Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf…Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’

It’s been my experience that people either prefer one thing over the other, be it vanilla or chocolate, summer or winter, Pepsi or Coke. That said I have been in many conversations where people take firm stances as the which camp they belong, and considering this topic there are some people I’ve met with avid respect, opinions and devout favoritism to one singular movie vs. another. In the crazy, silly, confusing but absolutely brilliant world of Monty Python crafted expertly by Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin people either take a firm stance that their favorite MP is either The Holy Grail or Life of Brian.

No one person I’ve met will admit to liking both but will take up arms to defend their sole preference, so as to quote Highlander…”there can be only one“.  That said, I am going to state, proudly, that I love Life of Brian, and to me, I find it the superior Monty Python film. Sure, Holy Grail is funny and probably the most quoted film in history (aside from Caddyshack) but LoB is constructed better and therefore the main reason I find it to be funnier, more clever and just one insanely ludicrous film that I enjoy watching on repeat viewings. When I just need a solid run of laughs I grab Life of Brian off my shelf (btw, I upgraded to the Blu Ray version and it’s just as the title describes; immaculate).

Now before I get any lambasting comments that involve (but are not excluded to) expletives, rants and obscenities about my lack of cinematic taste, I’m going going to say that opinions are subjective and I like what I like (much like each of you) and that’s why we all have our own blogs:)  So with that said, I’ll continue…

Life of Brian follows, well Brian, in his attempts to live a normal life around the same time as the Christ.  From the very beginning, this film struck a nerve with me becasue it provided the first over the top and yet still subtle parody of the Catholic upbringing my parents tried so hard to instill in me.  This movie wasted no time in throwing out the serious and replacing it with the absurd.  A movie pretty much all about mistaken identity, Brian is mistaken for (of all people) Jesus Christ and the insanity ensues showing the lengths people will go through just to have something to believe in.  This movie, without much more explanation (I wouldn’t want to ruin it and similarly it wouldn’t make much sense out of context), is such a gut busting delight.

What I find most interesting and impressive is that the entire MP cast plays all the roles in the film, making for a feature-length type skit, when all is said and done.  Though no one really attempts to take themselves seriously, the lengths to which their skits go just to get a laugh are some of the very best ever caught on film.  From the “alms for an old ex-leper” to the  “Brian graffiti and grammar lesson” scene to the side splitting “Centuwion, fwow him to the fwoor!!”, Life of Brian makes me laugh in succession like few films have before.  Every time I watch this I can’t help but wonder why more modern day films don’t have an ensemble cast playing all the roles like MP films.  But the more I think of it, the more I realize that Monty Python was a special period of time where what they did was acceptable and worked, hence their brilliance.  To try it today would seem a cheap imitation that some people probably wouldn’t get.  Though if I had to suggest one comedy team who could pull it off, I’d like to see the Apatow crew give it a shot…but I’d still rather they didn’t.

I believe considerable attention should be brought to Graham Chapman who is the only actor playing a constant and substantial (not to mention titular) role throughout the film. I do think his skill takes a back seat to Cleese’s and Idle’s acting contributions but he still has some of the funniest lines in the film. There is undeniable chemistry, comfort and confidence displayed between all of the Python troupe which is what I believes makes watching them such a joy. Each member really plays their strengths although when watching Terry Jones or Eric Idle play a woman (so very unconvincingly) you have to wonder what those would be other than just great timing and a funny voice, but it still works.

Call some of their humor stupid and I might agree with you…call it low brow and I would have to ask you to step outside. Though the level of their jokes may border on idiotic, they are still completely capable comedians that give an elegance to a performance that, had it been given by anyone else, would come across as unskilled or amateur. Basically they can made dumb jokes very, very smart, and that’s their true gift. Thier timing is perfect they really don’t need to worry about editing. Terry Jones needed only to aim the camera at the actors and let it roll…the rest is screen history. Much of their other work can go over my head or but still leave me in stitches. However the brilliance in their humor is that not everyone gets it, but to those who do, MP is probably the finest comic troupe of all time.

There is very little to marvel at in Brian except maybe the locations in Tunisa where they shot most of the film. This gave a gavity to the film which helped sell the epic they were going for. While this isn’t a spoof, this is a story of mistaken identity that just so happens to take place along side the Story of Christ in a clever “What if?” scenario. Seeing them work their magic in joke after joke really is the beauty and spectacle of this and all their films. Not one for sight gags or slapstick comedy, their manner of speaking and delivery is hystercial and would still be regardelss of their change of outfits, playing different genders etc. Hell they could fly through space (as Chapman actually does in an off the wall dialog void sequence) and it would still be funny.


To end this, I will do so, much the way MP ends all their movies, without any clear resolution. Further I will make one last point and that is to suggest anyone unfamiliar with Brian to give it a try (and yes, I’m mainly talking to the multitude of die-hard Holy Grailers out there). Basically, like a decent amount of Python’s work, you’ll be scratching your head as to what this video has to do with anything but still be able to enjoy and laugh at all the hilarious events leading up to it. Hey, it’s what the Python’s do best isn’t it?