Celebrating Great Films

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life of Brian

#168 at time of writing.

Very few films can really make you laugh. I'm not talking wry smiles, although Monty Python's Life of Brian delivers plenty of those too, I'm talking infectious belly laughs that make your cheeks hurt. The jokes-per-minute ratio rivals the likes of Airplane! and Duck Soup; the sheer weight of quotable lines ensures that this comedy masterpiece will forever echo through the ages.

And behind the juvenile gags this is a surprisingly intellectual film, featuring a well-researched representation of historical Judea and some insightful satire.

Despite the reverential subject matter (the film is about a man living in the time of Christ who is mistaken for the messiah), the panto-esque comedy is gloriously irreverent, in the true low-budget home-grown scruffy and often surreal Footlights tradition.

Speaking of reverence, this film caused quite a stir when it was released in 1979. It sparked a moral panic centering on its supposedly blasphemous content, and got banned in several countries and UK councils.

At the climax of the controversy, two of the Pythons engaged in a notorious TV debate with the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge on BBC2 chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning. The debate itself is wonderfully and hilariously dramatised in the feature-length quasi-documentary Holy Flying Circus, which you can currently watch on BBC's iPlayer. Strongly recommended.

The Life of Brian script was written in the Caribbean, where the Pythons hobnobbed with (among others) Keith Moon, the drummer from The Who. Moon was slated to play a street prophet in the scene where Brian hides among them. Eric Idle saw Moon the night of his death, and remembers him expressing excitement about the role, which eventually went to Terry Gilliam. The script is dedicated to Moon.

According to IMDb's trivia, after the first take of the scene where a nude Brian (Graham Chapman) addresses the crowd from his window, Terry Jones pulled Chapman aside and said "I think we can see that you're not Jewish," referring to Chapman being uncircumcised. This was corrected in subsequent takes with the application of a rubber band.

Always look at the bright side of life...

Friday, October 07, 2011

Howl's Moving Castle

#219 at time of writing.

It doesn't have to make sense when it's so beautiful!

Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have produced some astonishing films, often casting their characters into strange and colourful lands with mad rules of conduct as a metaphor for growing up.

This particular offering is a loose adaptation of the eponymous novel by Diana Wynne Jones, in which a girl suffers a curse that turns her into an old woman, and she must seek the help of an enigmatic young wizard to restore her youth, averting a war in the process.

The thoroughly Japanese perspective on this British fantasy is enchanting. The lush, ambitious animation is endlessly fascinating. The motivation and arc of the main characters is perhaps not as well developed as in some other Miyazaki masterpieces, but that doesn't stop this from being an inspiring, moving and brilliant piece of work.

I shall have to watch me some more Ghibli.

Monday, October 03, 2011

BBC writersroom: The first step to becoming a jobbing screenwriter?

There is a myriad of resources and opportunities up for grabs at the BBC writersroom website.

Of particular interest is the screenwriting course that you actually get paid to attend (deadline for entry 1 November 2011); and the Immersive Writing Lab competition to create a story world along the lines of Doctor Who or Lost (deadline 21 November 2011).