Saturday, September 23

The Gospel of Monty Python, as related by themselves

Any reason is good to celebrate the existence of Monty Python, the irreverent sextet of comedians that, with 45 half-hour television programs and three original films, dynamited the foundations of traditional comedy and built the foundations of modern audiovisual humor. The publication of Monty Python: Autobiography by Kultrum books -actually, a reissue in a much more manageable format of the work that the now-defunct publisher Global Rhythm Press launched on the market more than 15 years ago in a monumental luxury volume- is a great pretext to return to Python and its unrivaled mix of cultural scholarship, verbal comedy, visual delusions, animated surrealism, satirical songs, and absurd goosebumps.

“Those who change the world do not necessarily do it with great fanfare; sometimes they do it just when people are looking the other way “, the writer and film critic points out in the book. Bob McCabe, which between 1998 and 2003 was in charge of shaping Monty Python: Autobiography from extensive interviews with group members: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones y Michael Palin. The sixth ‘python’, Graham Chapman, had died in 1989, although his statements taken from previous interviews as well as the testimonies of people from his family environment are included.

The Monty Python in the Flying Circus years. From left to right: Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. Python Pictures

Well, the Monty Pythons did just that: change the world when people were looking the other way. And they did so on October 5, 1969, with the broadcast of the first episode of a program that the BBC had commissioned this gang of insane badly-battered people out of Oxford and Cambridge to fill the night time slot. Your title: Monty Pyhton’s Flying Circus. That explosion of iconoclastic wit that shook the British television scene and lasted for four seasons was continued in the cinema with three memorable films: The knights of the square table and their crazy followers (1975), ‘Life of Brian’ (1979) and ‘The meaning of life’ (1983). The second, a parody of the messianic fever that led to the birth of Christianity, is rightly regarded as one of the funniest comedies in the history of cinema. This is how its architects remember it from the pages of Autobiography.

Brian’s birth

With the success of The Knights of the Square Table In the United States, Monty Python members began to earn “real money,” so they agreed to consider putting their individual projects on hold for a while and riding the wave with a new film. The germ of Brian’s life It was a great idea from Eric Idle, who, bored with the journalists’ questions about whether the group had any new projects underway, suggested answering that his next film was going to be titled Jesus Christ: longing for glory.

Gilliam: “We were in Amsterdam, in a crowded pub, and I remember Eric sitting at the table and blurting it out point blank: Jesus Christ: longing for glory. The rest of us were dying of laughter, it seemed like a very funny title. That was the beginning. We knew right away that it was a good idea and we considered doing something about Jesus and Christianity. However, it was not long before we realized that Jesus He was a legal guy, nice people, and we couldn’t make fun of him just like that. That was the reason why in the end we decided to create Brian, a kind of second-rate lookalike for Christ. ”

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Cleese: “At first, Life brian it was going to be a movie about Judas Iscariote, a guy who was always late. […] Judas did not attend The Last Supper because his wife had invited some friends to her house and he had to stay, although he planned to come later to have a drink with Jesus and the other disciples. The idea seemed hilarious to me, but it was one of the first to be discarded ”.

Palin: “I remember that it was quite difficult for us to find the right tone. At first we agreed to document ourselves on the Bible and the historical period in question and see what we got clear. Possible ideas soon emerged, and one that we particularly liked was that Judea was experiencing a time of authentic messianic fervor. That idea was the key and gave rise to the creation of a character who was not Jesus but who lived a parallel life; the neighbor next door, as they say ”.

Gilliam: “It was a curious way to avoid falling into blasphemy: choosing another guy who was the object of all our blasphemies. My mother, who is a practicing and fervent Christian, saw her and found no fault with her, because she does not talk about Jesus. ”

The most expensive ticket

The Pythons wrote the script for Brian’s life following the same procedure they had used in Flying Circus: each one went their own way to write scenes and sketches and from time to time they met to put the material in common and approve or discard the ideas presented. At the suggestion of Idle, in January 1978 they went to Barbados to put the finishing touches to the script (“if what one wants is to write about religion, the best thing is to surround oneself with comfort,” says Terry Gilliam). Shortly after, and with the project already underway, the EMI, who was supposed to finance the film, backed down by decision of its CEO and maximum shareholder, Bernard Delfont. It was then that George Harrison, personal friend of Eric Idle and admirer of the group, he agreed to re-mortgage his neo-Gothic mansion in Friar Park to get the four million pounds that saved the film.

Palin: “We were told that the EMI president took a look at the script, which he had not been taught until then, and found it offensive. “We are not going to fund it, in any way,” he said. It was a very hard blow, because there were already people in Tunisia, a large part of the money had already been consigned and they told us that they were going to cancel it, without further ado. What was going to happen to the people who had already moved? And to the set in Tunisia? It was then that Eric decided to call George Harrison, whom he had met at The Angels. George was a fan of the Pythons and got the money in the blink of an eye. ”

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Idle: “George mortgaged his house and got the money. It was extraordinary. He financed it himself, because he wanted to see it. It must have been the most expensive movie ticket ever. God bless you”.

Palin: “EMI’s reaction just convinced us of the need to shoot the film. It seemed that certain matters could not even be discussed, and that was precisely the ignorant and thoughtless attitude that we tried to denounce ”.

The appearance of George Harrison (between Eric Idle and John Cleese) in The Life of Brian. TERM

cut before eating

Filming of Brian’s life was much more placid than that of The Knights of the Square Table. By deciding to let Terry Jones direct the film alone and Gilliam take care of the artistic part, the group avoided the scenes of tension that had occurred between them during the filming of the previous film. The mild Tunisian climate and the effort that Brian’s Graham Chapman put into staying sober also contributed to the overall good atmosphere.

Cleese: “Another problem was choosing the director. Terry Gilliam was already directing million-dollar blockbusters, and yet it seemed to me that Terry Jones’s directing style was much more suited to our type of cinema than Gilliam’s, or at least to what we had in mind, since Gilliam is basically a feature film director and Terry Jones is better at directing comic sketches. ”

Gilliam: “I don’t think John or Graham ever thought in cinematic terms; they were content to show up every now and then, make their jokes, and hang out in the most comfortable way possible. And it’s not that it seemed bad to me, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do ”.

Cleese: “It was the most enjoyable shoot of my life and I had a great time. On the first day, I couldn’t quite believe that we had finished the stoning scene before eating ”.

The bright side of life

Giving the film a clever ending without attracting the wrath of all Christendom proved a challenge of great complexity, because it was necessary to address the delicate issue of crucifixion. Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote the last 20 minutes of the script and solved the mess brilliantly and hilariously. The last minute addition of Eric Idle’s song Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life turned the closing into something directly anthological.

Cleese: “When we shot the crucifixion scene, many of us were very sick, which is not without its grace. “In case this shitty flu wasn’t enough, now they are going to crucify us,” I thought.

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Idle: “Spending three days crucified was a very enriching experience, spiritually. For three days the routine consisted of arriving on set, finding a cross with your name: ‘Señor Idle’ and climbing on it. Up there, one felt sorry: ‘That’s how it should be, just a little more painful.’ Not that it was really painful, but it was cold and certainly not very comfortable. Also, if you wanted to take a piss there were none of the three free stairs. Typical!”.

Idle: “I remember we were at Terry’s house and we had no idea how to end the movie. ‘It has to end with a song,’ I told them, and we all agreed that it would be hilarious to end with a musical number sung from the cross. ‘A very happy one,’ I added. It occurred to me that it could be a whistled song, something innocent and joyous, like Disney. I went straight home and wrote it there. Then I went to pick up my son when he left school and I sang it to him. The next day the others heard her and jumped: ‘That’s it!’ ”.

Cleese: “As soon as we heard the song we knew it was perfect. I would say that of Brian’s life It is one of the most successful endings in the history of comic cinema ”.

Idle: “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life It was a smash hit, but on TV they couldn’t put the scene from Brian’s life in which we sang it, because crosses were forbidden. If we had sung it from the gallows they would have had no objection, but not the cross, not to mention.

Devil’s minions

The film’s release sparked a wave of protests – not just from Christian groups; There were also Jews who were offended – and by prohibitions. As often happens, the controversy served to prime the box office and Brian’s life it became one of the most successful productions in the history of British cinema. Much to the relief of George Harrison, he was able to keep his mansion.

Cleese: “The truth is that we were a bit surprised, but we weren’t scared either, since it was evident that the people who protested were a bit simple. They said things like: ‘The Monty Python are minions of the devil’. To me, personally, it seems like a terrific slogan ”.

Jones: “The first demonstration was that of the New York Association of Rabbis, who complained about the use of the Jewish ritual prayer mantle at the scene of the stoning. Obviously, we didn’t even know what a prayer shawl was ”.

Idle: “We didn’t even have to advertise it because it became news and began to appear on the news.”

Jones: “In Norway its exhibition was banned and in Sweden they took the opportunity to publicize it as ‘such a funny film that they have banned it in Norway'”.

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