8 January 2007 | bob the moo
An interesting film from a film history point of view but also a relevant one for today. A great companion piece to the film itself
In the 1970's the Monty Python team of comedians had become stars in the UK and US and their film the Holy Grail cemented this even further. During promotion of this film the team come up with the idea to make a film called "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory". Researching the subject they decide against doing this but instead decide to make a film set in Judea around the time of Christ "The Life of Brian". However once they come to release the film they come into direct conflict with seemingly every organised religion in the UK and the face of moral outrage, Mary Whitehouse. This documentary looks back at the firestorm that started as a result of this "blasphemous" comedy.
Widely held as a classic comedy and one of the best pieces of work from Monty Python it is easy for modern viewers to forget what a total s**t-storm kicked off as a result of it. However modern events have perhaps aided understanding (the reaction to the Mohammad cartoons and various other protests) and sadly yet again we seem to be slipping towards a situation where religion is totally off the table in regards criticism and discussion. So it is timely that this film comes along and gives us another chance to learn from history (a chance we are unlikely to take) by looking back at the religious furore over Brian. Perhaps wisely the documentary also looks at the making of the film and as such offers something for everyone, but it is the second half that is most interesting from a social point of view.
This latter half deals with the fallout and it is mostly a very balanced affair that shows us the protests and interviews from the period and gives us much time to any one of the Pythons as it does to the director of Mediawatch John Beyer (who viewers may recognise from his hand wringing a few years ago over Brass Eye's attack on the media hysteria around paedophilia). In doing this it presents all the arguments fairly but doesn't get hung up over the legal technicalities about what is blasphemy. There is no denying that Brian shadows the life of Jesus and one can see why religious groups got upset because, although it never mocks Jesus, it does mock organised religion relentlessly and effectively which is the enduring strength of the film (that and the laughs). Lots of good points are made about this and the discussion is relevant today. It never really gets to the level of serious debate but it is interesting nonetheless. The makers also did very well to get the surviving Pythons involved and only use supporting commentators briefly.
Overall then an interesting film from a film history point of view but also a relevant one given the fact that we find ourselves back in a rising tide of religious intolerance. Well put together and with hardly a dull moment in it this is a great companion piece to the film itself and fans would do well to seek it out.