We went out to a local cinema last night for a “night out” (read: couple of hours out). My other half saw an advert online for a 40th anniversary showing of “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian”, and despite our perilous financial situation at the moment, she took a chance. I’m glad she did.
The cinema is in Henley on Thames – a few miles along the river from us. I suppose you might describe it as an “Art House” cinema – showing independent and less well known movies. I didn’t even know it existed until we walked from a supermarket car-park, turned a corner into a side-alleyway, and suddenly there was the entrance – light escaping the doors and casting long shadows across the pavement.
After climbing a sweeping staircase to the main foyer, we bought some snacks to eat and a drink each, then joined a slowly gathering crowd of cinema goers milling around. After years visiting multiplex cinemas, it was a pleasant change – more intimate and personal.
After only a few minutes we were ushered into one of the screens, and I found myself grinning at the sudden transformation of so many into panicked cattle. We all had assigned seats, but that didn’t stop perhaps half the audience from wanting to get to their assigned seats first. I hung back with my other half and let them have their imaginary fight before wandering up to the usher with a smile. Of course everybody that rushed into the cinema now found themselves getting up to let other people past – repeatedly. The seating was fairly shallow – which caused me to hunker down into my chair a fair bit – I’m aware how tall I am, and have horrible memories of visiting the cinema when I was young, and not being able to see a thing because some giant ass-hat would invariably sit in front of me. Thankfully the seats were more like armchairs, with lots of legroom – enabling my disappearing act.
So. The Life of Brian. Has it really been 40 years? I suppose it has – I remember children talking about it in the playground when I was at junior school. Quite how they knew about it is anybody’s guess, given that the cinema would not have let them in, and video recorders were not commonplace.
It goes without saying that I loved the movie. In some ways it felt like meeting an old friend, and listening to stories I had not heard since I was young. While grinning endlessly at the antics of the Pythons, I noticed something interesting. The belly laughs from the audience came at the most basic, demeaning jokes – such as Ceaser’s speech impediment – not from the more subtle but far more damning scenes where everybody and anybody with any religious faith at all is poked with a very large stick (if you’re familiar with the movie – the scenes where the crowd begin following Brian, and twist logic endlessly to suit their own ends). When I was young I didn’t notice just how cutting those scenes were, and wondered how many people realised they were being directly attacked.
I remember watching an interview with the Pythons years ago – from around the time the movie was released. They were invited onto a talk show with some senior figures from the church who thoroughly embarassed themselves with a bravura display of pious, aloof, ignorant, and prejudiced opinions about what other people should think and believe.
Anyway. Before we knew it, two hours had whistled by, the lights came up, and we found ourselves swept up in a repeat of the panicked cattle drive to get back out of the cinema. I noticed several older people kick beer bottles over that they had propped on the floor between their feet, and pretend they knew nothing about what they had just done. I was quietly furious with them.
On the car journey home we talked endlessly about our favourite moments, lines, and bits we had forgotten over the years. There’s something about irreverent humor that pokes at the establishment, people’s beliefs, and the ridiculousness of organised religion. We need more of it.