Last year, I commented on the fact that there were two movies playing in theatres at the same time — Son of God and Noah — that both began with images of Eve plucking the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden: a moviegoer could see one film in the multiplex, then walk down the hall and catch the other film in the same theatre.
Now I’ve come across a story about an even earlier, and stranger, double-bill of sorts.
While Googling around and digging up some info on Jesus, the Campus Crusade film that is popularly known as “the Jesus film”, I came across an interesting news story that was originally run by the Associated Press in November 1979.
In it, the producer of Jesus laments that his movie was being distributed by the same studio that released Monty Python’s Life of Brian in the United States:
HOLLYWOOD — AP — At the mention of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” producer John Heyman lost his customary British cool.
Heyman is the producer of “Jesus,” a new $6 million film which takes its script directly from the Book of Luke. It is being released by Warner Brothers. So is “Brian,” which was being assailed as sacriligious (sic) by Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy.
“I made my deal with Warners six months before they acquired the Monty Python film,” said Heyman. “I question the business methods of a company that will self-evidently invite horrendous comparisons.
“The horrible part is to see in Houston, ‘Brian’ playing in the Galleria theaters 1 and 2 and ‘Jesus’ in Galleria 3 and 4.” . . .
Coincidentally, the actor who played Jesus in Heyman’s film happened to be named Brian. (Brian Deacon, to be exact.) I wonder if that just added insult to injury.
On a broader note, it’s fascinating to see how Heyman promoted the Jesus film back when it first came out. Heyman had already produced complete word-for-word adaptations of Genesis and Luke, and he told the Associated Press he wanted to film the entire Bible, in a series of 300 short films totaling 80 hours, by 1992. (By March 1980, when he spoke to People magazine, his target date had shifted to 1993.)
In the end, Heyman never got to continue, much less complete, his series. But the Jesus film, which partly consists of footage shot for Heyman’s adaptation of Luke, is still going strong; a revised version, with an Old Testament prologue and a completely new score, was released on Blu-Ray for the film’s 35th anniversary last year.
As for Life of Brian, it is now widely recognized as one of the best comedies ever made, and several years ago it was spun off into an oratorio. Not only that, but despite all the controversy that once surrounded the film, it is now celebrated by historians and other scholars for highlighting aspects of the gospels that other films miss.
For what it’s worth, you can watch the first half of Heyman’s word-for-word adaptation of Genesis, as well as his full adaptation of Luke, here:
And you can watch Richard Burridge interview Life of Brian co-stars John Cleese and Terry Jones at last year’s academic conference on ‘Jesus and Brian’ here: