How do you get banned in Norway? Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies I became aware of the irreverent, surreal satire and absurd humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Britishness of their humor was an interesting contrast with the closest American absurdist ensemble – the National Lampoon Radio Hour, but it even came with grainy, crude imagery and psychedelic cartoonery. The bits from these groups somehow had a profound effect on my sense of humor that continues to this day. I guess my sense of humor wouldn’t be appreciated in Norway.
So when I saw a notice on Facebook for the 40th Anniversary Re-release of the Python movie masterpiece, Life of Brian I was pleasantly surprised to find it would be screened in nearby Santa Fe. The venue would be the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a throw-back art film venue in the old town owned by author George R.R. Martin. Martin is famous as the author of the books that the popular TV show Game of Thrones is based on. The perfect venue for this kind of classic movie.
Arriving at the theater, we were given 40th Anniversary swag packs complete with a movie poster, an origami “boulder” (a piece of paper with folding instructions to crumple it into a paper ball for stoning purposes), cut-out fake beards to wear to stoning events, a sing-a-long sheet with the lyrics to “Just Look On the Bright Side of Life”, and other assorted LOB stuff. We didn’t even have to haggle to get this trove.
The auditorium quickly filled to capacity and the lines at the concession and the bar were buzzing with anticipation. The couple in front of me in line were talking about how they had not missed watching Life of Brian on Good Friday in more than twenty years — kind of like a Good Friday version of It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmastime. I asked the twenty-something workers at the concession whether they had seen the movie or understand the buzz — one guy told me he didn’t know much about it but that he was intrigued and wanted to see it.
Settling in as the room darkened and the previews started playing I could see that the room was pretty full. There were no kids but the demographic seemed surprisingly broad (I was expecting it to be just a bunch of old people). A vintage preview for an upcoming showing of Reefer Madness produced big laughs and set the tone quite nicely I think.
“He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.”
The familiar movie wound its way through the unlikely saga of Bryan and his longing to just be a normal guy. The brilliantly conceived collection of absurd characters came and went to huge bursts of laughter and the clever satire of terrorist groups, authoritarian government, and unthinking followers of religion struck me as still quite relevant in the strange environment we find ourselves today.
“Alright, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
It was fun to laugh as part of a crowd. There was no need for restraint. As the movie inevitably ended to the strains of “Just Look on the Bright Side of Life” people remained glued to their seats, some singing along. There was a relaxed, warm mood apparent in the group that filed out and dispersed into the New Mexico night under the glow of a full moon. I was thinking about the influence that this movie and moreover this group of comedians have had on comedy and other comedians to this day so I resolved to research see what I could find to include in this article. I guess that being banned in Norway can’t be all bad.
By the way, the beer was pretty good – it is a pale ale from brewed by Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom.