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13 Facts About Monty Python's Life of Brian

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After the huge success of 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, England's silliest comedy troupe needed a follow-up. Naturally, they chose another period piece, this one requiring even more elaborate sets and costumes—and, as a bonus, it was liable to offend everyone. Monty Python's Life of Brian was released in 1979 and, sure enough, caused a stir. It also shot to the top of many people's lists of the best satires ever made, and helped cement Monty Python's legacy. Here, stop arguing about what the Romans have ever done for you and read this reverent list of important trivia. 

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED IN AMSTERDAM, WRITTEN IN BARBADOS, AND FILMED IN TUNISIA.

Monty Python was a very British comedy troupe, but Life of Brian was a truly international production. The lads came up with the idea of doing a Biblical epic while promoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Amsterdam in early 1976. (No word on Amsterdam's other offerings, but much alcohol was definitely involved.) The final draft of the screenplay was written around Christmas 1977 in Barbados, where Eric Idle was vacationing; rather than return to London to finish the script, he convinced the other five Pythons to join him there. As for the actual filming, England was short on arid plains that could pass for Jerusalem, so everyone decamped to Tunisia, where Star Wars (and, more relevantly, Jesus of Nazareth) had recently been shot. 

2. THEY USED LEFTOVER SETS AND COSTUMES FROM A REAL JESUS MOVIE.

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (you may be familiar with his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet) had made a six-hour English-language TV miniseries called Jesus of Nazareth, seen by a massive worldwide audience in 1977. For the Pythons, one of the perks of shooting in Tunisia was that they could use some of the props, costumes, and sets that Zeffirelli's production had left behind.

3. THE PYTHONS MADE A CONSCIOUS DECISION NOT TO MAKE FUN OF JESUS.

The film's detractors insisted otherwise (most of them hadn't actually seen it), but Life of Brian doesn't ridicule Jesus or his teachings. (His followers; people who misunderstand him; organized religion in general, sure.) The men of Monty Python realized early in the writing process that Jesus shouldn't be a target. This wasn't out of reverence, though, so much as practicality: nobody thought Jesus' words or deeds warranted derision. As Eric Idle later put it, "He's not particularly funny. What he's saying isn't mockable, it's very decent stuff."

4. JESUS HAD A STUTTER. 

Though Life of Brian is about a man whose life parallels Jesus', Jesus himself appears only briefly (and respectfully, the Pythons were quick to point out). According to Terry Gilliam, Kenneth Colley—the actor who played Jesus—had a terrible stammer in real life that cleared up when he was reciting dialogue onstage or in front of a camera. (By the way, Colley also played Admiral Piett, an Imperial officer, in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.) 

5. JOHN CLEESE WAS IN FAVOR OF STUNT CASTING FOR THE ROLE OF JESUS.

His suggestion was George Lazenby. Cleese explained: "I thought that on the poster, to have the words '...and George Lazenby as Jesus Christ' would be something that people would treasure for at least the next millennium." He's probably right, though it's also probably just as well that Jesus wasn't played by anyone recognizable. 

6. THE FILM'S SAVIOR WAS A BEATLE.

Two days before the cast and crew were set to leave for Tunisia to begin shooting, the head honcho at EMI Films, Bernard Delfont, got cold feet and canceled the financing, fearing the film was too controversial to make a profit. (According to Gilliam, the problem was that Delfont finally actually read the script.) Everything was put on hold while the Pythons scrambled to find another backer. Their patron turned out to be George Harrison, a big Monty Python fan who had plenty of Beatles money lying around. Harrison set up a production company, HandMade Films, to make it official, and put up $4 million of his own money. "I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie," he later said. Terry Jones would call it "the most expensive movie ticket of all time." As for Delfont, the film ends with a little inside joke aimed at him, as the singer of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" can be heard muttering, "I told him, I said to him, 'Bernie,' I said, 'they'll never make that money back.’"

7. IT REQUIRED A MAKESHIFT CIRCUMCISION.

According to Eric Idle, when it came time to film the scene where a nude Brian goes to the window and inadvertently exposes himself to a crowd of disciples, director Terry Jones pointed out a problem with a Graham Chapman's genitalia: "We can see you're not Jewish." This was a good point. Brian would definitely be circumcised, and Chapman was not. Chapman's solution was to summon not a mohel but a rubber band, which he used to help make himself look the part. Acting!

8. BEFORE IT UPSET ANYONE ELSE, IT UPSET SOME MUSLIMS.

For the aforementioned window scene, the crowd was made up of Tunisian extras, almost all of them Muslim. To see a naked man other than one's husband is a no-no for Muslim women, and as Chapman later recalled, "When I flung open the shutters, half the crowd ran away screaming. That had a profound effect on my psyche." 

9. THE FILMMAKERS WORKED HARD NOT TO DAMAGE ANY OF THE SHOOTING LOCATIONS (BUT DID ANYWAY).

Some of the sets had been built for Jesus of Nazareth, and some were made especially for Life of Brian, but some locations were actual old buildings in and around Monastir, Tunisia. The crew took care to minimize their impact on these settings, but not everything could be helped. For example, Terry Gilliam (serving as production designer) believed the black smudge they applied to the stones where the UFO crashes (around the 44-minute mark) would come right off. When it didn't, he sent people in under cover of night to paint the stones the right color again and hoped nobody would notice.

10. THERE WAS A STRATEGIC REASON IT OPENED IN AMERICA BEFORE ENGLAND.

Monty Python had a big following in the U.S., but it was nothing compared to the group's fan base in the U.K. So why did Life of Brian open in the States first? Because the Pythons knew some people would consider the film sacrilegious, and America, unlike the U.K., had no blasphemy laws. They weren’t just being paranoid either, as an actual blasphemy case had recently been prosecuted in England over an erotic poem about Jesus.

11. THE FIRST PEOPLE TO PROTEST THE FILM WERE ... RABBIS? 

Our lads anticipated blowback from Christians over the film, but they were caught off-guard when the first complaints came from a council of rabbis. Their objection? The stoning scene, where Jews' reverence for the name of God is satirized, and in which John Cleese (playing a Jewish leader) wears a sacred prayer shawl. 

12. SHOOTING THE UFO SCENE WAS A RACE AGAINST TIME (AND TAX LAWS).

At the time of the film’s production, Graham Chapman was living in the United States and, for tax reasons, he wasn't allowed to be back home in England for more than 24 hours at a time. Since most of the movie was shot in Tunisia, this wasn't a problem. But the scene where Brian briefly travels inside an alien spacecraft was shot in London. Chapman flew to England, hurried to the set, spent several hours inside the UFO, then had to hurry off again before his 24 hours were up. 

13. GRAHAM CHAPMAN WAS THE SET DOCTOR.

Chapman was a medical student before he turned to comedy, and in fact was already a successful writer and performer for British TV when he finished his studies and became an actual licensed physician. He wore both hats on the Life of Brian set in Tunisia, filming during the day and holding a clinic for cast, crew, and extras in the evening, treating injuries and prescribing medication.

Additional Sources:
Criterion Collection DVD bonus features and commentary

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10 Fun Facts About Can’t Hardly Wait
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

When the teen film Can’t Hardly Wait—which was named after the Replacements song of the same name—arrived in theaters on June 12, 1998, it grossed $25,605,015 on a $10 million budget. In the 20 years since, the movie has found an even larger audience through DVD and cable. The premise follows Preston Meyers (Empire Records’s Ethan Embry) trying to connect with his dream girl, Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), all the while seeking advice from his best friend, Denise Fleming (a pre-Six Feet Under Lauren Ambrose).

Originally called The Party, most of the movie takes place during a rambunctious graduation party, featuring a before-they-were-famous cast, and Jenna Elfman as a stripper dressed as an angel. The movie culminates with Preston and Amanda sealing their romance and living happily ever after. Written and directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, the two would later team up for Josie and the Pussycats. Here are 10 fun-filled facts about the ’90s teen comedy.

1. THE PLOT WAS BASED ON LOGISTICS.

Can't Hardly Wait was Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan’s directorial debut, so they liked the idea of having a self-contained and low-budget story to direct. “It was all practical,” Elfont told TIME. “The idea of doing a movie set at a party came first, because it seemed like it would be really cheap to shoot a movie in one location. Then we thought, what hasn’t been done? Nobody’s really done a high-school movie in a while. So we kind of fell into it that way. It was kind of an accident.”

2. SEVERAL SCENES IN THE FILM WERE CHANGED TO AVOID AN R RATING.

A year before the raunchy American Pie was released and jumpstarted R-rated teen films, Can’t Hardly Wait got watered down to get a PG-13 rating. Sony had issues with the underage drinking, and the fact there was no parental supervision at the party. “Well, who would have a high school party and have your parents there?!” Hewitt asked the Los Angeles Times. Seth Green, who played the virginal Kenny Fisher in the movie, gave a rundown of deleted or altered scenes, to Vulture.

“When [Jennifer] Love [Hewitt] first walks into the party, there’s a kid behind her holding a balloon and covering his mouth,” he said. “That used to be a beer bong, but the most expensive CG in the movie was [used] to make it [look] like that kid was smiling and holding a balloon. And then, there’s a scene where Charlie [Korsmo] and Peter [Facinelli] are at the piano. They toast, and then they cut to a wide shot where neither of them are drinking and then cut back to a close-up of them putting their glasses down because you can’t show the kids drinking.”

3. ETHAN EMBRY FORCED HIS WAY INTO PLAYING THE LEAD.

“It had been a while that I had the opportunity to play the ‘guy that gets the girl,’” Embry told VH1. “I had done those roles when I was a lot younger and this was the first time that someone would see me as a lead.” After Embry auditioned for the movie, he got offered the William Lichter part, which eventually went to Charlie Korsmo. But Embry turned the supporting part down. “I wanted to play the guy who gets the girl. That was sort of the driving thing.”

4. MELISSA JOAN HART AND JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT GOT “HIGH” ON B12 VITAMINS.

Hart purposefully chose the small role of the manic Yearbook Girl, as she was working full-time on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and couldn’t fit in a bigger part. While filming a night scene with Hewitt, Hart took B12 vitamins to stay energized, and offered them to a skeptical Hewitt, who thought the vitamins were drugs. “I finally convinced her it’s a vitamin, you can do it,” Hart told TV Guide. “So we took B12 vitamins, and then there was an owl in the tree. [Hewitt] was like, ‘See I’m high now, because there’s not really an owl in the tree.’ We were having these silly night giggles and just attributing it to B12 vitamins.”

5. JASON SEGEL HAD A CAMEO.

The actor was a year away from starring on Freaks and Geeks and seven from How I Met Your Mother when he signed on to play Watermelon Guy. Kaplan and Elfont recognized his talent immediately. “We knew how funny Jason was but there wasn’t a bigger part for him, so we were, like, let’s cast him as this watermelon guy,” Elfont told TIME.

Many other actors either got their start in the movie or became more famous as a result, including Lauren Ambrose and Freddy Rodriguez (both from Six Feet Under), Clea DuVall, Selma Blair, and Sean Patrick Thomas. “Everyone in that age range came in to read because there were no other jobs,” Kaplan told TIME. “That whole crop of people who turned out to be so talented and do so well for themselves afterward were in our movie literally, I think, because there was nothing else for them to do.”

6. EMBRY DOESN’T REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT THE SHOOT.

Embry admitted to VH1 to being “the world’s biggest stoner” while making the film. “Nothing sticks out because I was so stoned the entire time,” he said. He also confessed, “I haven’t seen the movie all the way through ... I never read the script.”

One thing he did remember, though, was the only scene he filmed with Hewitt, at the end of the movie. Before their characters kissed at the train station, Hewitt—knowing he smoked—had a basket of breath mints sent to Embry’s trailer. “And there was a basket of breath mints, you know? Like real pretty,” he said. “Like almost you give somebody flowers or a fruit basket but she gave me 50 breath mints. And it’s all different types. It was all very sweet. And that always makes me laugh thinking of that. Aww, Jennifer wanted me to smell good.” Embry took advantage of the gift and popped some breath mints into his mouth before filming. “They were rather nice cottonmouth alleviators,” he said during a Reddit AMA.

7. EMBRY DOESN’T KNOW—OR CARE—WHAT HIS CHARACTER'S LETTER SAID.

Early on at the party, Amanda finds and reads Preston’s letter and spends the rest of the film trying to find him. It must’ve been a powerful letter, because it finally brings them together at the end. “It was a prop! It was an envelope,” he told VH1. “I think I remember the directors asking me if I knew what was in there. It was a prop. It doesn’t matter. Like I know what’s in there? It’s called acting.”

8. THE CAST WOULD LOVE TO DO A SEQUEL.

In 2015, some of the cast reunited at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a screening of the film. Hewitt tweeted: “Can’t Hardly Wait reunion movie anyone? Let’s get them to make it!” In a 2013 interview with VH1, Embry was tepid about a sequel. “Maybe if they paid me more than last time,” he said about a second one. “[He and Amanda] would have to not be together anymore. Amanda and him had a horrible breakup and there were kids involved. He drinks himself silly over a typewriter. I’d make that sequel.” But in a 2015 interview with The Huffington Post, Embry changed his tune. “Of course I would be thrilled to work with any of the players involved again,” he said. “If all the stars aligned, I would be happy to entertain that possibility.”

Peter Facinelli, who played Amanda’s ex-boyfriend Mike Dexter, told IFC his thoughts on a sequel. “You know how the whole movie takes place at the high school party? We could have the whole movie take place at the reunion. I thought it’d be a fun movie.”

9. PETER FACINELLI THINKS MIKE DEXTER TURNED INTO A LOSER.

If a sequel did occur, Facinelli has an idea about what happened to Mike. “Now he’s basically the loser,” he told IFC. “The nerd was the loser in the first movie. Now he’s like the loser and then he kind of climbs back and gets back on his horse. And the nerdy kid is now the Bill Gates who is kind of like the Mike Dexter, bossing everyone around. I think [Dexter’s] just literally a loser. He’s filled with self-doubt and he would basically rise to self-confidence again and come back on top.”

10. EMBRY THINKS PRESTON AND AMANDA ENDED UP WITH WEIRD JOBS.

VH1 asked Embry where he thinks the characters would be today, and he said: “She’s j*rking off dudes in Vancouver, and he’s making horror movies in upstate New York.”

Elfont took a more serious approach to the question, for TIME. “[The on-screen text at the end of the movie] says they’re still together,” Elfont said. “Who am I to argue?”

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11 Great Moments of Foreshadowing in Arrested Development
Saeed Adyani, Netflix
Saeed Adyani, Netflix

Since first airing on Fox in 2003, Arrested Development has established itself as a paragon of depth in television comedy. Fans of the show have spent years digging out jokes buried in the background, beneath the narration, within the soundtrack, and everywhere in between.

To celebrate the show's return to Netflix for an all-new fifth season, here's a look at several great examples of foreshadowing hidden within the Bluth family's exploits.

1. HOLD ON, SURELY FÜNKE!

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 1, Episode 14: Two episodes before we are first introduced to Maeby’s sickly alter ego, “Surely,” posters wishing her a speedy recovery are visible on the walls of the high school. Surely, despite suffering from “BS,” reoccurs throughout the rest of the show’s original run.

2. BUSTER IS "ALL-RIGHT"

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

This one is well documented around the internet, but the sheer amount that the show foreshadows Buster’s life-changing encounter with a certain yellow-bow-tie-wearing seal is impressive.

Season 1, Episode 20: Buster says, "This party is going to be off the hook!"

Season 2, Episode 1: A news broadcast can be heard in the background mentioning a seal attack. John Beard says, “Meet one surprised bather, coming up.” The camera immediately shows Buster.

Season 2, Episode 3: Buster, upon seeing his lost hand-shaped chair, says, “Wow, I never thought I’d miss a hand so much.”

Season 2, Episode 6: There is a portion bitten out of the banana stand sign as it is pulled out of the bay; the bite pattern is consistent with a seal. Buster wins a toy seal from the claw machine. When he returns home, the narrator mentions that, “Buster had gotten hooked playing”.

Season 2, Episode 11: A seal can be seen in the background during Buster and Lucille’s beach photo shoot. Later, George Sr. says, “What if I never get a chance to reach out and touch that hand of his again?”

As Buster sits on a bench near the beach, his position crops the words on the back of the bench to say, “ARM OFF.”

Season 2, Episode 12: When George Sr. visits the car dealership, an inflatable man in the background is missing the arm that Buster will soon lose. Also, Gob, while releasing the infamous seal into the wild, says, “You’re not going to be hand-fed anymore!"

Buster deals with the loss of his hand for the rest of the show, even after being given a much larger one. It must be difficult becoming a monster.

3. THE IRAQ CONNECTION

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Even in its first season, Arrested Development chose to reward devout fans with callbacks and hints at overarching plot lines. Some prime examples are the subtle nods to the true nature of George Sr.’s trips overseas: illegally building homes in Iraq.

Season 1, Episode 5: George Sr. admits that he has “committed some light treason.”

Season 1, Episode 14: Michael notices that pictures of one of Saddam Hussein’s mansions look strikingly similar to their model home.

Season 1, Episode 16: George Sr.’s precious “cooler of evidence” is labeled “H. MADDAZ,” which is “SADDAM H.” spelled in mirror-reverse.

Season 1, Episode 22: Kitty mentions that the family has been building houses overseas and hiding it from the U.S. government. Michael, thinking she’s merely referring to tax evasion, dismisses the statement. Later in the episode, the truth comes to light after Michael sees a news report laying it all out for him.

The family building homes and frequently doing business in Iraq carries as a reoccurring theme for the rest of the show’s original three seasons.

4. CALLING DR. BLUMEN

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 2, Episode 1: You'll have to be paying close attention to notice this one: In the season two opener, Michael—on his way to Phoenix—makes a call to the family pretending to be a “Dr. Blumen.” Later in the episode, the above scenario happens for the first time.

5. GOB HAS MADE A HUGE TINY MISTAKE

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 3, Episode 1: Gob receives a letter from an organization attempting to reunite him with his son. After some confusion (including the narrator disagreeing with Gob’s statement that he doesn’t have a son), Gob finally realizes that he is the father of none other than Maeby’s longtime crush, Steve Holt(!). This comes as a big surprise to Gob, but the show has been hinting at this twist since season one.

In the 19th episode of season one, Gob accidentally mutters that he might be a father, a fact that he references again in the fifth episode of season two. The foreshadowing really kicks up later on in season two during George Michael’s election campaign against Steve; Gob reveals that he got a girl pregnant during high school and notes that Steve looks like a girl he dated. Michael also tells Gob that Steve is “basically a young you.” During the post-episode teaser, an investigator shows Steve a photo of his father (Gob), but the fact is dropped until the season three premiere in which Gob’s “huge tiny mistake” is finally revealed.

6. A THOROUGHLY POLITE DUSTUP

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 3, Episode 4: During season three, Buster puts himself into what doctors call a “light-to-no coma” in order to avoid testifying against his family. Soon, his nurse Julia Adelaide (played by Bronwen Masters) becomes infatuated with him. This romance is foreshadowed by a short scene from A Thoroughly Polite Dustup, a fictional 1941 British war film. Masters and Tony Hale, who sports a hilarious fake chin, mustache, and bandaged left hand (the one Buster lost), play the nurse and soldier in A Thoroughly Polite Dustup.

Eight episodes later, Buster and Nurse Adelaide reenact a portion of the scene (almost word-for-word) just after Buster drops his coma charade.

7. ANNYONG'S REVENGE

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 3, Episode 13: Lucille and George’s adopted Korean son, Annyong, starts off as what appears to be a pretty one-dimensional and purposefully annoying (get it?) character, but expands greatly during the final episode of season three when his revenge plot is finally revealed. This moment was foreshadowed way back in season two when his real name “Hello” is spray-painted on the side of the Bluth's destroyed frozen banana stand during episode six.

His plot is also briefly noted in the fifth episode of season three, when he is shown hiding inside Lucille's home in order to steal Bluth family secrets. The narrator describes him as a “mole,” a fact that is also foreshadowed by the mole on his shirt two episodes earlier.

8. MICHAEL'S "FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX"

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

When Arrested Development returned via Netflix in 2013, its knack for nuanced storytelling became all the more complicated with the new season's unorthodox time frame. Pretty much every major plot point is foreshadowed in some small way—but one event pays off on a joke that’s been running since the very first episode.

Season 4, Episode 1: Season four starts off with Michael finally, albeit briefly, moving to Phoenix, a town that the narrator describes as a place “he'd always imagined would be his destiny.” We should have seen this coming, as Michael threatens to leave the family to live in Phoenix during the first episode of both seasons one and two. Another allusion to Michael’s love for Phoenix is the fact that he attends The University of Phoenix online throughout season four.

9. EVERYONE'S "A HOT MESS"

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 4, Episode 10: During this episode, Lucille and Buster discover a phrase that both find very useful in their arguments, and it becomes a running joke between the two: "A hot mess." They’re a little behind the times, though. Michael uses the phrase to describe Lucille 2 in the first episode of the season and Oscar yells it to Dr. Norman in the second.

10. GEORGE MICHAEL'S FAKEBLOCK

Season 4, Episode 1: The computer program that George Michael develops throughout season four isn’t what it appears to be. Scenes falsely hinting that it is privacy software are spread in the first episode. But when George Michael is introduced earlier in the episode, the sound of a woodblock, foreshadowing what he’s really working on, underscores his name.

11. ENDING UP ON THE "WRONG SIDE" OF A NOODLE

A screen grab from 'Arrested Development'
Netflix

Season 4, Episode 10: An incarcerated Lucille gets attacked by her Asian gang mate, armed with a sharpened noodle. But this wasn’t the first time that the Bluth matriarch had ended up on the “wrong side of a noodle.” George Sr. apologized for a much different kind of noodle stabbing in episode two, foreshadowing both Lucille’s run-in with the Jade Dragon Triad and George Sr.’s evaporating masculinity with a single line of dialogue.

With another season of Arrested Development to binge-watch, there's sure to be more wild foreshadowing to come. (Thanks to Recurring Developments and The Arrested Development Wiki for assistance with episode numbers.)

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2014.

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