Life of Brian is a film from 1979 by Monty Python which deals with the life of Brian (played by Graham Chapman), a young carpenter who coincidentally lived at the same time and place as Jesus Christ. The film is essentially a classic farce and is eloquently summed up by Brian's mother (played by Terry Jones) saying, "He's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy." This notwithstanding, the film is widely seen as a stunning critique of organised religion as a racket of hypocrisy and religious zealots, or just a very funny movie, or a sacrilegious film deserving censorship.
It also pokes fun at leftist grouplets of the 1970s by featuring several factions that are nominally protesting against the Roman occupation of Judea, but are in fact more at loggerheads with one another (examples include 'The Judean People's Front', 'The People's Front of Judea' and (with only one member) 'The Popular Front of Judea').
The film initially attracted some complaints about Michael Palin and Graham Chapman's portrayals of characters with speech-impediments, but as Mr Palin made clear, this was soley for humorous purposes - indeed his father had a lisp, and he himself gives his name to 'The Michael Palin Centre', which offers 'specialist assessment and therapy service in stammering.' However, what caused most contention was its supposed blasphemous content.. (which was itself sent up in a 'Stoning' sketch which hinges on the crime of blasphemy...!)
Protests against the film were organized based on its perceived blasphemy, not least because the film ends with a comical song sung by the victims of a mass crucifixion ("Always Look on The Bright Side of Life") (not "Always Look on the Bright Side of Death", as sometimes stated, although this phrase also occurs in the lyrics.) Ironically, this song was later re-released with great success, after being sung by football fans! Far from being blasphemous, a vast number of people see it as quite an accurate summation of life, and indeed, optimism.
On its initial UK release the film was banned by some town councils. This proved rather pointless, since people who wanted to see the film merely went to places it wasn't banned in! According to the IMDb (see external references below), the film was also banned for eight years in Ireland and for a year in Norway. The film was also released in Italy only in 1990, eleven years after the making of the film.
Accusations of blasphemous ideas also centred an off-the-cuff comment made by Eric Idle who, asked about the name of the Pythons' forthcoming feature, replied "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory". It has been variously reported, however, that this idea, was merely one of a number abandoned at an early brain-storming stage, mainly when it became clear that a parody of Jesus' life just wouldn't work. The focus shifted to a separate individual born at a similar time (a fact lost on many protesters, who didn't realise Jesus appeared separately), and a legend was born. As such, when Jesus does appear in the film (as he does on two occasions - in the stable, and later, speaking the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-48)), he is played completely genuinely. The comedy only begins when members of the crowd mishear his statement "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." The separate appearance of Jesus Christ, and the relatively widespread use of Crucifixion in Roman times remove any serious accusation that Brian is supposed to actually be Christ.
Mary Whitehouse and other campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketing at and around cinemas that showed the film, ironically boosting the publicity! Leaflets suggesting that the Wise Men wouldn't have approached the wrong stable (as they do in the opening of the film), and other such sentiments are ably documented in the book Monty Python: The Case Against. Two members of Monty Python also engaged in a debate over the film, which reputedly turned into more of an attack on it than a reasoned debate. (This was then itself sent up in the classic Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch Life of Python...)
Brianism is essentially a doctrine of individual humanism:
- Brian (to adoring crowd): You are all individuals, you've just got to work it out for yourselves! You're all different!
- Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all different!
- One Man in Crowd: I'm not.
The film contains all members of Monty Python in multiple roles, and also features cameos by Spike Milligan (who happened to be on holiday in Tunisia where the filming was taking place) and George Harrison (without whom the film would not have been made - since Harrison set up Handmade Films to help fund it after the subject matter scared off the original backers).
Spin-offs include an LP Record (which a character played by Eric Idle plugs during the closing song..!), and the script-book The Life of Brian of Nazareth, which is backed by the aptly named MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOK... (The printing of this book also caused problems, since there are technical laws against what can and cannot be written about religion.. the publisher refused to print both halves of the book, and original prints are printed by two companies).