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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Monday, July 21, 2008

    'Judith' Calls for Aberystwyth to Lift Life of Brian Ban

    BBC Wales has a great story on former Life of Brian star and current Mayor of Aberystwyth, Sue Jones-Davies. It appears that even though Jones-Davies has served on the town's council and has become its mayor the region's ban on the film is still in place almost 30 years after its initial release. The BBC quote her as saying "Given what's on TV now I think it's amazing a ban in Aberystwyth still exists...I think it should be lifted". Whilst the Beeb's article makes it sounds like she's running a campaign on it, reading between the lines it seems far more likely that someone simply asked her a question about it to which she responded. Nevertheless there are some interesting recollections about making the film in the article.

    Jones-Davies, of course, played Brian girlfriend, Judith, in the film. I re-watched the film recently and was amazed that I'd never before realised how pivotal Judith's character is in the movie's narrative. We first meet her right after the Sermon on the Mount, and the first shot is a close up on Judith which is accompanied by music suggesting some kind of romantic awakening. It's only after a cut to a wider shot that we see the rest of the group and Francis offers his "blessed is just about everyone with a vested interest in the status quo" remark. Brian turns around to stare at the group, but it's clear that his gaze is on her specifically rather than the group as a whole.

    When Brian sees Judith again, with the PFJ, it's a zoom shot over Brian's shoulder. Brian goes over to join, and again his gaze is on her, and the point is underlined by two close ups on her to complement the wider group shot of the five of them.So it appears Brian is motivated mainly by impressing Judith as opposed to some passionate nationalism. There is of course Brian's anti-Roman speeches, but it's likely that most Jews of Brian's day would have similar feelings, without joining 'radical' groups such as the PFJ. However, contrast Brian's passive acceptance of Jesus's sermon with the reactionary criticisms from the PFJ, and, of course, the fact that he is employed in the Roman amphitheatre. It's significant that Brian first expresses his dislike of the Romans only after his contact with Judith.

    And these hints continue as the film progresses. For example, after Judith and Brian are reunited after his "you're all individuals" speech. Judith runs towards him exclaiming "Brian, you were fantastic". She is referring to his speech, but he mistakenly thinks her praise refers to their sexual liaison the night before. It's a joke of course, but evidence that, as Mrs Cohen astutely observes early in the film, sex is the main thing on Brian's mind.

    So, structurally at least, the film is about boy meets girl. And their relationship, and in many ways the film's narrative arc, ends as she joyously runs off having congratulated him on his crucifixion. She's glowing with pride at his martyrdom; he just wants her back. As she disappears into the distance her image is replaced by that of his mother - the final interchange before Idle's famous closing song - and the 'boy meets girl and leaves mother' story has come, depressingly, full circle.

    There's obviously a lot more going on than that, and it's difficult to take isolated lines (like the one above) too seriously, but once you notice it, it's clear that it's Brian's feelings for Judith that really drives the story.

    Incidentally, I stumbled across this great selection of Monty Python photos in writing this piece, which include a good number of the film's promotional pictures. There are also some better quality photos at DVD Beaver and the Criterion Contraption's review of the Criterion Collection DVD.



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