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Python's Jones Passionate About 'Life Of Brian's' Return

Film Debuted To Storm Of Controversy 25 Years Ago

POSTED: 8:16 pm EDT May 17, 2004

There's no better way of putting it -- the classic Monty Python comedy "Life of Brian" -- has been born again.

Tim LammersThe inspiration for the "second coming" of the film (as the tagline boasts on the movie poster) 25 years after its release in theaters is none other than Mel Gibson, co-star/director Terry Jones told me in a recent @ The Movies interview. After all, it's the enormous success of "The Passion of The Christ" that spurred the Python boys' plan to re-introduce to theater audiences to their controversial religious satire.

Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' -- Michael Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones "It's pure, grubby commercial opportunism, I'm afraid," Jones said, musingly, by phone from London. "We saw how well Mel was doing and thought, 'Well, blimey, we might be able to cash in on this. We would like to say 'Thank you' to Mel for giving us this opportunity. We only hope we make a tenth of what he did."

The "we," of course, includes the other members of the famed Monty Python troupe -- John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin -- who play various roles in "Life of Brian." Graham Chapman, who died of cancer at 1989 at age 48, played the title role. All of the members share screenwriting credit.

The film tells the tale of Brian Cohen, who is born in a stable next to Jesus Christ and goes through his life mistaken for a messiah. And while most every religious film appears to controversy (Gibson's "Passion" being the perfect example), imagine what kind of lightning storm the Python satire touched off 25 years ago. Not surprisingly, Christian and Jewish groups immediately denounced the film -- and it didn't stop there.

"There were a lot of protests," Jones recalled. "Several nuns used to parade outside a theater in New York with placards, telling people they'd be doomed if they went to see the film. It was banned in quite a few Southern states and over here in England, it was banned in different towns -- all of the protests came from people who hadn't seen the film."

Jones said the protest heat was felt as far away as Norway.

"That gave the Swedes a great opportunity because the Swedes use to reckon that the Norwegians didn't have a sense of humor. There were advertisements in Sweden calling it 'The film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway,'" Jones said with a hearty laugh.

'Life of Brian' posterWhile Jones looks back at the time of the film's original release with such fond memories, its re-release now is bittersweet since Chapman isn't around to enjoy it.

"I'm really glad that Graham made the film because that's how I remember Graham," Jones said. "I think he really came into his own with the movie, more so than in the 'Monty Python' shows, really. I never really saw Graham as a comic performer, really. Graham was just Graham. He wasn't really even an actor in a way. That is what was wonderful about him in the film. He's there as this person who rings true. The rest of us were there, all acting away around him and Graham was just this rock in the center."

Of course, Chapman's remained with the troupe in spirit -- and more. Or so we think. The troupe reunited for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., in 1998, brought with them onstage an urn purported to be Chapman's ashes.

"It's was actually Graham's partner, David Sherlock, who did it first -- and he actually did have Graham's ashes. He was giving a talk somewhere and he said, 'Here he is' and started sprinkling ashes on people in the front row," Jones said, chuckling. "It's was David's joke, we're the ones who borrowed it, I'm afraid."

Chapman isn't the only one who is missing out on the film's re-birth. Late former Beatle George Harrison had a huge helping hand in "Life of Brian," too, stepping up to create Handmade Films to finance the project after backer EMI pulled out to avoid any controversy.

"I remember Dennis O'Brien, George's business partner, who set up the company to make the film, was terribly nervous about it all," Jones recalled. "I thought, 'Why is he being over-the-top?' George being a Beatle, could afford to put up a $4 million tab. But then about 10 years later I was doing an interview with George in New York when he happened to say that he put his home down for collateral along with some of his other properties. I thought, 'Blimey, I'm glad I didn't know that then. I would have been a bit nervous. George's house was his life. He really lived in that house."

While "Brian" is enjoying a second chance at life, moviegoers will have to settle for just that in terms of new Python projects for the big screen.

"I don't think we'll really get together again -- the greed is there, but I think we're all too polite to each other now," Jones enthused. "If we do, we won't leave Graham's ashes behind."

More Info: Test Your Monty Python Knowledge
'Life Of Brian' Page -- Monty Python Online

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