipation of the eagerly awaited stage-bound reunion of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the Studio Exec provides 5 ‘zany’ FACTS about everyone’s favorite comedy team, after the Benny Hills.

1. The Parrot sketch was, is and never will be funny.

2.  The name Monty Python was initially thought up as a combination of Eric Idle’s favorite sexual position ‘Mounting’ and Michael Palin’s pet name for his penis ‘Python’. Flying Circus was the pet name for John Cleese’s arse flaps.

3. Monty Python are all American except for Terry Gilliam who is English.

4. Graham Chapman was murdered by the other Pythons and then his ashes were thrown about the stage during an interview as part of a sick joke. His death was deemed necessary to placate the comedy gods who John Cleese had angered by making Fierce Creatures

5. All the Pythons have had successful solo careers, except for Terry Jones. 


For more FACTS on everything from this to that click HERE! 

MONTY PYTHON REVEALS MENTAL ILLNESS PAIN

LONDON – Monty Python – perhaps the most famous and popular post War British comedian – spoke today exclusively to Studio Exec of his years of pain, including long bouts of mental illness and depression.

‘I’m speaking out, so that millions like me will understand they are not alone,’ said Mr. Python, relaxing in his state of the art caravan at a park near Skegness.

Python (73) first became famous in Britain with a groundbreaking television series in the late sixties before turning his attention to the cinema where he made four internationally successful films including the widely regarded comedy classics Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python and the Life of Brian. But behind the laughter there was a terrible tragedy and even those close to Python, rarely guessed how deep it went.

I think even as a child I suffered from a form of this. Probably less serious. I would do different voices and even try to make myself look shorter or taller depending on who I was with. But as it went on, it became a compulsion. 

It was only in 1976 that Python was correctly diagnosed as having Multiple Personality Disorder. As well as being Monty, he would introduce himself as Michael, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric, John or Graham. He insisted that all his work was credited to all his personalities and some of them differed so much, involving also a physical metamorphosis that many even believed they were different people.

A composite portrait

I think that was a tipping point. When I started getting separate royalties for each personality and I would have to do press conferences and talk about the differing personalities of the group. It only served to validate the illness.

Some relief came in the late eighties when he managed to kill off one of his personalities – Graham – but it proved a false dawn.

Without Graham, there was no balance and I’m afraid I went into a tail spin. The only thing I could do was get away with a series of travel documentaries, the odd sit-com cameo and some Broadway musicals which were so stiflingly boring they passed as therapy.  

So why speak out now when so many people still thing you are actually a team of separate individuals?

Because I see One Direction and The Rolling Stones and I want to say, “It’s okay. Tell everyone it is ONE Direction. It is The Rolling Stone.

Monty Python: My Lives is published by Harper Collins this month.