The Films of Terry Gilliam

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The Films of Terry Gilliam

I often mention the films of Terry Gilliam.  He is one of my favorite directors.  The above link is to a retrospective of his work.  For those of you that are not overtly aware of his films, this is an excellent place to get an overview.  I agree with the retrospective that The Brother’s Grimm, while having some things to recommend it, is his weakest film.  Visually the film still has many Gilliam hallmarks, but the script is the most generic of his movies.  Tideland is one of my favorite of his films, but it is also one of the most challenging, and it is best if you become accustomed to his style before watching that. I believe the themes of that film are easier to understand once you have some insight into the way Gilliam sees the world.  Jabberwocky, his first movie outside of Monty Python, while worth checking out, feels to me as if Gilliam was still finding his voice, as later films are more substantial.  So if you haven’t seen any of Gilliam’s films, I would check those three out later for the reasons stated above.  Otherwise read the captions and dive in where you please.  Gilliam is one of the true visionaries of the medium.

Watch Monty Python’s Farewell

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“Monty Python” Stars Bid an Emotional Farewell in…: http://youtu.be/KaDGc2LWzGo

I grew up on Monty Python with my Dad showing us The Meaning of Life and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as kids.  I didn’t realize how unique this was, as my Dad would have us laughing at religion, business, and every other sacred cow of society.  Monty Python will remain a source of joy for me as long as I live.  They were truth tellers, bullshit detectors, and often very, very silly.  The above video is a clip of their final performance as they sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  Their final run of performances, as Graham Chapman is deceased,  were subtitled One Down, Five to Go. 

The Comedy of Religion

When I opened the New York Times this morning I saw the completely insane picture of Shiite men marching in Iraq wearing matching camo pants, black t-shirts, ski masks, all with bombs strapped to their chest which at least resembles bundles of TNT.  I’m sure if you were to stumble upon this on the street it would be completely horrifying.  Viewed from the safety of the morning paper there was something strangely comical about it.  I always think the Greeks got an aspect of the gods right.  I imagine superior beings atop Mount Olympus laughing at the folly of man.  These men are coordinating, even down to the color, outfits of death all in the name of an invisible figure that they cannot see.  Life when viewed up close is often a tragedy.  When it is viewed with a certain degree of remove it is almost always a comedy. 

One of my recent entertainment pleasures has been the discovery of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced TV series An Idiot Abroad.  In this show the two creators of The Office send their friend, and idiot of the title, Karl Pilkington to various foreign countries.  Pilkington is the friend that we all have that never wishes to leave their hometown and can’t help but literally say what is on his\her mind because there simply doesn’t exist the guile to do otherwise.  The comedy from the show often comes from someone being confronted with the wonder of the world at large and simply being indifferent to it, or quite often being annoyed by it.  They do sometimes send him to certain places to purposely torture him, however even in places like The Great Wall of China Pilkington seems unimpressed to comical effect. 

However, sometimes Pilkington stumbles onto strange truths without even realizing it.  When he is in Jerusalem he finds it extremely bizarre that around every corner some different religion is approaching with a different bizarre outfit on.  He compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man as to him it reminds him of a place where, much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, something is popping out at you from around every corner.  Somehow this “idiot” has stumbled upon the absurdity of religious believers in this area.  They are all from the same region, they all wear ridiculous clothing, the all believe they have a lock on the truth, and all while having absolutely no proof to support their claims.  It is like a Monty Python skit come to life. 

This Sunday morning I will leave you with quotes from the great George Carlin:

What is this religious fascination with head gear?  Every religion’s got a different fucking hat.  Did you ever notice that?  The Hindus have a turban, the sheiks have a tall white turban, the Jews have a yarmulke, Muslims have the keffiyah, the Bishop has a pointy hat one day and a round hat on another day, Cardinal has a red hate, Pope has a white hat, everybody’s got a fucking hat!  One group takes them off, another group puts them on.  Personally I would not want to be a member of any group where you either have to wear a hat or you can’t wear a hat.  I think all religions should have one rule, and one rule only: hat’s optional!

You ever notice that?  Any time you see two groups of people who really hate each other chances are good they’re wearing different kinds of hats.  Keep an eye on that, it might be important. 

Bronson (Who’s Mad Now?)

You can keep
Your peasant wages
Your false idols
Your dogs on the bridges

 I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well

 Who’s mad now?

I don’t need your morals
And I don’t need you laws now
They’re just another way
To keep the poor down

 I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well

 Who’s mad now?

Gonna carve myself in marble
Describe myself in verse
I’ll be here long after
You have done your worst

Who’s mad now?

When we were kids and first discovering the wonders of booze, we used to talk about how something was a good pool shooting song.  I don’t know exactly what we were on about.  We never shot that much pool.  Nor did this description necessarily mean that something was a good song in the sense that a critic would say something is good.  I think that we meant it had a certain swagger and  a good Friday night attitude to it.  It meant something was a good song for drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and possibly getting into a scuffle.

On our new album, A Manual for Defeat, Bronson (Who’s Mad Now?) is our pool shooting song.  I wouldn’t probably even put it in the top five songs on the record, but every time that I hear it I find myself with a prideful smile.  And yes, I know pride cometh before the fall.  It’s got a Thin Lizzy shuffle which never hurts anything.  However, the real musical magic in the song is my Brother Ben’s exuberant guitar playing, which I can champion till the cows come home as I did not play it.

The lyrics are in part a tribute to Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Bronson, hence the title.  Refn is one of our favorite directors.  If you are a film fan and can stomach the violent and the strange, then you will certainly enjoy his films.  He is one of those rare directors that have an eye for visual poetry.

In the movie, which is loosely based on a real person by the same name, the title character gets a short prison sentence only to become Britain’s most feared prisoner because of his violent behavior during his time in the clink.  Even though he was only supposed to serve several months, other than a brief release, he ends up spending his life there.  Without hopefully spoiling the ending, at some point he begins to view his life as a living work of art. Nicholas Winding Refn paints his own portrait of the real Bronson, and we are taking it a step further drawing up our own version of the character.

The lyrics are simple and are some of the least poetic on the record.  Much like Morrissey’s You are the Quarry album, where the Mozzer ditches his typically poetic approach for something more direct, for a moment I wanted to dispense with any wordplay and say something in plain language.  I also always liked that Monty Python tackled the big three cornerstones of Western culture; as they addressed bureaucracy (jail), religion (hell), and economic issues (money), through comedy.  I suppose they were on the mind as well.

Anyway, as a writer I would be lying if I said that this song is at the top of my list for exemplary writing.  But hopefully some Friday night I can convince you to drink a beer to it.  It will all come together then.

Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory

I apologize about being off the grid yesterday.  When you do this thing yourself you are going to miss days, even if you dread it.  Yesterday passed like one of those time lapse shots before I realized I hadn’t gotten any posts up. 

Anyway, I am back to reading Monty Python Speaks after finishing Morrissey’s Autobiography.  For those of you that might be interested in Autobiography, I will have further comments on it, but I need a few days to think about it.  Anyway, I was reading section of the Python book that dealt with Life of Brian this morning.  Apparently the title that they originally came up with was Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory!  I about spit out my coffee.  I have watched Brian several times and all the special features that come with the DVD, so I had probably heard this fact before, but I didn’t remember it upon reading it today. 

Eric Idle came up with the title while drinking.  He and Terry Gilliam, while continuing to drink heavily, started to think of ways you could make the story of Christ funny.  What if the maker of Christ’s cross was a carpenter of poor craftsmanship?  Once bringing the story to all of the Pythons they all reread the Bible.  They decided what Christ actually said was good, so they didn’t want to belittle him.  However, they felt that there was tons of room to make fun of the people around him. 

They spoke of how anyone that would interpret Christ’s words and tell you how to believe it was performing a political act.  Interpretation is a political act.  They thought the people that did such a thing were worthy of making fun of.  Fair targets.  So anytime someone gets in a furor over something they say is blasphemous, ask yourself what it is degrading.  Does it lessen the meaning of something, or does it lessen the power of someone who wants to control the way others see the world?

Anyway I love the Pythons and thought Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory was a great title.  A good laugh to start Friday morning, at least I hope so.