It's impossible for me to be objective about this film. I know every scene and line by heart. Not because I'm one of those ghastly Python nerds, whose anal obsessiveness sucks the whole spirit out of everything they did, and actually misses the joke, which is on them; they are the perfect subjects for a Python lampoon. No. I only know LIFE OF BRIAN so intimately because I've seen it so often, it's still one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen, and persists in being hilarious despite familiarity, which, as in so much Python did, is the reverse of what comedy is 'supposed' to be made of (i.e. surprise).
Also, nostalgia value. MONTY PYTHON were my first heroes, before I even reached double figures. I gobbled up every programme, film and record in a
space of a couple of short years, so they are bound up with a period of my life when I was very happy and hopeful, so I go all misty-eyed when I see it. Bizarrely, we were first encouraged to watch BRIAN by our Latin teacher, who felt it was very insightful about Roman society.
But no-one watches PYTHON anymore, except that dorkish clique. My brother, only a couple of years my junior, is as mystified now by my reaction to it as my parents were then. But surely BRIAN is a comic masterpiece in itself, accessible to anyone who found the very male, elitist, academic bias of the programme somewhat alienating?
How can I implore you to watch this? It's got a straight narrative, with some of the greatest set-pieces and dialogue of any film ever. It's not a great FILM comedy - Terry Jones is no Gilliam - but the style suits the humour perfectly, allowing it to breathe, and sometimes pulling off an extraordinarily evocative shot, such as when Brian and his mother are walking from Jesus' sermon, and squabbling about petty things like big noses, and the camera pulls back to a vast Judean wasteland, with a massive Roman statue being wheeled, and a set of crucifixes being planted: a marvellous encapsulation of a period in history.
This is the film's true triumph - it's a magnificent deconstruction of historical distortion. By paralleling the life of Christ with that of an ordinary little man, Python reclaim history from symbol and myth. It brings the body back into history. Its resolute rejection of divinity leads to a bleak, ironic conclusion (listen to 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life' carefully, and in context: it's NOT comforting) - the story of Jesus without redemption is ghastly.
The intelligence behind the juvenile gags is astonishing - the film is a learned commentary on power, totalitarianism, repression, language, gender, the writing of history, the politics of subversion, the complicity of the repressed. Myth is thrown to the wind - the film succeeds where Reg and his revolutionaries fail, by revealing a whole series of repressive apparatum (sic?). No-one is spared - the film is unashamedly destructive, but the film's satire is not arid or narrow; there are many rich parallels with our own time, as the extraordinary reaction from the religious on the film's release showed.
But BRIAN is not just an attack on religion, but on all who would seek to write selective histories for their own interests, suppressing others' voices. The silliest jokes are also the most profound - in one scene, the kidnappers enter Pilate's palace through a tiled floor. They emerge through a modesty-concealing leaf painted on this floor. This is snickering schoolboy humour, and very very funny, but is also a comment on the phallocentricity of imperialism. Jokes like these are why BRIAN will always remain vital - it turns you into a ludicrous, ill-informed amateur historian.
The acting is an astonishing feat of multiple performances, but Graham Chapman, always my favorite Python, holds the chaos together, ironically as the Kafkaesque hero who races towards the abyss, an anti-Jesus to love and identify with. If I've made the film sound like hard work, than I'm an idiot. The seriousness is only there if you want it. Like Alice in Wonderland, or Buster Keaton, PYTHON seem to be full of metaphors that encapsulate the pains of life, but are also damnably entertaining. It's strange that men as supposedly 'surreal' and 'out there' as the Pythons should speak such good sense. Only BRINGING UP BABY, THE PALM BEACH STORY, and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, are funnier than this. Treasure it.