Friday, September 26, 2014

Good Story 092: Monty Python's Life of Brian



Julie joins the Judean People's Front (NOT the People's Front of Judea) (a group nobody likes), and Scott prophesies that nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment. Eventually, they get around to discussing Monty Python's Life of Brian. This is Episode 92.


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More stuff:
John Cleese and Michael Palin discuss the movie with Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood. The date this was recorded is not clear, but it appears to be near the time the film was released (1979).


13 comments:

  1. I think it's important to note where film was as a medium when the interview had taken place.The late '70s was about the time where film hit a groove for mature themes and subject matter in a far different way than before. It is very possible that they just plain didn't understand the group's intent with the movie because there really wasn't much to compare it to at the time in the medium. Nowadays, of course, it's very easy to see the film for what it is compared to how it must have seemed really bizarre back then. It's especially jarring compared to how blunt and obvious these sorts of movies are now.

    That said, the interview reminds me of something you'd see from Bill Mahr or something. A full exercise in missing the point to make your own. I'd like to think we've come a bit further in our understanding of themes in movies.

    Talking about "outsider views", I once read a popular band's interview with Rolling Stone once (It was Green Day, I believe) mentioning that they were invited to a baptism for a friend's kid and saw everyone sitting and standing at the same time and concluded they were all brainwashed and hypnotized. Then they went on to make an album to denigrate Christianity. Didn't talk to anybody, learn any theology, or try to be understand what it was they were witnessing, they just saw everybody doing the same thing and concluded it was bad and evil. I wasn't even a Catholic when I read that, but I thought it was very disingenuous and closed-minded. Especially for a band that preforms concerts where everyone jumps and moves in lockstep and sing lyrics in one mass as the lead singer holds the mic out.

    Art is meant to connect us together, that's why I can't stand when it's used to either put others down or to be deliberately nasty to cause schisms among people. Monty Python I've always thought of as poking fun at the weird things we do, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

    Still, John Cleese is a class act. I've always liked the man.

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    1. I see your point JD, but I think those two were just the wrong ones to do the interview. I have to believe that someone like a G.K. Chesterton sort would have been able to see the value of the humor and not willfully miss the point of the movie entirely.

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    2. I love the sentiment that art connects us.

      And I agree with you on John Cleese. I've always liked him too.

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  2. Interesting, I've never watched this one from start to end. I remember seeing bits in pieces of it once at sea. I guess I had always assumed it was one of their lesser works.

    Odd since I was such a Python fanatic. I first came across them in the theatrical release of clips from their TV series. I was instantly hooked. I even got to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail when it first came out when I was visiting NYC. They even had a very cool diorama of sets from the movie. Quite an experience from the credits on. Although as you noted the ending is really weak. That always annoyed me that such a funny movie could just go asleep at the end.

    So I will definitely have to get Life of Brian.

    It is very interesting how when groups of creative people work together that their viewpoints are hardly monolithic and so it was not surprising to find what you had mentioned about the different visions of the film. So if creators of a film can have such different visions it is no surprising that those who watch it do the same.

    Plus again to agree it is John Cleese that I have come to respect the most. I haven't read extensively regarding him, but when I have come across something it was usually quite thoughtful. I loved the little internet video he did on materialistic determinism some years ago which was quite funny.

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    1. Please do come back and comment after you've seen the movie. I'd love to get your take on it as a "new" Python work. :-)

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  3. Admittedly, I've never been one to enjoy Monty Python's material like so many do. I remember seeing 'Holy Grail' for the first time in high school, and I found it mildly funny, but the best way that I can describe it is that it took a lot of 'work' to appreciate. I was a very serious kid, and on top of that I found most humor, especially irreverent humor, a real pain to tolerate. In a world that took hardly any of itself seriously, the genre in general just seemed (and often still seems) like someone 'spiking the football' in the face sincerity and badly needed realism (you can just feel the remembered teenage angst and self-righteousness from the past through your screen, can't you? :] ). I may be scrupulous, but I also often can't help but think that there is at least some small connection between the dominance of relativism in our modern culture and the proliferation of sarcasm (but perhaps this is just an American phenomenon). The word has a tendency to become flesh, and not just in scripture. Having this temperament makes me think that some of us just weren't made to enjoy comedy on a broad scale :)

    I didn't watch the interview, so I can't comment on that directly, but I completely get where JD is coming from in terms of it being difficult for certain audiences to frame the film correctly, even if they were missing the point. With the proliferation of the internet, podcasting, independent broadcasting, etc., it is significantly easier to nestle into a particular artistic or pop culture conversation/subtext and get 'under the surface,' being informed by the context (a conversation that is still missed by a lot of media-shunning pious people today). Thus we see how parodies and cartooning has flourished online. Media didn't used to be so conversational...not that this can really be an excuse since opera, poetry, music, and theatre have flourished for centuries (plus Chesterton, as you pointed out, and helloooo - Aristophanes, anyone?). But even then, the cultural conversation was more controlled because it had a limited volume and speed. I'm not even sure it can be chalked up to developments in media, but a kind of stiffness of imagination that often plagues more conservative, religious types - well-intentioned, but also missing the point of what Christian life is supposed to be. Truly living a life immersed in Catholic tradition, for example, should make the dialectic nature of performance completely natural - after all, our lives are supposed to be always 'in conversation with God.' But there's always been an awkward tension through the ages of trying to both engage the culture and remain rooted in orthodoxy - and to a certain extent I can't blame anyone who lived through the 60s & 70s for having some reserve when it came to pop culture (but then again, I may be stereotyping...I'm just a youngin' !).

    I really, really enjoyed your conversation in this episode, perhaps enough to eventually watch the film myself. Some of the talk about the strong reactions to the film were reminiscent of things you talked about in the Harry Potter episode, which I just recently re-listened to. It seems like so many people were up in arms about what they believed was a mocking of Christianity, but your analysis of how it pokes fun at blind, stubborn belief made be wonder how there wasn't an equally strong reaction to what could be construed as a mockery of Judaism - after all, Jesus didn't fit their expectations for the Messiah at all, and they still stubbornly refuse to accept him (no disrespect to our Jewish brethren intended). Bravo to you both, as usual.

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    1. Aristophanes - what you think I'm cultured or well read? I might be able to say the name but I've got no knowledge of those honorable Greeks, I'm sorry to admit. :-)

      I am so interested in the fact that this conversation also links in with our Harry Potter episode, but that does make a certain amount of sense considering Christian outcry about things that are perceived as "irreverent." And then, of course, one has to make sure that the line into irreverence isn't actually crossed, which is a thing that can happen very easily. That's why I appreciated the balance, I think. Despite the seeming heaviness of some of their comedy, Monty Python played this balance perfectly.

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    2. Aristophanes was an ancient Greek playwright known for this comedies. Some of them were, um, very dirty. Undergraduates still translate them today! Ha. He's like the epitome of irreverence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristophanes

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    3. Also just watched a clip of the graffiti scene. Hilarious! Way to pander to the ancient language nerds. Now I must really watch the whole thing!

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  4. And of course, I am now reminded by social media of what Chesterton's brilliant response to all this would have been:

    "It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern "force" that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile or full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of "levitation." They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially the instinct of Christian art. Remember how Fra Angelico represented all his angels, not only as birds, but almost as butterflies. Remember how the most earnest mediaeval art was full of light and fluttering draperies, of quick and capering feet. It was the one thing that the modern Pre-raphaelites could not imitate in the real Pre-raphaelites. Burne-Jones could never recover the deep levity of the Middle Ages. In the old Christian pictures the sky over every figure is like a blue or gold parachute. Every figure seems ready to fly up and float about in the heavens. The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man "falls" into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good TIMES leading article than a good joke in PUNCH. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity."

    ~G.K. Chesterton: "Orthodoxy," VII. The Eternal Revolution.

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    1. Yes! What came to mind reading your first comment was "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." But I've never read that line in the context of what you included above. Thank you so much for that! I've been toying with the idea of picking up a bit of Chesterton after I get done with C.S. Lewis's Weight of Glory. This helps push that idea into something I may do.

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  5. You folks really understood this movie. Thanks for a great podcast.

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