Life of Brian

Though often perceived as a joke, as it is somewhat intended, Monty Python’s work is often taken less than seriously. However, Terry Gilliam, the groups graphic designer, is actually a very skilled designer and uses his talents of manipulating imagery and typography to create unique and fitting intros to their works, an example being Life of Brian. Life of Brian’s opening sequence very comical and ironic and plays off of religious stereotypes and commonplaces to create humor.
Gilliam uses many visual and typographic elements to set the mood, location, time period, and tone for the movie. The title sequence opens on a scene of clouds in the sky resembling many famous religious painting of heaven. This automatically sets the time to the AD period when Jesus lived, which these paintings depicted. It initially creates a very serious tone until the “Monty Python” title floats onto the screen on a cloud. The text is made to resemble a neon sign blinking in different fluorescent colors. This drastically contrasts the traditionally painted cloud it sits on and the sacred background. The immediate first impression is that they are putting a modern twist on a very serious and well known story and era. It breaks the reverent and somber nature of the scene and the viewer begins to understand that it is a comedy.
You are then hit with a giant title, made up of a texture that resembles blocks of ancient buildings and a panning camera angle to show its immense size. In addition to setting the tone by mimicking the architecture and buildings created during this time, it is huge which makes it appear important. It is placed at the top of the hierarchy letting the viewer know it is the title. As the camera zooms out the sun can be seen behind the letters creating a halo affect. A halo is used to symbolize holiness and power. The “B” then falls off “Brian” in the title, and knocks a precious godly baby off the cloud in the screen center, sending him plummeting to earth. Once again, it breaks the feeling of holiness and reverence and is a very humorous sequence to watch.
The overall look of the opening sequence, is very homemade and charming, much like the movie that follows. These visual elements set an ironic and irreverent tone, and mimics the style of religious works but adds a modern twist. Following this trend we watch the baby who “fell from heaven” grow as he falls through a series of uncomfortable and era mocking circumstances, foreshadowing the events of the movie. There is cliche imagery of ancient structures and pillars, nude statues, trumpets and flags used to signal royalty, famous figures, and horse drawn chariots. A viewer immediately associates these icons with a time period, and location, so the audience already knows the setting before the film even begins. Generally the majority of the imagery is treated to look like a traditional biblical painting, while one major focal point is modern, such as a bright red tongue sticking out of a conservative lion statue.
The elements in the opening sequence move around in a way that resembles a stop-motion film. This movement gives it is homemade charm and the amateurish approach to the comedic movies and skits taken by the group. Elements are seen from many different angles, with important elements such as the title being looked at facing upward to give the appearance of importance and vastness. The transitions are often jerky, and a common theme of stone elements flying around the page, breaking, landing on the man, or harming him in some other way is used to guide the audience through the opening sequence.
All of the typography is integrating into the images to be secondary to the overall images except for the name of the group that created the movie and the title. The typography is part of the setting the time period and biblical feeling of the work. The words move in whatever form the imagery takes, making the imagery the primary focus and the names secondary. The typography correlates with the song playing in the background. It is a humorous and dramatic song about a boy named Brian and how he is absolutely nothing special. As Brian ages in the imagery, the song talks about his stages of growing. The song says, “he grew, grew, and grew” which is synced with the dropping of the main cast names into the pyramid as the pyramid grows. There are also sound effects to add to the destructive and painful path Brian is taking to be lead through the credits. The sound effects resemble those of a cartoon again giving the film a more light comedic feel which directly contrasts with the serious appearance of the imagery.

Discussion — One Response

  • Victoria McCroary 03/26/2021 on 10:06 PM

    As a child that grew up on Monty Python, I was always amazed by the visuals they put out at the beginning and throughout the shows and movies. Now as a design student, I’m even more fascinated by the style them took and how they did it, as well as the variations of typographic styles they’ll put in one sequence.

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