Largely funded by George Harrison because he heard the pitch
and decided he wanted to see the movie, Monty Python's Life of Brian is
only a classic bit of comedy; it's a great film too.
It wasn't always as revered (Criterion has
released it) as it is today. Back in
1979 when it was first released there was a lot of controversy and the
boycotted by groups and a campaign to ban the film was launched in Britain. Eventually there was an on-air debate between
two Pythons, John Cleese and Michael Palin, and a pair of outraged
Bishop and a TV personality. The lead-up
to this event is fictionalized in the made-for-(British) TV movie Holy Flying Circus, a bravura attempt to
try something new and different that largely fails.
After the British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus
returned from Tunisia
where they filmed the classic Life of
Brian, they discovered that not everyone was excited about the film. Their agent convinces them to release it in
the US first (where
causes a controversy), and then in France,
but he's reluctant to have it seen in the UK due to the reaction he's
will cause. Before it has even opened,
there are people protesting the film.
Though they haven't even seen the movie, a trio of activists
'hates conflict', another has a heavy stutter and the third is
Turrets and shouts obscenities at random times) that belong to a small
start a campaign to get the movie banned.
When the national ratings board declines to give the movie an X
the group targets the local councils that have the power to ban it
While this is going on a new boss at the talk show Friday
Night, Saturday Morning decides
he wants something new and exciting (!!) for his show.
His ludicrous ideas are clearly insane and unpractical;
one of the writers has the idea of booking the Pythons against some of
protesters, which the guy in charge loves.
Unfortunately the Pythons decline.
Their steadfast in their refusal to explain their comedy until
working for them start getting death threats and boxes of shit
feces) mailed to their homes. Finally
enough is enough and two of the group agree to go on air and debate the
of the film.
I'm a big Python fan and have been since the mid-1970s.
I have seen several all of their movies in
theaters during the original releases, some on opening day. That's why I was excited to see a documentary
on the highly covered (at the time) controversy. Unfortunately
that's not what this is. They have actors
playing the Pythons and
recreate fictionalized scenes. "Okay,"
you say, so it's a docudrama." Nope, not
that either. In a docudrama a real event
is dramatized, and though they will play loose with the facts in order
create tension and/or move the plot (one of the reasons I don't like
much) they try to more or less stick to what really happened. This is a new genre of movie:
the docucomedy. In this they
willingly throw reality out of
the window in order to get some laughs.
While Cleese and Palin are preparing for the debate, they start
disagree and it turns into an all-out action battle with swords and
sabers (preformed by puppets no less), and there are Gilliam-like
including one where they Pythons are in hell writing the script with
approval. The thing I have against this
is that I don't know what's based on reality and what's totally made up. In one scene Palin proclaims that they're
burning him in effigy, and opens the shades to show that they're doing
that minute in his front yard. The joke
wasn't that amusing so I wondered if he was burned in effigy. The fictionalized baddies who start the
crusade are also troublesome as is their last minute change of heart.
I could overlook that if the movie was funny, but it
isn't. Well, not unless you count the
many, many, very old Python jokes that are sprinkled throughout. What is it about Monty Python fans and
repeating jokes? I don't understand why
they feel the need to recite entire passages from the shows and movies,
they do. I should know, I was one of
those guys back in high school! The
reason that Monty Python was such a popular and influential show is
broke the mold. They did things that NO
ONE was doing in comedy. They didn't
recycle a bunch of Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball gags, they made up
material. All of it.
That's the exact opposite of what happens in this
movie. Here most of the gags are parts
of Python skits, just performed by other actors. And
I'm not talking about a reference here or
there, it's through the whole film.
Michael Palin's wife is Terry Jones in drag (get it?!? In the original show there were skits where
Palin played opposite Terry Jones in drag!), they recreate the open
scene from Life of Brian, have an
insane TV/Film producer with absurd ideas, have a character who
comic effect (except in Life of Brian
the jailer was only doing that to annoy people, he really didn't have
impediment. This guy does, since people
with disorders are really hilarious!), a character interrupts a scene
clarify a point, John Cleese attacks an inanimate object with a tree
and there's a scene where someone can't get a word out because their
"SHH!" whenever they open their mouth.
(Oh wait, that's not from Python, it's from Austin Powers. Never mind.)
And that's not all of it either.
The tragically ironic thing is that the writer is obviously
a Python fan, but he's trying to honor them by doing the very last
would want him to do: copying from
While I thought the jokes were either recycled of dumb and
the script was lacking, the actors did a very good job.
They all bared an uncanny resemblance to the
Python's circa 1979 and acted like them (or at least how they acted on
screen. If you assume that John Cleese
was just pretending to be a disagreeable smart-ass in Faulty
Towers and his films, then maybe their portrayals bore no
resemblance to reality.) Charles Edwards
made Michael Palin seem to be the most realistic character of the lot,
Boyd really nailed a lot of John Cleese's mannerisms.
This two-disc set (one DVD, one Blu-ray) comes in a
single-width Blu-ray keepcase with a slipcover.
The 2.0 PCM soundtrack was fine. I was
disappointed that it didn't come with a
multi-channel track, but since it's mainly dialog-based I can live with
it. The dialog is clean and clear and
there are no defects of note.
The 1080i transfer looks very good. In the
climactic TV debate scene there are
some whites that are too hot but I assume that was an intentional
to simulate what watching TV looked like back in 1979.
Aside from that the colors were solid and the
lines were tight. A nice looking show.
The bonus features are really disappointing. I
was hoping for some vintage footage of the
actual Pythons discussing the movie at the time. Including
the actual TV debate would have
been wonderful, but sadly it's not to be found on this set. What viewers do get are 9-minutes worth of
deleted scenes and 19-minutes worth of outtakes. There's
also a silent montage of the creation
of the phonotrope that is featured in the opening credits.
I thought that was the coolest thing about
the movie and was astonished to discover it wasn't the CGI creation I
it was. Make sure you check that
5-minute extra out, it's well worth watching.
The subject matter is immensely interesting, but the
filmmakers decided that they'd rather try to recycle Monty Python jokes
than tell the story of what really happened.
While the acting is very good, the script is a disappointment as
lack of vintage film of the Pythons as an extra. As
a die-hard Python fan I was glad to see
this for the slight insight it provided, so for those who have
the Pythons have ever done I'd recommend making this a rental. But you have to own
a copy of Dr. Fegg's Nasty Book of
Knowledge to qualify.