|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Monday, April 17, 2006 |
( 4/17/2006 02:23:00 PM ) Bill S.
"WELEASE WODEWICK!" – Sunday, we got into the spirit of the Christian holiday by re-screening Monty Python's Life of Brian. Picked up a copy of the Anchor Bay no-frills DVD at Wal-Mart for five bucks over a year ago – there's a deluxe Criterion edition of the flick with extra features out there, but the Anchor Bay cheapie is the only one I've seen in stores – and hadn't watched it until now, so this seemed like an apt occasion. Would've preferred it if the disc had come with closed captioning, since the movie's often muttery sound obscures some of the dialect-laden jokes, but for five bucks I can't complain too much.
Of the troupe's three original features, Brian is arguably the most consistent work: the story of a poor fall guy (wonderfully played by Graham Chapman) who happens to be born in Jerusalem in the stable right next door to Jesus of Nazareth. When it first was released in the states back in 1979, I remember a good amount of hue and cry from religious conservatives about the movie's "blasphemous" nature, while many of its defenders at the time argued that the picture wasn't ridiculing ridiculing Christ, it was instead spoofing the Hollywood treatment of religious subjects. Fact is, the Python production is good-naturedly sacrilegious (which is, admittedly, not the same thing as being blasphemous). Throughout the flick, the Pythonites remain profoundly skeptical of any form of group belief – religious and political, in particular – and they don't pass up a single opportunity to ridicule as many instances of misapplied mass think as they can. "Work it out for yourself," the movie advises, even as it has no doubt that each and every one of us will somehow manage to mess this up.
Perhaps the best example of the movie's strategy is in the Sermon on the Mount sequence. There, we see Christ delivering what will become the central tenets of Christianity, but before we can hear too much of it, the camera pulls away to the edge of the crowd and a bickering cluster of villagers who can barely make out what the messiah is saying. ("The Greek will inherit the Earth?") The focus of the comedy, then, isn't on Jesus but on the endless capacity of his followers to bollix up his words and deeds. When Chapman's Brian also becomes a (reluctant) messiah, he finds himself stuck with a army of sycophants desperate to turn his every act into a parable.
The movie compares this tendency with the non-actions of the People's Front of Judea (not to be confused with the Judean People’s Front), a left-wing would-be terrorist group that spends more time spewing out rhetoric and condemning "splitters" than it does actually accomplishing anything. As someone who was privy to way too many political "debates" among left-leaning college students in the seventies, I've gotta say the Pythonites nail this perfectly – especially in the first set when Eric Idle's Stan/Loretta argues for his right to be treated as a child-bearing woman – even if the movie gives us one too many of these scenes. When we meet the Roman overseers who'll ultimately crucify Brian, the satire lessens in favor of agreeably silly jokes about Pontius Pilate's (Michael Palin) speech impediment and the rudely named Biggus Dickus.
Though more solidly constructed than the Broadway-bound Holy Grail, the movie still has its misfires: a sequence where Brian is corrected by a Centurion for incorrectly conjugating the phrase "Romans go home!" may be amusing to anyone who had to suffer through high school Latin, but it doesn't mean much to the rest of us; a bit featuring Idle and Terry Gilliam as two dullard jailers is as unfunny as the dimwit guards in Holy Grail; while the appearance of two inappropriately cheery Eric Idle characters in the last twenty minutes is a bit redundant. (The second gets to sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," though, so I won't make too much of a deal of that last point.) Still, the movie has plenty of laff-out-loud moments in it (more than I remembered, actually), and it also includes one of the greatest uses of full-frontal-nudity in the history of cinema.
That and a bag of jelly beans provide the best way I know to spend an Easter afternoon . . .
Labels: psilly psychotronic psinema# |