Sunday, January 25, 2009

Life of Brian

Bless you WGBH2. Bless your silly 80's styled logo that hooked highly ridiculous in the late 90's. But mostly, bless you for airing Monty Python at 4:00, about when I got home from school. Many an afternoon was spent watching various Monty Python episodes as a child, and oh how I laughed. I'd like to claim some sort of elaborate epiphany that I was blessed with while watching them, because then it'll seem important and meaningful. But no, I watched because it was quite funny and really that's all anyone cares about when one watches a comedy.

So it may seem odd that I actually haven't seen Life of Brian until, well, now. But that's not so! Because, after all, it wasn't aired on WGBH2 during after school, I lived in a rural area so video stores didn't have older films, and I grew up in the 90s, long after it was made. But I've seen it now, and now I'm going to comment on it, because that's what I do.

So, Life of Brian, which appears to be the main inspiration behind Assassin's Creed of all things (the beggar women in that are a direct lift from Michael Palin's former leper, except you would never stab Michael Palin). It's about, well, Brian, played by Graham Chapman, a man from Nazareth who had the misfortune of being born quite near Jesus. Thus, he's frequently confused for a savior, and caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time.

What we have here is a film that has nothing but respect for Jesus, but can't help but make fun of everyone around him. It's makes fun of bureaucracy, of fragments between people for the same cause, and all the people who will blindly follow someone and not really considering why. It can be quite biting satire, but luckily never feels self congratulatory for it - something not every satire can get a handle on - and it never gets caught up in ideas. It's very smart, but it can take time for dick jokes. That's comedy.

Being a Monty Python film, a lot of it's about the scenes as opposed to the whole, an approach that doesn't always work perfectly, but when it does work it's absolutely fantastic. There are great moments, as there always are, whether it's a dispute about the various Judean people's fronts, or making fun of a lisp. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is one of those crazy catchy songs that you just can't help humming. Even during a crucifixion.

The beauty of the film - and really, pretty much everything Monty Python does - is that it's very smart, and very well researched, but it never draws attention to that fact. Listening to the commentary track on the DVD, they talk at length about what inspired various scenes and characters, but it really doesn't matter, because they're funny whether you understand them or not. The jokes work both because they're genuinely funny, and because they fit the time and place it's supposed to be set in.

The weird thing is, there is a message to the film, but it's only there in order to derive comedy from. The misunderstanding of the message - think for yourself, don't just follow a crowd - is the entire point of introducing it. It's a refreshing change from films with a message that can't help but remind you of it, over and over and over again. The rule here, as the rule should be in all comedy, is that the laughs override all other concerns, and everything should go towards them. Why can't more people do this?

A special note should probably be made for the title sequence, with it's faux-Bond theme and amazing animation. It also gave the most noticeable credit to the first assistant director, which was kind of it. Easily the best part of the film, it's packed with energy and clever details, and sets the mood brilliantly without being anywhere close to what you might expect.

It's very hard to be original about Monty Python, they've been around so long and everyone loves them so much that you can't say much else about it. I can see why though, since this is very amusing film, from a group that made many very amusing films and TV episodes and so on. The adoration that can get grating on the Internet might be a bit much, but you can see why. Hell, the only real problem with the movie is that 70s film stock that always looks so bad to modern eyes. But that's a problem that affects many, many, many movies, all of which were made in the 70s and 80s. Maybe I'll get into it more when I come across a much less interesting film from the era.

But not here, instead I'll just send out a thank you. Thank you Monty Python, for making the movie. Thank you, the late George Harrison, for funding it. And making All Must Pass, which is a pretty great album. And the songs he did with the Beatles are pretty great too. But mostly, thank you WGBH2, for constantly airing the TV series, and providing me much joy in my childhood.

(Yes, I could have probably gone with a better screen. But this is uploaded now, so haha!)


  1. I absolutely love that scene you posted a picture from, as I took a year of Latin so I totally understood the conjugation jokes, and only Monty Python could make conjugating Latin a subject of hilarity.

    Yeah the film stock doesn't look that great, but I never really let it bother me. I should maybe check out the "Immaculate Edition" as I understand it has a new high definition transfer and maybe that will help things... I know The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen got the same treatment and I should be able to tell you how that is since I own it but I haven't had time to watch it yet.

    Anyways yes I love Life Of Brian, good writeup! I uhh have only heard half of All Things Must Pass, I really should buckle down and finish that album.

  2. This was the Immaculate Edition, and it was still a very 70s film stock. Ah well, that's not the film's fault.