Tuesday, May 18, 2004

THE ALTERNATE HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF BRIAN � the title and the movie you didn't see:
Some of us still consider it a loss, nevertheless, that the Pythons did not stick with their original title. Eric Idle came up with that one, as the others agree. Since they agree so rarely these days, they naturally cannot remember where the flash of divine inspiration happened � Idle says New York, Palin reckons Canada, Cleese says Soho, the others remember an incident in Amsterdam � but the gospel according to Python is clear on one point: after Holy Grail, they were asked what they might be doing next. �Oh,� said Idle, �our next movie is Jesus Christ � Lust For Glory.�

But lo, it never came to pass, more�s the pity. In fact, it did not take the troupe long to conclude that Jesus was the wrong target entirely. They couldn�t really fault his teachings and failed to see what was funny about them. The less relaxed followers of Jesus, on the other hand, were another matter entirely.

In the recent Python Autobiography, Jones explained it this way: �The Life Of Brian isn�t blasphemous, it�s heretical. It�s not blasphemous because it takes the Bible story as gospel; you have to believe in the Bible, you have to know and understand the Bible story to understand it for the film, really. It�s heretical because it�s making fun of the way the church interprets it. Heresy is basically taking against the church�s interpretation, not against the basic belief.�

John Cleese, equally, has pointed out that Jesus barely features in the film and is seen only while delivering, perfectly seriously, the Sermon on the Mount. �What I think [the film] does very usefully is point out that whatever the founder says, within three minutes everyone�s rewriting it in accordance with their own emotional needs and that�s an extremely good point.� Not to mention a blessing for the cheese makers.

So keen were the Pythons to avoid playing into the hands of conservative believers, they even discarded an alternative plot that has entered the apocrypha of cinema as one of the great unmade comedies. In this version, Brian was to be the 13th disciple, the one who always turned up late. As Cleese put it: �Of course, the funny thing is that if you turn up five minutes late for a miracle you might as well turn up two and a half thousand years late. So he�d missed the Last Supper because his wife had invited friends around and he was going to come on afterwards for a drink. I thought it was really funny, but that got dropped quite early on.�

UPDATE (21 May): More here.

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