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October 12, 1979 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-10-12

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The Michigan Daily-Friday, October 12, 1979-Page 7
'LIFE OF BRIAN'
The pitlls o plot and purpose

.j

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r

By DENNIS HARVEY
The Life of Brian is very amusing - a
tidy and well-structured comedy, with
its solid laughs shrewdly placed within
the framework of firm plotline. Terry
Jones' direction keeps things rollifig at
a steady clip, the production work is
unexpectedly slick and attractive, and
Peter Biziou's painterly camera com-
position lends the film considerable
visual class without smothering the
satire in banal prettiness.
This description would be assuring if
applied to the latest imported bedroom
farce or Pink Panther entry. But
somehow one expects less - and a good
deal more - from the Monty Python
troupe. One doesn't necessarily expect,
or even hope for, the sort of technical
slickery and smooth flow that the sup-
posedly more "professional" and con-
siderably duller folks in Hollywood can
offer. What one does expect is exactly
the opposite: A free-form explosion of
ideas; a state of comic chaos in which
any attempts at coherent plotting are
quickly shoved off the nearest cliff.
AT THEIR BEST, in much of Monty
Python and the Holy Grail and
especially in the Flying Circus series,
the six-member team managed to dive
so far off the edge of agreeable insanity
that the idea of working with a less-
fragmented structure seemed not just
unnecessary, but potentially
disastrous. Like the Marx Brothers in
their early movies and Woody Allen in
parts of his, the Pythonites were anar-
chists in a world that was only as sane
as it needed to be. Margaret Dumont's
top-heavy society matrons may have
seemed comparatively realistic when
assaulted by Groucho, but in her small
way she reached dizzying heights of
silliness on her own.
4Likewise, the various working-class
twits and upper-class imbeciles of the
Flying Circus shows may have seemed'
like recognizable human beings when
suddenly tortured by the dreaded "soft
cushions" and infamous "comfy chair"
at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition,
or when abruptly carried out of a scene
and stuffed into the digestive system of
some fantastic winged breast-monster
out of animator Terry Gilliam's night-
mares.
These genial idiots were great
parodies on their own, their actions
providing a background of muted in-
sanity for the more bizarre deeds of the
real Python heroes: the Inquisition;
ten-foot carnivorous cartooned feet;
transsexual nuns; and ordinry
English housewes withstrange
desires to imprison dozens of gover-
nment'workers in the attic.
;ON FLYING CIRCUS, and, to a
' sser extent, in the slightly more plot-
ted holy Grail, reality and sense scar-
cely ever intruded. Scenes barged into
one another without warning and
characters often stopped the action to
make hilariously baffling observations.
Scattered title cards merely compoun-
'ed confusion, and animation frequen-
tly created abrupt and usually destruc-
tive interruptions to the live-action.
By piling madness upon madness, the
Pythonites constantly ran the risk of
plowing their ideas into the ground. In-
deed, each Circus show tumbled along
recklessly from high spots to dismal
lows, often taking the fatal leap from
flit to shit within a few seconds. But the
highs were dazzling and the lows -
momentarily depressing - soon got
buried in the general rush.
The Life of Brian, alas, is a very or-
derly film. While it has none of the
dismal moments one dreads in which
bad taste and bad comedy meet and
make terrible music together, it also
avoids entirely the terrific high points
for which one waits. Those who found
the TV series "nonsensical' and the
Grail movie better but still too

disorganized will love Brian. The film
makes frustratingly good sense from
beginning to end.

SURE, IT'S funnier than most of the
year's other comedies lumped together,
and there's still a fine edge of lunacy
here (if in somewhat diluted form), but
the old full-tilt craziness is nowhere to
be found. Horror of horrors, this movie
is logical! You can leave the theatre
and actually describe the plot coheren-
tly to a friend. Could you pull that stunt
after seeing Holy Grail? Not likely.
Could you ever relate to anyone just
what went on in any episode of Flying
Circus? God forbid! Life of Brian is a
very professional piece of work, a neat
comedy that undoubtedly deserves the,
polite applause of Middle America and
all the New York critics. But Python
addicts, starved for new material since
the 1977 arrival of Gilliam's decidedly
substandard Jabberwocky, will
probably find themselves feeling subtly
let-down after sitting through an hour
and a half of screen antics without
laughing themselves into exhaustion
even once.
The opening sequence - in which the
Three Wise Men arrive from the east
(amid some appropriately sappy
Christmas-card imagery) and grandly
offer their gifts to infant Brian and his
hardly-virginal mother only to take the
gifts back and give Ma a rude shove
when it is discovered that the real
messiah is in the manger down the
block - sets the tone for the whole film.
The sequence is ingeniously conceived
and very amusingly staged, but at once
it is clear that the humor is more
dependent on situation and less on ver-
bal nonsense and rude slapstick than
the Python material of yore.
AFTER THE promisingly chaotic
opening credits (which mark the only
appearance of Gilliam's wonderful
animation, unfortunately) and the
amusingly idiotic title song, the film
settles contentedly into a plot structure
of amazing tidiness. Brian grows into a
likeably befuddled adult (Graham
Chapman), leads commando attacks on
the local Roman palace with the aid of
the Judean People's Front, and, by
unintentionally falling on the head of a

babbling marketplace prophet, is
mistakenly proclaimed the messiah by
the brainless masses. The rest, as they
say, is history, or at least vaguely close
to it. Those' looking forward to a
musical-comedy Crucifixion climax will
not be disappointed..
As good as most of this is - and a lot
of it is very good indeed - the expected
soaring moments never quite arrive.
The film has dozens of funny situations,
but it's a slight disappointment to find
that all the laughs rise logically out of
specific events rather than by spon-
taneously leaping out of nowhere and
magically disrupting the entire
storyline. Everything is carefully set
up, from the rather tiresome speech-
defect jokes to perhaps the single best
scene, in which Pontius Pilate (Michael
Palin) talks about his friend "Biggus
Diccus."
Even more upsetting than the lack of
comic surprise is the fact that even the
wildest jokes have a slightly familiar
ring to them. Perhaps four years of ex-
posure to Saturday Night Live since the
last major Python project has
saturated audiences with attempts at
"outrageous" comedy. It's more likely
that the humor on display in The Life of
Brian really is milder than expected.
Despite the R rating, condemnation
from the Catholic Conference's Office
for Film and Broadcasting, and the oc-
casional naughty word of dialogue, the
movie never comes close to the genuine
shock of Holy Grail's grisly medieval
world.
THERE IS ONLY one jolting sequen-
ce, a total surprise because it's the sole
moment of sheer nuttiness and

liberation from the mechanics of the
plot. Brian falls from the top of a
Roman tower to certain death, but in a
split second, wholly without ex-
planation, a gleaming silver spaceship
whizzes by and breaks his fall in mid-
air. For the next minute our hero flies
through space with two marvelously
grotesque aliens. After some dizzyingly
brief Star Wars spoofery, the ship
crash-lands ... and Brian is back
exactly where he was a moment before
on Earth. The idea is a little contrived,
but there's a sense of exhilarating
anarchy in this "purposeless" sequence
that the rest of the film sadly lacks.
All six Python members contribute
very funny characterizations in various
major and minor roles. Chapman, for-
ced alone to play things reasonably
straight, is an endearing hero.
Everything falls into place
well ... all too well. Sober adults would
often shake their heads in dismay at the
muddle of Monty Python's Flying Cir-
cus. The saddest thing that can be said
about The Life of Brian is that.this,
alas, is a Monty Python flick that even
your parents could understand.
m IIR

The Ann Arbor Film ooperative Presents at MLB: $1.50
Friday, October 12
14th International Tournee of Animation
7. 1:20-MLB 3
A n eclectic array of highly-sophisticated short animation films make up this
remarkably entertaining program. Assembled from Academy Award nominees
and international prize-winners, the TOURNEE films range from
deadly serious to hilarious. "The best recent animation from anywhere in the
world."-L.A. TIMES.
HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS: 4.ony-ML33
Just for fun! You owe to yourself to see this potpourri of twelve choice
cartoons from Hollywood's golden years of animation, featuring the faultless
performances of many of that era's most beloved celluloid characters. Viewers
age matters not for these star-studded shows; these rich works of art, with
their energetic characters, and multi-talented creators, will entertain and
amuse even the most cyncical and dour. See Bugs, Woody, Daffy, Felix,
E. Fudd. Porkv. Heckle, Jeckle and others. Credit and a sincere aooreciatinn
to the creators: Tex Avery, Paul Terry, Walter Lantz, Ub Iwerks, Chuck
Jones, BobClompett, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messner and hundreds of loyal.
fun-loving and richly talented assistants.
Tomorrow: Robert Young's SHORT EYES in MLS
MAJOR EVENTS PRESENTS
THE
SING ACAPELLA IN CONCERT
OCTOBER .25 8 PM
POWER CENTER
ALL SEATS 6.50 AVAILABLE
AT MICHIGAN UNION BOX
OFFICE OCTOBER 4
10AM
7633.O71

lnth e
Arts
Page,

Giveus h ea ds!
We are looking for the biggest Dead-Head in Ann Arbor, and we need your
help.
As part of our package on the November Grateful Dead concert, the Arts
page is conducting a sqsrch for the most dedicated local fan of this rock
group. Sure, a lot of people have seen the Dead five or six times and have all
the albums, but we're looking or true gonzo maniacs.
WHO WENT TO EGYPT to see the group? Who got in line five days in ad-
vance for concert tickets? Who followed the Dead across the country on a
recent tour? Who has tapes of every single concert?
Let's get those nominations for biggest Dead-Head in to the Daily Arts
Desk by October 22. No casual buffs, please.

SECOND
C1NRCE
994-5350

mie'ram

st;

arring Burt Reynolds and JON VOIGHT
TONIGHT 7 & 9 p.m. (note location change)
100 Hutchins Hall, Law School (S. Univ. & Monroe)

1-f

IL

a Gargoyle Films presentation

BL

m6 1 (IVEZSITY cUSICA L $8OCIETY presentc

Homecoming Court
AptA ictionare due
in C offices on oct. 19th.

o~e
c~s~
eMPIRe

All University Students Encouraged to Apply
Information Meeting 6:30 in Kuenzel Room on Octo-
ber 19th. Questions: Call 764-4700, 763-1107.

Vouri Egorov
Thursday, Oct.18, 8:30
Rackham Auditorium
Egorov is more than a young man with a pretty face, fast fingers, and a
headline-catching history of defection in Rome (from his native Russia) and
failure-become-triumph in Fort Worth. His platform manner is modest,
his personality self-effacing. He seems to be a Baryshnikov, not a Nureyev,
of the concert world." Andrew Porter, The New Yorker
Tickets Available: $4, $5.50, $7 at Burton Tower, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

I

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