Friday, December 28, 2018
Monty Python's Life of Brian
Directed by Terry Jones and written and starring Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), Monty Python’s Life of Brian is the story of a young man who is born on the same day as Jesus Christ at the hut next door where he is later mistaken to be a messianic figure. The film is a satire of sorts that discusses some of the fallacies of religion as well as ideas of faith and life itself. Also starring Python cohorts Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes along with Terence Blayer and Sue Jones-Davies. Monty Python’s Life of Brian is an outrageous yet hilarious film from Monty Python.
It’s 33 A.D. Judea where a young man whose disdain for the Romans has him join a group only to get himself into a series of misadventures where he is mistaken to be a messiah as people listen to him and misinterpret what he’s saying. That is what the film is about as it play into people trying to find some meaning in life while creating their own interpretations into its ideas as a young man is caught in the middle of all of this chaos as well as a conflict between Romans and various anti-Roman factions. The film’s screenplay by the Monty Python troupe focuses largely on this young man in Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) who was born on the same day at a hut next to Jesus Christ where three wise men mistake him for the Messiah on his birth date only to realize it’s the wrong baby.
Brian is smitten with a young woman in Judith Iscariot (Sue Jones-Davies) who is part of anti-Roman faction in the People’s Front of Judea who spent more time coming up with ideas and arguing amongst with one another and other separate factions rather than fight the Romans. Brian would prove himself for PFJ yet an attempted invasion of the home of Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin) would go wrong with Brian get himself into these misadventures involving aliens and all sorts of shit. The script play into these ideas of faith and religion and how they can be misinterpreted and used for the wrong reasons with Brian being a martyr and scapegoat of sorts when he never did anything wrong. Even to the point that his mother (Terry Jones) tries to tell his followers that he is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
Terry Jones’ direction definitely plays with the ideas that is expected with religious iconography and imagery while infusing it with some humor. Shot on location in Tunisia, the film does play into the period of those times where it opens with the three wise men going into a hut where Brian’s mother is watching after her newborn baby thinking it’s the Messiah only to realize it’s at the next hut. The film would also feature Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where it is presented in a medium shot and then the camera pulls back into a wide shot as it play into this historical moment yet there’s people shouting “speak up” as they misinterpret what he’s saying leading a funny moment of confusion. While much of Jones’ compositions in the close-ups, medium, and wide shots are straightforward with some long takes to play into the humor. It still add to this offbeat humor where scenes such as an old man being stoned for saying Jehovah’s name with women dressed up as men wearing fake beards or an argument among the PFJ about the Romans where some reminded that Romans brought many things to Judea.
Jones’ direction also play into this air of absurdity about the idea of messianic figures where there’s a street in Judea of a row of messiahs trying to spread their ideas while Brian is trying to hide from the Romans at the PFJ’s secret compound. Jones also play into some of the silliness of the Roman empire as Pontius Pilate is a man with a bad speech impediment while there’s other things that do make the Romans somewhat incompetent. It is all about these ideas of people trying to follow an idea or look for something to be guided by yet Brian is trying to say some of the most sensible things out there in a world where no one has any common sense. Overall, Jones crafts a witty yet whimsical film about a young man who is mistaken as the Messiah.
Cinematographer Peter Biziou does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography in its usage of natural lighting as well as some stylish bits for some of the scenes at night that help play into the atmosphere of the locations. Editor Julian Doyle does excellent work with the editing as it uses rhythmic cuts to play into the humor as well as some of the absurd aspects of the film. Animation/production designer Terry Gilliam and art director Roger Christian do amazing work with the look of the homes of a few of the characters as well as some of the exteriors of the Roman buildings while Gilliam’s animation for the film’s opening credits and a sequence of Brian briefly meeting aliens is just hilarious. Costume designers Charles Knode and Hazel Pethig do fantastic work with the look of the Roman uniforms and robes to the more ragged look of the common folk including some of the more posh look of some of the rich people in Judea.
Hair/makeup designers Elaine Carew and Maggie Weston do terrific work with the look of the wigs and hairstyle of the characters as well as the fake beards the women wear to participate in the stoning. Sound recordist Garth Marshall does superb work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of some of the sermons as well as the chaos that goes in involving large crowds. The film’s music by Geoffrey Burgon is wonderful for its mixture of bombastic orchestral music that is synonymous of biblical films while it features a couple of original songs including its theme presented in a style similar to James Bond films and the playful Always Look on the Bright Side of Life that play up into the idea of existence and life itself.
The film’s incredible cast include some notable small roles and appearances from Spike Milligan as a prophet speaking with other prophets, John Young as the watchmen for the PFJ, Neil Innes as a weedy Samaritan, Gwen Taylor as the wife of Big Nose, Terence Bayler and Carol Cleveland as a rich couple in Mr. and Mrs. Gregory respectively, Kenneth Colley as Jesus Christ, and one of the film’s executive producers and financiers in George Harrison in a cameo appearance as a mount owner in Mr. Papadopoulos. Sue Jones-Davies is fantastic as Judith Iscariot as a member of the PFJ who falls for Brian as she tries to make sense of all of the chaos while believing that Brian is doing some good for the world.
In multiple role, the members of Monty Python all do tremendous work in the multiple characters they play with Terry Gilliam as a man misinterpreting what Jesus said as well as small roles as a dirty prophet, a follower of Brian, a jailer, and a deaf aide of the crucifixion ceremony. Terry Jones’ performances as a silent holy man who fails his vow of silence, a saintly passerby who stupidly carries someone else’s cross, and Brian’s mother is hilarious with him being at his funniest as Brian’s mother. Eric Idle is great in the various roles as PFJ member Stan who wants to be a woman named Loretta, a Jewish prankster, a haggler, the woman who threw the first stone, a dumb youth, a member of the crucifixion ceremony, and a man crucified who leads the sing-a-long.
Michael Palin’s performances as a man named Big Nose, an ex-leper, one of the wise men, a prophet that doesn’t say anything exciting, a member of the PFJ, and other various roles including Pontius Pilate with a speech impediment is just so funny in the way he makes Pilate look like a fool. John Cleese is amazing in the roles of one of the wise men, a high priest who organizes the stoning, a centurion leader, an overzealous follower of Brian, and PFJ leader Reg who tries to get some ideas going only to not go through with them. Finally, there’s Graham Chapman in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this young man who is mistaken as a messiah while trying to rebel against the Romans while Chapman also does some funny brief roles as one of the wise men and Pilate’s friend Biggus Dickus.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian is an outstanding film from Monty Python. Featuring gorgeous visuals, soaring music, amazing set design, a great cast, and compelling themes about faith, religion, and the faults of humanity using faith in the worst ways. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to take shots at some of the ideas of religion and do it in a way that is extremely funny. In the end, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a tremendous film from Terry Jones and Monty Python.
Monty Python Films: (And Now for Something Completely Different) – Monty Python and the Holy Grail - (Live at the Hollywood Bowl) – Monty Python's the Meaning of Life - (Almost the Truth (Lawyer’s Cut))
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So funny! It's one of my all-time favorite comedies :-D Great review!
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