7 March 2008 | blubb06
This film is so funny, they banned it in Norway
(Swedish advertising tag line in 1979)
"The Life of Brian" was recently voted "Best comedy of all time" in Britain. The Pythons regard it as their jewel. Quote Terry Gilliam: "This film does give hope to people who still want to think ... and laugh."
From his humble birth on, Brian (Graham Chapman) is mistaken for the messiah. Later, when Brian is grown up and joins the Judean People's Front in opposition to Roman rule, he is again mistaken for a Messiah, and in addressing his mob of would-be acolytes, Brian pretty much sums up the theme of the movie: "Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!!"
Even before its release in 1979, "Brian" was notorious for allegedly mocking the life of Christ, but it was arguably the Pythons' greatest artistic, as well as commercial success. EMI chief Bernard Delfont turned down the script barely a few days before the crew was supposed to start shooting. George Harrison of the Beatles, one of the Pythons' "greatest fans", stepped in as the "savior". While the Pythons were still filming in Tunisia, the British organization "Festival of light" started a dedicated campaign to brand the new movie as "blasphemous" a charge the Pythons still deny. The film ultimately received a British AA (above 14) rating, but to quell any riots still got banned in various communities and even countries, like Norway. Overseas, it was opposed by Jewish Rabbis, Catholics and in the Protestant "Bible Belt", but nevertheless generated some 20 million $ in revenue there.
This hour-long documentary delves into the controversy's history through new interviews with the Pythons (now in their 60s) and critics of then and now, including original behind-the-scenes footage for the fans and clips of the most (in)famous clashes, such as a late-night BBC II talk show from Nov 9, 1979 featuring John Cleese/Michael Palin vs. Mervin Stockwood (clergyman) and born-again Christian Malcolm Muggeridge. It is part of the two-disk set "Monty Python's The Life of Brian: The Immaculate Edition."
The Pythons always had the nerve to offend. The doc's narration is not what you would expect it attempts a curious mixture of timid, respectable, British style and speech bubbles straight out of the illustrated manual "Hype for Dummies": "This is the story of one of the greatest films and one of the greatest cultural battles of modern times... (Flying Circus is) one of the most influential comedy programs Britain has ever produced..." Brian (Chapman) must be rotating in his grave. Perhaps nothing can illustrate better that "Brian" probably wouldn't be made today. Still, it is a treat for those of us who missed all the fuss.