Monty Python: Almost the Truth
Details: (M), 107 mins, In Cinemas 15 October 2009, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: Bringing the existing Monty Python team back together again for the first time since the 1983 film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, this definitive record of the Python phenomenon will feature brand new exclusive interviews and previously unseen footage of the existing Python team: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin together with archive material of the late Graham Chapman.
Nudge, nudge...wink,wink...give me more!
The theatrical version of Monty Python: Almost The Truth...The Lawyers Cut has been edited down to 107 minutes from the whopping 498-minute version, which ran on U.S. television’s Independent Film Channel (I.F.C.) only a few weeks ago. And it plays exactly as one would expect of such a truncated vision; though perfectly enjoyable in its own right and a giggly walk down memory lane for Python afficionados, it isn’t the full story.
The surviving (and aging) Python team members recollect against pitch black backdrops; it’s not the most cinematic of devices and it’s one of the elements that betrays the small-screen origins of Almost The Truth…. The grainy video of their early days as the comedy writers on David Frost’s satirical news show ‘That Was The Week That Was’ and the bleached colour of the early ‘Flying Circus’ footage also date the team, unflatteringly.
But if the decision to dress up a series ‘highlights package’ as a theatrical feature is questionable, there is no denying that the immortal hilarity of the troupe’s creative output and the sheer likability of the men themselves makes for a compelling and delightful insider look at one of the most influential comedy teams of all time.
Directed by the production unit of Alan G. Parker, Bill Jones and Benjamin Timlett (the makers of the acclaimed documentary on the death of Nancy Spungen, Who Killed Nancy?), Almost The Truth… begins with all of the members recounting their earliest memories – of their relationships with their fathers, for instance – to the formative schooling years when the performer’s personalities began to emerge in creative, instantly noticeable ways. John Cleese, for example, was immediately recognised as a supremely intelligent, hilarious and utterly egocentric individual who clashed with Graham Chapman, an equally aloof young man endowed with a tremendous sense of self-importance; Michael Palin was a natural onstage who drew Terry Jones and Eric Idle into the world of theatrical skits; Terry Gilliam, the only American in the group, was a contributor to the irreverent ‘Help’ magazine and travelled from the USA’s Midwest to meet with the men – most of whom cold-shouldered the brash yank and/or mocked his dress sense.
The documentary explores the complexities of the group dynamic, though there is only fleeting mentions of the landmark moments in the Python’s career, such as: the BBC’s greenlighting of Monty Python’s Flying Circus; the missed opportunity of their first attempt to conquer the American market; the fortuitous financing that befell their 1976 hit movie ...The Holy Grail.
There are moving sequences devoted to the late Graham Chapman, a man who struggled with his homosexuality and battled severe alcoholism for most of his adult life. Represented onscreen by his long-term partner, David Sherlock, and seen in extended interview pieces that he granted both on set and to Michael Parkinson, amongst others, Chapman’s presence inspires melancholy and a deep sadness amongst the Python team. A philosophical Cleese – who was the closest to Chapman – delivers an hilarious eulogy at his friend’s funeral in the film’s best moments.
Of course, there is the classic comedy – the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch, the ‘Black Knight’ scene from ...Holy Grail, the toe-tapping ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Life Of Brian. For a fan unable to stifle a giggle at the high-pitched cry of ‘Ni!’, it was an absolute joy to see the young comedians in their prime changing the face of British comedy before our eyes. And to see the onscreen endorsement of the Python legacy from such greats as Steve Coogan, Dan Aykroyd, Russell Brand and Eddie Izzard (and apparently, in future instalments, Simon Pegg, Jimmy Fallon, Hugh Hefner and Tim Roth) adds considerably to the group’s legendary status.
Though it amounts to little more than a dipping of one’s toe into the 500-odd minute Python pool that we can expect on DVD come late October, ...The Lawyer’s Cut is a warm wave of comedy nostalgia disguised as a monument to timing and talent, the likes of which we may never see again.
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