Tonight we are showing Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
The film was a box-office success, grossing fourth-highest of any film in the UK in 1979 and highest of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular since then, receiving positive reviews and being named 'Greatest comedy film of all time' by several magazines and television networks.
The Python’s felt that some of the success was actually fueled by the controversy and banning of the film in some locales. They didn’t shy away from the conflicted, proudly advertising, “So funny it was banned in Norway.”
It was opposed by some, many of whom hadn’t seen the movie, because they believed it satirized Christ.
In 2009, it was announced that a thirty-year old ban of the film in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth was finally lifted, and the following showing was attended by Terry Jones and Michael Palin alongside mayor Sue Jones-Davies (who happened to play Brian’s love interest, Judith….. Judith Iscariot. (The irony was muddled when someone reported that in fact the movie had been shown in the town a couple years after release)
It almost didn’t get made.
EMI, Britain's leading film production company, had signed on to produce the film, then pulled out 2 days before the crew was scheduled to leave for filming in Tunisia. Apparently, someone read the script.
Eric Idle shared his woes to his friend, George Harrison. To his surprise, George came up with $4,000,000 to finance the movie (He didn’t tell them that he had to mortgage his home to come up with cash). George said, 'Well, you know, when the Beatles were breaking up, Python kept me sane, really, so I owe you one.'"
What is this movie about?
Well, it’s not about Christ.
It’s true, the Monty Python troupe initially considered making a film about Jesus and his disciples, focusing on the thirteenth disciple, Brian.
But after studying the gospels, they concluded (quoting Eric Idle) "He's not particularly funny, what he's saying isn't mockable, it's very decent stuff...".
They decided it would be more interesting to focus on the followers.
You see this early on, in one of two scenes in which Jesus actually appears, as he gives the sermon on the mount. In an era before amplification, if there was a large crowd, how well do you think the people on the edge of the crowd actually understood what he was saying.
The Pythons felt that the humor lay, not in Christ and what Christ said, but in the fact that for 2000 years afterwards people haven't been able to agree on what he said in the first place.
They did a lot of research to produce a fairly authentic setting. They were able to economically use leftover sets, locations, costumes and props… even extras… from Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth series.
As was also depicted in The Last Temptation of Christ, this was a time when several Messiahs were sought and found and then destroyed. Some sought a spiritual messiah, some sought a political messiah. Neither escapes the satire of Monty Python here.
Although there is plenty of craziness, see what you think about what Brian actually says when he is confronted by people expecting him to preach.
Michael Palin said, “We all recognize the people being portrayed here: misguided idealism, dogmatic bureaucracy, sheer pigheadedness of power…
“Whereas the bible story is all about what happened to one man in history that was different from what happened to anybody else,
“this is about what happens all the time to everyone... [Brian] is everyman, who wants to just go on living life in an ordinary decent way, minding his own business, and he can't do that, the world is full of loonies..”
John Cleese said, “I got a lot of letters saying 'I'm a Christian, and I don't know what this fuss is about because it seemed to me perfectly clear you were making fun of the way some people pretend they are Christians when they are actually not following Christ's teachings'; they got it”