Life of Brian
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Today’s feature is the blasphemous cult classic Monty Python flick, Life of Brian.
Life of Brian was written by and starred the entire Monty Python team: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin. The six members of Monty Python astoundingly combined to play a total of 40 different characters on screen over the course of Life of Brian.
Life of Brian was directed solely by Terry Jones, who previously co-directed Monty Python and The Holy Grail with fellow Python (and acclaimed director) Terry Gilliam, and later co-directed with him again on The Meaning of Life.
The cinematographer for Life of Brian was Peter Biziou, who also shot The Truman Show, Time Bandits, Mississippi Burning, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and Pink Floyd The Wall.
Life of Brian was edited by Julian Doyle, who later cut films like Brazil, Time Bandits, and The Meaning of Life.
The Life of Brian team of producers included famed member of The Beatles George Harrison, Tarak Ben Ammar (Hannibal Rising), John Goldstone (Shock Treatment, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Tim Hampton (Legend, Lost in Space), and Denis O’Brien (Withnail & I, Time Bandits).
The Life of Brian visual effects team included common elements with such films as Time Bandits, The Meaning of Life, Judge Dredd, Willow, The Dark Crystal, Brazil, The Brothers Grimm, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Labyrinth, among others.
The makeup effects team for Life of Brian was made up primarily by Maggie Weston (Brazil), Ken Lintott (Henry V, Time Bandits), Sue Ignatius (X-Men: First Class, The Phantom of The Opera), and Elaine Carew (Brazil, Time Bandits).
The plot of Life of Brian follows a young man born on the same day as Jesus of Nazareth through the entirety of his strange life. He lives a parallel existence to the religious figure, up to and including the formation of a cult-like following that surrounds and worships him (though not of his choosing) and an ultimate crucifixion.
The production and release of Life of Brian sparked a massive blasphemy controversy the world over, and it was ultimately banned in many countries like Ireland and Norway. The initial production company that signed on to finance the movie backed out, after which George Harrison stepped up to save the film. John Cleese, in regards to the near-universal Christian backlash to the film, once said “we’ve brought them all together for the first time in 2000 years!”
George Harrison, who stepped in after the initial production company bailed on the film, mortgaged both his home and his office building to help fund the movie, apparently just because he really wanted to see it, and feared that it might be the last chance to see a Monty Python film. Eric Idle has referred to Harrison’s actions as “the highest price ever paid for a cinema ticket.”
The screenplay to Life of Brian was dedicated to legendary drummer and founding member of The Who Keith Moon, who was supposed to play a small role in the film, but tragically died before he could film it.
The now-famous song “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” was created as part of the soundtrack to Life of Brian. It has re-gained a significant amount of popularity in recent years due to it becoming the centerpiece of the Monty Python Broadway musical “Spamalot,” based on Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
During Graham Chapman’s full-frontal nude shot, a rubber band was used to give the illusion of Graham Chapman being circumcised, as his character is Jewish.
The idea for Life of Brian came from a joke title that Eric Idle used to give to reporters when they inquired about what the team’s next film project would be: Jesus Christ’s Lust For Glory. The Python’s not only found that this got the reporters to stop hounding them, but it gave them the idea to set a comedy in the first century, somehow intersecting with the life of Jesus.
The Venice Film Festival had a special award sponsored by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics named in honor of the movie, the Premio Brian. It was given out from 2006 – 2013 to the film in the festival that best “highlights and enhances the values of rationality, respect for human rights, democracy, pluralism, promotion of individuality, freedom of conscience, expression and research, the principle of equal opportunities in public institutions for all citizens.”
Life of Brian had a reported budget of $4 million, and grossed a domestic total of over $20 million in its lifetime theatrical run.
The reception to Life of Brian was overwhelmingly positive, despite the controversy surrounding it. The film currently holds an IMDb rating of 8.2, putting it in the top 250 movies on the site. It also holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 96% (critics) and 93% (audience), and is widely regarded as both a cult classic and one of the funniest comedy movies of all time.
In my opinion, Life of Brian Takes the funny banter of Holy Grail and elevates it to an entirely new level, and is almost certainly Monty Python firing on all cylinders. Much like Holy Grail skewers Arthurian lore, Life of Brian relishes in crucifying both Christianity and first century life in general. Jokes about aqueducts and the sexual innuendo in the Roman names don’t have anything to do specifically with Christianity, for instance.
All of that said, this movie is memorable specifically for how aggressively and brashly it takes on Christianity. The entire ‘shoe vs gourd’ sequence is one of the sharpest critiques at how minor religious difference have historically created massive schisms in religions, and the dialogue constantly throws punches at the concept of blind worship.
In my opinion, the fantastic ending of Life of Brian is what sets it apart and above Holy Grail, and makes it the finest work from the group. Grail literally falls apart in the conclusion, which is funny in its own way, but the wry crucifixion of Brian capped by the memorable tune “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” is a brutally hilarious arrow in the audience’s chest, and drives home the inevitability of death with a smirk, which isn’t something that is easy to pull off.
Overall, this a fantastic comedy movie, and is easily one of the finest religious satires ever put to film. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and the same goes from all of Monty Python’s works. I adore Flying Circus and Holy Grail, and plan on giving Meaning of Life another spin soon, because I have always seen that as a weakest entry from the troupe (and it is still legendarily funny).