The Monty Python gang is re-releasing a film that many agree is their best, using the excuse of the flick’s 25th anniversary to milk a little more money out of the old thing. If post-Passion biblical stories are suddenly hot properties, all the better. Actually, Life of Brian could be considered the anti-Passion, even though (and despite its notoriety) it isn’t really a spoof on the life of Jesus but rather a satirical look at organized religion, specifically the fanaticism that arises in desperate times. Which makes it doubly timely, if you’ve been watching the news.
Brian was always a little heavier than casual viewing might allow — Anthony Burgess once said that it was the most accurate depiction of Jewish life under the Romans that he’s ever seen on screen (though once you consider what the competition might be, the praise deflates a little). Set in a time when there was a self-proclaimed messiah perched on every rock, it tells the story of a naive young man who accidentally falls into messiah-hood and reaps all the perks that come with it, including crucifixion. The fact that Brian does nothing miraculous and says nothing profound doesn’t prevent his followers from whipping themselves into a frenzy of adulation. They’re determined to have a savior and they’re not all that choosy.
All the Pythons play several roles as usual, but the standouts are John Cleese as the officious leader of the People’s Front of Judea. The People’s Front, in the passion of their factionalism, hates the splinter group the Judean People’s Front more than they hate the Romans. Michael Palin plays a Pontius Pilate with a speech defect that renders his “r’s” as “w’s,” which, in a time of crucifixions and rebellious rapscallions, can be a problem. Palin has the greatest number of truly funny characters (subjectively speaking), including a leper who has been cured by Jesus but continues to beg because that’s all he knows how to do (“Alms for an ex-leper?”) and a prophet whose apocalyptic vision is decidedly small-scale (“And one day a friend shall lose his hammer. …”)
The film is instructive too: We learn, among other things, the art of haggling, how to conjugate in Latin and not to be a sucker for the first pretty faith that comes along. All that in one exceedingly silly film. Genius.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].