Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl has a curious and checkered history. It was originally a videotaped recording of the British comedy group performing some of their most famous sketches during a 1980 stint at the Hollywood Bowl. Unfortunately, Denis O’Brien–the man who arranged the concert and who, with George Harrison, formed the Python movie company HandMade Pictures–made off with the Pythons’ concert profits. So they actually made no money from the concert until it was released in movie form.
That said, we can only wish that all such dirty deals resulted in something as good as this movie. Granted, the video-to-film transfer makes the movie look a bit grainy. And despite the wealth of comedy material herein, Python buffs continue to complain, “No ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch!!”
But there’s some great stuff here that is either rare or just plain unavailable elsewhere. The movie opens with four of the Pythons singing their infamous song “Sit On My Face” (from their Contractual Obligation Album, released at the time of the concert), complete with rear nudity. Any movie that starts off with such a bang can’t be all bad.
There are plenty of other “new” sketches throughout, among them The Pope’s (a mustachioed John Cleese!) raving to Michaelangelo (Eric Idle) about his Picasso-like “Last Supper” painting that features three Christs. (“It works, mate!” declares the assertive artist), and a pseudo-academic deconstruction of slapstick humor (highlight: Terry Gilliam grinning dumbly as he inflicts pain upon his fellow demonstrators).
Neil Innes, frequent Python song contributor, is also well-represented here, his John Lennon-like vocals adding much-needed gravity to his tunes “I’m the Urban Spaceman” and “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.”
Live at the Hollywood Bowl falls about halfway between the benign sketch humor of Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different and the pungent satire of The Meaning of Life. It’s not a bad place to be.