Now available from Acorn Media in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is the comedic docudrama, Holy Flying Circus. Is this a sketch film? Is it a Monty Python parody? Is it a retelling of historical events? Is it purposely offensive to religious people? Yes, to all of these things, and more.
The main focus of Holy Flying Circus centers around the release of the 1979 film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. For those who may not remember, Life of Brian follows a guy named Brian whose life parallels Jesus Christ, and is mistaken for the messiah, even as evidence stacks up to contradict this assertion. When the movie originally came out, it was steeped in controversy, and some Christians took offense to the themes and jokes, especially if they hadn’t actually seen the movie.
What Holy Flying Circus does is to re-create those events with a very Python-esque flavor, making the movie in the style of Python’s classic films and shows. This does a couple of things. One, it makes Holy Flying Circus way funnier than most documentaries. Two, it should appeal to the sensibilities of Python fans, who are most likely the target audience of this piece. Three, it sneaks messages into the silliness, providing much fodder to think about. And four, it honors the comic legends who ruled Britain’s funny scene a couple of decades ago.
Now, one might argue Holy Flying Circus isn’t very good, as the writing veers off in odd ways, not always the direction the viewer would like it to go, especially with the fantasy sequences. It also borrows heavily from the existing Monty Python works, meaning there’s a degree of copying. These are valid arguments.
However, what saves Holy Flying Circus is the fantastic ability of the performers to mimic the real life people that they are based on. Each member of the great cast, which includes Steve Punt (Mock of the Week) as Eric Idle, Phil Nichol (The International Sexy Ladies Show) as Terry Gilliam, Rufus Jones (Mongrels) as Terry Jones, Thomas Fisher (The Illusionist) as Graham Chapman, and especially Charles Edwards (Murder Rooms) as Michael Palin, and Darren Boyd (The Jane Show) as John Cleese, deliver uncanny imitations. Jason Thorpe (Little Dorrit) as the BBC executive and Stephen Fry (Bones, Jeeves and Wooster) as God also lend much to the proceedings, making for a memorable movie.
Besides the terrific casting, there are also a number of tongue-in-cheek references to the Pythons and their various projects, including things they did after this movie, in the “future.” They are numerous, and many are sly. The more you times watch it, the more you are likely to catch.
The central question at the heart of Holy Flying Circus is, is it alright to poke fun at religion? Not in a mean-spirited way, of course, but in the service of legitimate comedy. Especially in America’s currently heated presidential campaign, the debate the rages on, not always in the public spotlight, but ever important to a sizable percentage of the population. It almost makes the Pythons seem ahead of their time to have tackled this back in the day, though they weren’t the only ones doing so. Should the religious community have a sense of humor about themselves and their beliefs? What if the jokes come from people who believe the same things?
This is not a debate quickly settled, and as we see when Cleese and Palin appear on the British series Friday Night, Saturday Morning; this may be a debate not many are willing to actually have. The characters, much as it happened in real life, find themselves pitted against religious leaders who are not willing to budge from a stance, nor listen to logic and reason if it conflicts with this opinion. Are they justified in acting that way? This movie has a view on the subject, and it is one likely shared by many would-be watchers, though not necessarily by the population at large.
The extras are a little disappointing. The nine minutes of deleted scenes are pretty good, although the nearly 20 minutes of outtakes drag on a bit. The sole exciting featurette shows how the opening sequence was made, which is very complicated and cool. But that’s it. Nothing from the Pythons themselves, which is what I would really like to be included, though it seems unlikely they would want to participate in such a project. Still, the draw is the film, and it is worth watching.
Holy Flying Circus is available now.