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In 1979, a comedy feature film quickly became one of the most controversial pieces of cinema in history. No film had ever before satirised Christianity so blantantly ......
(A scene from the film “The Life of Brian”)
Character played by Eric Idle: See? Not so bad once you're up.
...... and it caused outrage.
Malcolm Muggeridge: It's so disgusting. [Intelligible due to several people speaking at the same time] All you've done is to make a group of people on a cross singing a [stuttering] musical song.
News caster: A group of rabbis and priests held a demonstration over this past weekend and they were demonstrating against a movie called “The Life of Brian”.
Protestors around the world marched against “The Life of Brian”. It was dropped by financiers, banned by councils, states, even entire countries. But it still managed to get shown and still managed to offend seemingly every world religion.
John Cleese: These people are operating at a very, very low level of mental health. They are incapable of understanding the teaching ...
Terry Gilliam: What happened to “Sticks and stone can break my bone, but words can never hurt me *”?
* This is an English proverb and Terry Gilliam quoted it incorrectly. It should be “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.
This is the story of one of the greatest films and one of the greatest cultural battles of modern times.
(Opening music of “Monty Python's Flying Circus”)
During the 1970s, “Monty Python's Flying Circus” became one of the most influential comedy programmes Britain has ever produced.
(This is an extract from the “Spanish Inquisition” sketch. For the full sketch, http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=JLDVIViWW74 and http://people.csail.mit.edu/paulfitz/spanish/script.html for the transcript)
Miller (played by Graham Chapman): One of the cross beams has gone out askew on the treadle.
Cleveland: Well what on earth does that mean?
Miller: I don't know. Mr Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that's all. I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.
[The inquisitors burst into the room.]
Cardinal Ximénez (played by Michael Palin and speaking with a faked Spanish accent): Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise ... surprise and fear ... fear and surprise ... Our two weapons are fear and surprise ... and ruthless efficiency ... Our three weapons are fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency ... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope ... Our four ... no
The Python team were comedy superstars. They've made 3 series of the TV show and become cult stars in the UK and US. The release of their first feature film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” propelled them to even greater international success.
Michael Palin: We've been doing our publicity for “Grail”. It has sort of brought us back together again and I think we must have felt, “Well the Grail's going down well, maybe we should do another move”.
Terry Gilliam: The moment was really in [stuttering] Amsterdam, one of our drunk pub crawl ... And that was Eric when he said, you know, “Wouldn't it be great? Let's do 'Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory'!” and, you know, we fell off the chair because that was so outrageous and wonderful and spot-on.
Terry Jones: My first reaction of the idea to do a bible story was slightly disappointed because, eh, I always thought the costume was so boring [laughter]. I remember going to a Church of England school. Every time we have to do ... paint ... a biblical scene, you know, oh, I said, “Isn't it just long robes? It is not very interesting.”
Born in the 1940s, all of the Pythons had received some form of religious education but Christianity was either rejected or distrusted by each.
John Cleese: There was a lot of religion thrown at us but very little that was explained, certainly satisfactorily. I've been confirmed and I sat around for some ...... weeks expecting some golden glow to descend on me. When it didn't, I became fairly atheistical humanistic *.
* The word atheistical does not exist. A correct way to phrase the sentence may be “I became an atheist and a humanist.”
Terry Gilliam: I was, eh, in many ways a little zealot. I had read the bible at least twice by the time I was about 16, eh, so I knew my stuff. I can do Genesis, Exodus, Levitivus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, first and second Samuels * – I can do all those things. And then I decided I've had enough, so I sort of walked away from religion around that time and thought, education is better.
* These are all books in the Old Testament Bible. I had to replay the video several times and look up the names before I got the complete list.
John Cleese: We were lucky because we shared the same attitudes to what religion wasn't. I don't think you could have ever got the Pythons to agree on what it was, but certainly we agreed on what it wasn't and that was lucky.
The Pythons began work on “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory”. The first task was to research their subject thoroughly.
Michael Palin: I remember going with Terry and the others to see screenings of other biblical epics like “Quo Vadis” and “Solomon's Sheep” and all that. They were pretty dreadful.
Terry Jones: After about watching 3 or 4 of them, we suddenly realised that they had one thing in common. And it was that, [with exaggerated accent] everybody in the film spoke in this very special way because they were aware that ... they were told ... living at a time when something very wonderful was happening, you know [laughter]!
(A scene from the film “The Life of Brian”)
Jesus (played by Ken Colley, who is not a member of the Monty Python): How blessed are those of gentle spirit. They shall have the earth for their possession.
Terry Jones: I remember saying to the others that, you know, people will find our film shocking because it would be the first time biblical film in which people speak in normal voices [laughter].
(A scene from the film “The Life of Brian”)
Brian's mother (played by Terry Jones): Speak up!
Brian (played by Graham Chapman): Quiet, mum.
Brian's mother: I can't hear a thing.
(Another scene from the film “The Life of Brian”)
Shopkeeper (played by Eric Idle): Now, are you telling me that's not worth twenty shekels?
Brian: No.
Shopkeeper: Look at it. Feel the quality. That's none of your goat.
Brian: All right. I'll give you nineteen then.
Shopkeeper: No, no, no. Come on. Do it properly.
Brian: What?
Shopkeeper: Haggle properly. This isn't worth nineteen.
Brian: Well, you just said it was worth twenty.
Shopkeeper: Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Come on. Haggle.
Brian: All right. I'll give you ten.
Shopkeeper: That's more like it. Ten?! Are you trying to insult me?! Me, with a poor dying grandmother?! Ten?!
Biblical epic viewed and the gospels reread led all to realise that artistically speaking, Jesus was not the answer.
Robert Hewison (he objected to the film): What began as “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory” actually gradually moved away from that idea, simply because they found Jesus Christ wasn't funny.
Terry Jones: You know, you got Christ saying very good things and saying the right things, and, em, he's a wonderful figure. Though that's not where the fun lies, really.
John Cleese: Once you start thinking about it, [stuttering] and start just thinking about it in everyday terms, you see. You accept that this happened, but when Mary said to Joseph, “I'm pregnant, but it's OK. I wasn't with anyone because the Holy Spirit comes down.”, you know, and then Joseph goes off to the pub and says to his friends, “You know I was a bit worried about my wife but it's all alright because she's impregnated by the Holy Ghost.” and all his friends say “Oh! Fine! Well that's a relief”. You see what I mean. The moment you start looking at stuff, there's a funny side to it.
(A scene from the film “The Life of Brian”)
Man #1: You hear that? Blessed are the Greek.
Man #2: The Greek?
Man #1: Well, apparently, he's going to inherit the earth.
Man #2: Did anyone catch his name?
Woman: Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it? I'm glad they're getting something 'cause they have a hell of a time.

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