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On a Midnight Clear 2000 years ago, three wise men enter a manger where a babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is an infant called Brian...and the three wise men are in the wrong manger. For the rest of his life, Brian Graham Chapman finds himself regarded as something of a Messiah, yet he's always in the shadow of this Other Guy from Galilee. Brian is witness to the Sermon of the Mount, but his seat is in such a bad location that he can't hear any of it "Blessed are the cheesemakers?". Ultimately he is brought before Pontius Pilate and sentenced to crucifixion, which takes place at that crowded, non-exclusive execution site a few blocks shy of Calvary. Rather than utter the Last Six Words, Brian leads his fellow crucifixees in a spirited rendition of a British music hall cheer-up song "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life." The whole Monty Python gang Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam are on hand in multiple roles, playing such sacred characters as Stan Called Loretta, Deadly Dirk, Casts the First Stone, and Intensely Dull Youth; also showing up are Goon Show veteran Spike Milligan and a Liverpool musician named George Harrison.
"Blessed are the cheesemakers," a wise man once said. Or maybe not. But the point is Monty Python's Life of Brian is a religious satire that does not target specific religions or religious leaders like, say, Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, it pokes fun at the mindless and fanatical among their followers--it's an attack on religious zealotry and hypocrisy--things that that fellow from Nazareth didn't particularly care for either. Nevertheless, at the time of its release in 1979, those who hadn't seen it considered it to be quite "controversial." Life of Brian, you see, is about a chap named Brian Graham Chapman born December 25 in a hovel not far from a soon-to-be-famous Bethlehem manger. Brian is mistaken for the messiah and therefore manipulated, abused, and exploited by various religious and political factions. And it's really, really funny. Particularly memorable bits include the brassy Shirley Bassey/James Bond-like title song; the bitter rivalry between the anti-Roman resistance groups, the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea; Michael Palin's turn as a lisping, risible Pontius Pilate; Brian urging a throng of false-idol worshippers to think for themselves--to which they reply en masse "Yes, we must think for ourselves!"; the fact that everything Brian does, including losing his sandal in an attempt to flee these wackos, is interpreted as "a sign." Life of Brian is not only one of Monty Python's funniest achievements, it's also the group's sharpest and smartest sustained satire. Blessed are the Pythons. --Jim Emerson