A Tenth-Rate Movie

On Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Some musings on Monty Python’s movie Life of Brian, and the hullabaloo it’s caused.
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From Humble Beginnings…

In 1979 Monty Python made a movie called Life of Brian, which was kinda good. Then a bunch of religious zealots went bananas, and decided they wanted the movie banned. (’Cause we can’t have people freely going about speaking their mind, now can we?) Banning was achieved in parts of the UK (and several other European countries) and the whole thing blew up in the media at the time.

Norway (often considered the funniest1 country in Scandinavia) banned the film. This prompted the cinemas here (in the neighboring Sweden) to advertise the movie with the slogan “So funny it was banned in Norway.”

Trailer for Life of Brian. (2½ minutes)

The controversies also affected the film content. Originally there was a recurring character, called Otto, the Nazirene, who, with his squad of professional suicide warriors, was seeking his prophesied leader, and striving to keep the Jewish race pure. But, alas, he and his brave troupe was left on the cutting room floor, and the iconic Swastika of David that adorned his helmet, was never to be seen on the big screen. – All we see of them in the final movie is the suicide squad that promptly kills itself in its attempt to rescue Brian from the cross.

Otto, the Nazirene, and the Swastika of David.
Deleted scenes from Life of Brian (including Otto, the Nazirene). (13½ minutes)

Blasphemous Rumours

Then, in November the same year, a BBC TV show called Friday Night, Saturday Morning hosted a “debate” between the bishop of Southwark, some semi-famous born again christian dude, and John Cleese and Michael Palin from the Python gang. The christians managed to dominate the show, behaving like uneducated cretins, while both the Pythons – when they managed to get a word in edgewise – wound up sounding like wise old men. (A role reversal that seem to have been equally unexpected to both parties.)

The episode of Friday Night, Saturday Morning with the Monty Python interview. (1 hour, 6 minutes)

Not the Nine O’Clock News

Soon after (presumably late 1979 or early 1980) the Friday Night, Saturday Morning debate, the British humour show Not the Nine O’Clock News celebrated the debate in a sketch where everything is turned on its head, and the revered Monty Python gang have been blasphemed against in a new controversial movie called Life of Christ (in which this Christ figure is just an “accidental” rip-off of John Cleese – They even share the same initials for Python’s sake!).

“General Synod’s Life of Christ” sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News (3½ minutes)

The Secret Life of Brian

In 2007 UK’s Channel 4 broadcast The Secret Life of Brian, a documentary about the Python film, featuring new interviews with the Pythons themselves and reflections on the movie and events surrounding it.

The Secret Life of Brian (2007). (YouTube playlist of all the parts.) (3½ minutes)

Holy Flying Circus

In 2011 another BBC film was produced, detailing the events around the famous debate. This time in the form of a dramatised documentary in sketch form.

Trailer for Holy Flying Circus (1½ minute)

Some Final Musings

It’s also interesting to note that, as late as July 2008, at least some of these UK bans of Life of Brian are still in effect. Have a look at this article, for example: “Bid to Overturn Life of Brian Ban”.



1 It’s probably partly that Norwegian just sounds funny to a Swede, and partly because of a certain kind of pithy joke (called a “Norwegian story”) which are oft repeated in the school yards, where the punch line involves a Norwegian making a fool out of himself in some way.