Life of Brian

Mike Gerber takes umbrage with Anthony Lane’s recent NYer review of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Also, after a truly splendid article on PG Wodehouse, The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane follows it up with an incredibly blockheaded (and, frankly, insulting) review of Monty Python’s rereleased “Life of Brian.” The review is so blatantly, fundamentally misguided that I really wondered if he’d watched the movie since he first saw it as a teenager. Aren’t there any editors over there anymore?

Lane starts his review by asking, “What has the movie done, you may ask, to earn the privilege of a Second Coming?” Lane’s answer is to paint the Pythons as opportunists looking to cash in on the success of Mel Gibson’s movie. Nobody would begrudge the Oxbridge Six (now Five) from making a little money, but here’s a less cynical answer: that religious fundamentalism–the satirical target of the movie–has only grown since 1979. In fact, it’s become the single biggest threat to humanity’s continued existence on the planet. How’s that for a friggin’ reason, Mr. Lane? HOW OBTUSE CAN YOU GET?

Later in the review, Lane admits that as a teenage fan, he always found the Python TV shows “too fragmented and splintered for their own good.” There’s no accounting for taste, but given the number of comedy people who consider that series a breakthrough, I think we can conclude that Mr. Lane is a badminton champ trying to play raquetball. The Pythons move too quickly for him. That’s not the Pythons’ fault.

What pissed me off (i.e., made me mad enough to blog) was the sentence, “The best cure for that fragmentation was to bind it with the kind of narrative glue—one can hardly call it rigor—that holds together “Life of Brian.” Emphasis mine, obviously. Mr. Lane, the Pythons were the most intellectual, ambitious, and rigorous sketch comedians to walk the face of the Earth. All that silliness requires a solid framework of logic underneath to support it. As a teenaged fan, you couldn’t be ridiculed for not seeing it, but as the freakin’ movie critic for the freakin’ New Yorker, that ignorance is absurd.

It’s okay not to like a movie, obviously, but it’s not okay to deny it because you can’t be bothered to respect it. “Life of Brian” is probably the best, funniest, and certainly most rigorous piece of cinematic satire since Dr. Strangelove. And like Strangelove, the target of its satire is a clear and present danger. Unlike the quotidian kerfuffles of Bertie Wooster!

Link via the very dangerous Danger Blog!


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