Life of Brian resurrected in challenge to Passion

By Gayle MacDonald
From Thursday's Globe and Mail (03/25/2004)

Monty Python's very naughty Messiah is soon going to take on Mel Gibson's tortured one.

The producers of 1979's Life of Brian are bringing the controversial biblical spoof back to theatres in North America and Britain at the end of April. And they're blatantly marketing it against Mr. Gibson's equally contentious, but horribly grim, The Passion of the Christ, which has earned almost $300-million (U.S.) at the box office. The Python distributor, Rainbow Film Company, is promising that movie trailers will appear in cinemas on Good Friday, using tag lines such as "Mel or Monty" and "The Passion or the Python."

In an interview from his London home yesterday, Life of Brian producer John Goldstone said he's unleashing Brian -- a Jewish guy from Nazareth -- as an antidote to Mel. His film, he said, is for folks who crave a little levity and appreciate lines such as "Blessed are the cheesemakers" or Terry Jones (as Brian's mother) telling the title character's followers: "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy."

In the satiric film, which was bashed by bishops as blasphemous and banned in several countries, Brian Cohen is a poor schlemiel born in the manger-next-door to the real Jesus Christ. He grows up to join an anti-Roman separatist group called the Judean People's Front, but somehow ends up being granted messianic status by a group of oppressed Jews. Eventually, he's put to death in what has to be history's most chipper crucifixion. Heads bobbing, those being crucified sing the final song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Brad Pelman, senior vice-president of Lions Gate Films in Toronto, said yesterday he was unaware of the re-release of Life of Brian, but added: "I would be very much interested in talking to him [Mr. Goldstone] about releasing in Canada." Mr. Goldstone said the re-release of the cult classic, first in Los Angeles and New York, is timed for the 25th anniversary of the film. He hasn't booked theatres in Canada yet, but plans to. "Mel's film is extreme," he said. "Ours stands on its own. To me, it's still a great movie. It just seems very timely to give people an alternative view. "This all came together rather quickly," he said. "We decided last week. We've been trying to figure out what to do with it, and then along came Mel. It sort of reminded us that Life of Brian had another story to tell. There seems to be so much frustration, in a way, about how to deal with The Passion of the Christ. We decided to throw up another point of view, and at least give people some options."

When it was released in 1979, Monty Python's Life of Brian was booed and hissed for its irreverent treatment of a sacred subject. But it was also revered by others as the British comedic troupe's smartest sustained satire. Mr. Goldstone rated Life of Brian as the funniest Monty Python film, and he rhymed off a number of highlights, including Michael Palin's turn as a lisping Pontius Pilate whose scene with Biggus Dickus has centurions rolling on the floor in laughter.

The Passion of the Christ, which stars James Caviezel, is just now hitting international markets and will come to British theatres tomorrow. Mr. Goldstone said he plans to attend to get a handle on what all the furor is about. The two films are about as far apart as, say, heaven and hell. Mr. Gibson's film is about the final 12 hours of Christ's life and is acted with a searing intensity by Mr. Caviezel, a devout Roman Catholic who apparently believes he was destined to play this role. The title character in Life of Brian is played by the late Graham Chapman, with fellow Pythons John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam filling out the cast.

Monty Python's epic send-up of The Greatest Story Ever Told earned just under $20-million, according to box-office tracking firm Box Office Mojo. Mr. Gibson's film now ranks as the highest grossing R-rated film of all time.

The one thing both films have in common? They pushed people's buttons.


And, now for something completely different:

Life of Brian comes back to bait Mel

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles
Wednesday March 24, 2004
The Guardian

In the words of his mother, Brian of Nazareth was not the Messiah but a very naughty boy. Mel Gibson would probably concur - and doubtless conjure up some suitably bloody punishment for the young man so frequently mistaken for Jesus. For Brian's latest transgression threatens to mock Gibson and his gorefest of a movie, The Passion of the Christ. The producers of The Life of Brian, Monty Python's celebrated 1979 film, are to rerelease it as a response to Gibson's movie. "A lot of people in America have said that they couldn't figure out a way to deal with the public reaction to Mel's movie," Life of Brian producer John Goldstone told Daily Variety. "This is a kind of antidote to Mel." The two interpretations of the Bible could hardly be more different. While one focuses on a sensationalist and partisan look at the last days of the Messiah, the other is a broad-based historical survey of the social and political conditions of the time, featuring health issues (lepers and ex-lepers), the criminal justice system (stoning), and the economy (compulsory haggling at markets).

Brian also examines the political scene, depicting the internecine rivalry between the Judean People's Front, the Popular Front of Judea, and the People's Front of Judea. The climax of both films is the crucifixion: in one it is gruellingly explicit in its exposure of the pain endured by the Messiah. In the other, it provides a cheerful end to what is ultimately an upbeat story. And there is a nice singalong tune as well.

The Life of Brian is to be released in late April in New York and Los Angeles. The distributors are also looking at plans to re-release the film in other countries. Like The Passion of the Christ, The Life of Brian proved controversial on its original release: both films attracted protests and calls for them to be banned. But Gibson will probably look on the bright side. As the Passion was dislodged from the top of the US box office after taking $295m (155m) in three weeks, it swept through Latin America, where it opened at the weekend.

Gospel according to Python

Brian: "Well, who cured you?" Ex-leper: "Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business. All of a sudden, up he comes, cures me. One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's gone, not so much as a by your leave ... you're cured, mate. Bloody do-gooder."

Rebel: "All right. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health ... what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Brian's mum: "Now you listen here. He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy! Now go away."

Executioner: "Crucifixion Party. Morning. Now. We will be on show as we go through the town, so let's not let the side down."

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