November 21, 2009

The Complete & Utter History of Monty Python

For most of you, you may be tempted to avoid purchasing the DVD - in fact, you may wish to acquire the hour-long version of this documentary via dubiously legal means.

Trust me, the hour-long version is a little truncated, and the six hour version of Monty Python: Almost The Truth - The Lawyer's Cut is nothing more than a revelation. Covering pretty much the entirety of Python history (including the 70s record albums, all three movies, and current Python activities like Spamalot and...well, more will be revealed), this six hour documentary (seven if you count the third disc of outtakes, sketches, and other information) glides by effortlessly.

There are some pieces of the documentary that seem quite annoying - the lawyer-based introduction, the repeated pastiches of the Life of Brian theme, but getting past those, the documentary is surprisingly extremely informative. In fact, one of the qualities that others have cited as unnecessary - contemporary comedians discussing the impact of Python - I found absolutely necessary. (Catch Steve Coogan in the bonus features reenacting a Python sketch). That, plus the first episode's focus on the "precursors" of Python (such as The Goon Show helps really build a thorough portrait of the factors that brought Pythons together. (The seemingly vidFIREd clips from two early Python-manned programs are also a great revelation).

And in watching the former Python troupe (and Graham Chapman in footage from previous television issues), there seems to be a begrudging acceptance of each other, if not personal warmth. (Scenes with Michael Palin and Terry Jones are priceless - Idle seems to have some personal acrimony towards Palin, and even Cleese admits that they weren't "friends", but professional collaborators). There is even greater acrimony towards Graham Chapman two decades after his passing, citing his alcoholism, his "coming out" (with an interesting he said/he said between David Sherlock, Chapman's former partner, and Cleese, Chapman's former co-writer). It is a little awkward to watch, admittedly, but there seems to be an acceptance amongst the Pythons that life goes on.

But the end of the documentary speaks volumes - shots of Cleese recording dialogue for Shrek 4 and Idle singing a profanity-laden Christmas song are slightly disheartening. Having met Terry Jones earlier this year (and Cleese years earlier - remind me to blog about that), I found him to have a healthy attitude about his work with Python. (It also helped that I have been Netflixing his documentaries, and found them really entertaining and informative). Monty Python have often been compared to the Beatles, and I think it may be safe to say that if this documentary proves much as people loved Python, it was probably hard to be in Monty Python.

But put this on your Christmas list - easily, Monty Python: Almost the Truth is one of the better documentaries released this year.

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