Life of Brian – Thirty Years On

There’s a nice article by Sanjeev Bhaskar in today’s Sunday Telegraph on the Life of Brian, perhaps the greatest of British film comedies and thirty years old this year (FWIW I wrote about the film on its twenty-fifth anniversary here). As Mr. Bhaskar notes, it is a movie that would be unlikely to be made today given “current sensitivities”. Too true, I fear.

Here’s an extract from Mr. Bhaskar’s article:

The film premiered in America in August 1979 and immediately caused a brouhaha. The Rabbinical Alliance declared the film “foul, disgusting and blasphemous”. The Lutheran Council described it as “profane parody”. Not to be outdone, the Catholic Film Monitoring Office made it a sin even to see the film. Audiences, however, loved it, making Brian the most successful British movie in North America that year.

To counter the mounting protests in Britain, an ingenious advertising campaign was launched featuring the mothers of John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. Muriel Cleese said that if the film didn’t do well, and as her son was on a percentage, she may very well be evicted from her nice retirement home – and that the move might kill her. She won an award for the ad.

Mary Whitehouse [a tireless campaigner for her own brand of decency] failed to prove that the film was blasphemous, particularly since Christ and Brian are distinctly shown as different people. Nevertheless, a number of local councils banned it – including some that didn’t even have a cinema. The result was coach parties being organised in places such as Cornwall (where it was banned) to cinemas in Exeter (where it wasn’t). The Swedish marketed the film as “so funny it was banned in Norway”….

…The film’s view of blind faith seems as apposite as ever, and the closing song has come to represent a sort of British resilience – laughing in the face of adversity. It has been appropriated by football fans, chosen as the final song at funerals, and, movingly, during the Falklands War, the sailors on the damaged HMS Sheffield sang it while awaiting rescue.

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6 Responses to Life of Brian – Thirty Years On

  1. John says:

    The Life of Brian was one of the best comedies of all time. However, it isn’t hard for me to see why some Christians were offended by it. The movie is to a large extent, a parody of Christianity. Imagine if someone made The Life of Omar that took place at the same time Muhammed lived. Would anyone be offended?

    Of course it was profane. That’s part of the reason it was so funny.
    “He has wife, you know…”

  2. Jane S says:

    It’s also funny how the film has attracted conservative fans who appreciate the “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene. Brilliant satire of academic liberals and their anti-Western civilization pose.

    I have not yet allowed my 9-year-old daughter to see the movie, but I took her to see Spamalot, which recycles “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” This has become our medical treatment song. I sang it to her while the pediatrician froze her Plantar warts, and through numerous vaccinations (she’s a needlephobe). Reactions have been mixed. I got a very strange look from the pediatrician, but the nurse who gave her the flu shot joined in.

  3. Otto Kerner says:

    Inshallah, we’ll all be around some day to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Life of Omar” or “Life of Abdul”, etc.

    By the way, I’m anxiously awaiting Secular Right’s take on the Switzerland minaret controversy …

  4. Dave says:

    Come now Mr. Stuttaford, OF COURSE the movie could be made today. No problem, in a second.

    It’s the Life of Abdul that would stand no chance of being made today.

  5. J says:

    Oh snap: If measured from it’s original UK release date, I am exactly 3 days older than “Life of Brian”. Just realized that.

  6. John says:

    By the way, I’m anxiously awaiting Secular Right’s take on the Switzerland minaret controversy …

    For the record, I think it was wrong of Switzerland to ban the minarets. Freedom of religion…and non-religion.

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