George Harrison said he wasn’t being sacrilegious producing Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The former Beatle loved comedy and wanted to help his friends when their producers backed out.
George argued that Christ came out of the film looking good.
Why George Harrison signed on to produce ‘Life of Brian’
In 1972, George met Michael Palin and Terry Jones. The former Beatle met Eric Idle three years later, and the pair hit it off immediately. George loved the guys in Monty Python.
In 1979, George told Rolling Stone that once he met the members of the comedy troupe, it felt like he’d known them forever because he’d watched them so much.
“I think after the Beatles, Monty Python was my favorite thing,” George said. “It bridged the years when there was nothing really doing, and they were the only ones who could see that everything was a big joke.”
In the late 1970s, Idle called the rock star to tell him that EMI had dropped out of producing the comedy troupe’s latest film, Life of Brian, because they thought it was blasphemous. George loved the idea of the film and disagreed with EMI. So, he thought of funding the project.
“I asked Denis O’Brien, who had been my business manager since the end of ’73,” George told Film Comment. “After thinking about it for a week, he came back and suggested that we produce it. I let out a laugh because one of my favorite films is ‘The Producers,’ and here we were about to become Bialystock and Bloom.
“Neither of us had any previous thought of going into the movie business, though Denis had a taste of it managing Peter Sellers and negotiating some of the later Pink Panther films. It was a bit risky, I guess, totally stepping out of line for me, but, as a big fan of Monty Python, my main motive was to see the film get made.”
In Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Idle joked that it was the most money anyone had paid to see a film. However, as the executive producer, George received the brunt of the criticism.
George didn’t think it was sacrilegious producing ‘Life of Brian’
The former Beatle put a lot on the line to make Life of Brian.
In 1987, George told Timothy White at Musician Magazine, “When we took on ‘Life of Brian,’ I was so into Monty Python that I didn’t care what anybody thought. In those days we had to put up all the money, didn’t get any advances from studios–nothing.”
White pointed out that many people questioned why the man who sang “My Sweet Lord” would produce a “supposedly sacrilegious biblical farce.”
George replied, “Ah-hah! Actually all it made fun of was the people’s stupidity in the story. Christ came out of it looking good! Myself and all of Monty Python have great respect for Christ. It’s only the ignorant people–who didn’t care to check it out–who thought that it was knocking Christ.
“Actually it was upholding Him and knocking all the idiotic stuff that goes on around religion, like the fact that many folks often misread things and will follow anybody. Brian’s saying, ‘Don’t follow me. You’re all individuals.’
“It’s like Christ said, ‘You’ll all do greater work than I will.’ He wasn’t trying to say, ‘I’m the groove, man, and you should follow me.’ He was out there trying to, as Lord Buckley would have said, ‘Knock the crows off the squares,’ trying to hip everybody to the fact that they have the Christ within.”
The former Beatle was right about the comedy
George made a great point. The scene where the crowd finds Christ’s shoe and fawns over it stupidly proves the former Beatle right. The comedy made fun of people who follow blindly. The New York Times’ A. O. Scott also makes a good point; Life of Brian is a “critique of religious fanaticism.”
The guys in Monty Python and George were well-educated men. So, they weren’t ignorant of the Bible or Christ. Still, during a 1987 interview, George told Anthony DeCurtis (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) that he didn’t understand Catholicism even though he grew up Catholic. George had been spiritual for years but didn’t like the way some religions operated.
George explained, “I was born, my mother was a Catholic, my father wasn’t. I was sort of brought up for about 10 years as a Catholic. I look at that stuff now and I think, ‘What is going on?’… The only God we need is within ourselves. It’s handy if we can crawl through the grains of sand—or the … mountains of garbage—and find some little bit of truth or a guide, somebody who can help us to reach within ourselves and find what is
Scott said that Life of Brain wasn’t sacrilegious. It’s “too ridiculous and light-hearted to give much offense.” He said the film was one of the most authentic views of religious life in occupied Judea until Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
George just enjoyed Life of Brian because it was funny.