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Rip Off Britain Live - Monty Python's Life of Brian - Netflix
Monty Python's Life of Brian, also known as Life of Brian, is a 1979 British religious satire comedy film starring and written by the comedy group Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin). It was also directed by Jones. The film tells the story of Brian Cohen (played by Chapman), a young Jewish man who is born on the same day as, and next door to, Jesus Christ, and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah. Following the withdrawal of funding by EMI Films just days before production was scheduled to begin, long-time Monty Python fan and former member of the Beatles, George Harrison, arranged financing for Life of Brian through the formation of his company HandMade Films. The film contains themes of religious satire that were controversial at the time of its release, drawing accusations of blasphemy, and protests from some religious groups. Thirty-nine local authorities in the United Kingdom either imposed an outright ban, or imposed an X (18 years) certificate, effectively preventing the film from being shown, since the distributors said it could not be shown unless it was unedited and carried the original AA (14) certificate. Some countries, including Ireland and Norway, banned its showing, with a few of these bans lasting decades. The filmmakers used such notoriety to benefit their marketing campaign, with posters in Sweden reading, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!” The film was a box office success, the fourth-highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom in 1979, and highest grossing of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular, receiving positive reviews. The film was named “greatest comedy film of all time” by several magazines and television networks, and it would later receive a 96% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus, “One of the more cutting-edge films of the 1970s, this religious farce from the classic comedy troupe is as poignant as it is funny and satirical.”
Rip Off Britain Live - Religious satire and blasphemy - Netflix
Richard Webster comments in A Brief History of Blasphemy (1990) that “internalised censorship played a significant role in the handling” of Monty Python's Life of Brian. In his view, “As a satire on religion, this film might well be considered a rather slight production. As blasphemy it was, even in its original version, extremely mild. Yet the film was surrounded from its inception by intense anxiety, in some quarters of the Establishment, about the offence it might cause. As a result it gained a certificate for general release only after some cuts had been made. Perhaps more importantly still, the film was shunned by the BBC and ITV, who declined to show it for fear of offending Christians in the UK. Once again a blasphemy was restrained – or its circulation effectively curtailed – not by the force of law but by the internalisation of this law.” On its initial release in the UK, the film was banned by several town councils – some of which had no cinemas within their boundaries, or had not even seen the film. A member of Harrogate council, one of those that banned the film, revealed during a television interview that the council had not seen the film, and had based their opinion on what they had been told by the Nationwide Festival of Light, a grouping with an evangelical Christian base, of which they knew nothing. Some bans continued into the 21st century. In 2008, Torbay Council finally permitted the film to be shown after it won an online vote for the English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival. In 2009, it was announced that a thirty-year-old ban of the film in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth had finally been lifted, and the subsequent showing was attended by Terry Jones and Michael Palin alongside mayor Sue Jones-Davies (who portrayed Judith Iscariot in the film). However, before the showing, an Aberystwyth University student discovered that a ban had only been discussed by the council and in fact that it had been shown (or scheduled to be shown) at a cinema in the town in 1981. In 2013, a German official in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia considered the film to be possibly offensive to Christians and hence subject to a local regulation prohibiting its public screening on Good Friday, despite protests by local atheists. In New York (the film's release in the US preceded British distribution), screenings were picketed by both rabbis and nuns (“Nuns with banners!” observed Michael Palin). It was also banned for eight years in Ireland and for a year in Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as “The film so funny that it was banned in Norway”). During the film's theatrical run in Finland, a text explaining that the film was a parody of Hollywood historical epics was added to the opening credits. In the UK, Mary Whitehouse, and other traditionalist Christians, pamphleteered and picketed locations where the local cinema was screening the film, a campaign that was felt to have boosted publicity. Leaflets arguing against the film's representation of the New Testament (for example, suggesting that the Wise Men would not have approached the wrong stable as they do in the opening of the film) were documented in Robert Hewison's book Monty Python: The Case Against. One of the most controversial scenes was the film's ending: Brian's crucifixion. Many Christian protesters said that it was mocking Jesus' suffering by turning it into a “Jolly Boys Outing” (such as when Mr Cheeky turns to Brian and says: “See, not so bad once you're up!”), capped by Brian's fellow sufferers suddenly bursting into song. This is also reinforced by the fact that several characters throughout the film claim crucifixion is not as bad as it seems, such as when Brian asks his cellmate in prison what will happen to him, and he replies: “Oh, you'll probably get away with crucifixion”, and when Matthias, the old man who works with the PFJ, dismisses crucifixion as “a doddle” and says being stabbed would be worse. The director, Terry Jones, issued the following riposte to this criticism: “Any religion that makes a form of torture into an icon that they worship seems to me a pretty sick sort of religion quite honestly.” Religious figures later responded by saying that Jones did not seem to understand the meaning of the crucifix symbol or its significance to Christians as a reminder of the suffering and death Christ endured for their sake. The Pythons also argued that crucifixion was a standard form of execution in ancient times and not just one especially reserved for Jesus. The Pythons prided themselves on the depths of the historical research they had undertaken before writing the script. They all believe that, as a consequence, the film portrays 1st-century Judea more accurately than actual Biblical epics, with its focus centred more on the average person of the era. Shortly after the film was released, Cleese and Palin engaged in debate on the BBC2 discussion programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, who put forward arguments against the film. Muggeridge and the Bishop, it was later claimed, had arrived 15 minutes late to see a screening of the picture prior to the debate, missing the establishing scenes demonstrating that Brian and Jesus were two different characters, and hence contended that it was a send-up of Christ himself. Both Pythons later felt that there had been a strange role reversal in the manner of the debate, with two young upstart comedians attempting to make serious, well-researched points, while the Establishment figures engaged in cheap jibes and point scoring. They also expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Python had previously respected as a satirist (he had recently converted to Christianity after meeting Mother Teresa and experiencing what he described as a miracle). Cleese expressed that his reputation had “plummeted” in his eyes, while Palin commented that, “He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all.” Muggeridge's verdict on the film was that it was “Such a tenth-rate film that it couldn't possibly destroy anyone's genuine faith.” The Pythons unanimously deny that they were ever out to destroy people's faith. On the DVD audio commentary, they contend that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of modern organised religion, but that it does not blasphemously lampoon the God that Christians and Jews worship. When Jesus does appear in the film (on the Mount, speaking the Beatitudes), he is played straight (by actor Kenneth Colley) and portrayed with respect. The music and lighting make it clear that there is a genuine aura around him. The comedy begins when members of the crowd mishear his statements of peace, love and tolerance (“I think he said, 'blessed are the cheese makers'”). Importantly, he is distinct from the character of Brian, which is also evident in the scene where an annoying and ungrateful ex-leper pesters Brian for money, while moaning that since Jesus cured him, he has lost his source of income in the begging trade (referring to Jesus as a “bloody do-gooder”). James Crossley, however, has argued that the film makes the distinction between Jesus and the character of Brian to make a contrast between the traditional Christ of both faith and cinema and the historical figure of Jesus in critical scholarship and how critical scholars have argued that ideas later got attributed to Jesus by his followers. Crossley points out that the film uses a number of potentially controversial scholarly theories about Jesus but now with reference to Brian, such as the Messianic Secret, the Jewishness of Jesus, Jesus the revolutionary, and having a single mother. Not all the Pythons agree on the definition of the movie's tone. There was a brief exchange that occurred when the surviving members reunited in Aspen, Colorado, in 1998. In the section where Life of Brian is discussed, Terry Jones says, “I think the film is heretical, but it's not blasphemous.” Eric Idle can be heard to concur, adding, “It's a heresy.” However, John Cleese, disagreeing, counters, “I don’t think it's a heresy. It's making fun of the way that people misunderstand the teaching.” Jones responds, “Of course it's a heresy, John! It's attacking the Church! And that has to be heretical.” Cleese replies, “No, it's not attacking the Church, necessarily. It's about people who cannot agree with each other.” In a later interview, Jones said the film “isn't blasphemous because it doesn’t touch on belief at all. It is heretical, because it touches on dogma and the interpretation of belief, rather than belief itself.” The film continues to cause controversy; in February 2007, the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle upon Tyne held a public screening in the church itself, with song-sheets, organ accompaniment, stewards in costume and false beards for female members of the audience (alluding to an early scene where a group of women disguise themselves as men so that they are able to take part in a stoning). Although the screening was a sell-out, some Christian groups, notably the conservative Christian Voice, were highly critical of the decision to allow the screening to go ahead. Stephen Green, the head of Christian Voice, insisted that “You don't promote Christ to the community by taking the mick out of him.” The Reverend Jonathan Adams, one of the church's clergy, defended his taste in comedy, saying that it did not mock Jesus, and that it raised important issues about the hypocrisy and stupidity that can affect religion. Again on the film's DVD commentary, Cleese also spoke up for religious people who have come forward and congratulated him and his colleagues on the film's highlighting of double standards among purported followers of their own faith.
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