THE RUTLES – The closest we ever got to a Beatles reunion in 1978

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“Saturday Night Live’s” creator-producer Lorne Michaels made no bones about taking the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as an inspiration for his show. In 1978, fans of both shows probably wished that the two comedic styles could be combined as fervently as Beatles fans hoped for a Beatles reunion at that time. Combine all three of those concepts, and you get The Rutles.

Of course, The Rutles wasn’t strictly a Monty Python project. Its main progenitor was only one Python member, Eric Idle, who co-wrote, -directed, and starred in the TV-movie. But it certainly had Python’s fingerprints all over it. Michael Palin played a small role in the movie, and Python “guest contributor” Neil Innes performed in the film and wrote all of its songs in ersatz Beatles style. As a Python/”SNL” collaboration (Michaels and cast members of the original “SNL” appear), it satisfied comedy fans and Beatles buffs quite handily.

The Rutles charts the rise and fall of the movie’s titular, Beatles-like rock group, and the movie’s greatest success is in its uncanny creations of high points in the Beatles’ career. Innes, Idle, one-time Beach Boys member Ricky Fataar, and John Halsey serve as adequate stand-ins for John, Paul, George, and Ringo. As fake Beatles, the first two provide the biggest laughs. Idle captures Paul McCartney’s infinite cheeriness wonderfully, and Innes definitively captures John Lennon’s acid wit.

But despite the wealth of Beatles myth to satirize, the movie is actually at its funniest when it pokes fun at the documentary form itself. Idle also plays the story’s on-screen narrator, and one of the movie’s best bits is at the start, as Idle is photographed from a van that keeps moving faster and faster away from him, so that Idle has to run to stay on-camera while telling the story. Another great bit is when Idle interviews an elderly African-American blues singer who claims that The Rutles stole their style and music from him, only to have the man’s wife berate him and tell Idle that her husband tries to make the same claim to every documentarian who visits him..

The movie’s highlight is definitely Innes’ uncanny recreation of the Beatles sound in the movie’s ersatz Rutles songs (e.g., “Ouch!” being his version of The Beatles’ “Help!”, “Get Up and Go” in place of “Get Back,” and so on). Many of Innes’ songs, while certainly not as legendary as The Beatles’, are equally as toe-tapping. (The movie’s soundtrack album received a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Recording.)

As it did 40 years ago, the question remains whether the movie’s comedy plays well, if at all, to anyone unfamiliar with the Beatles mythology. (To that end, the 1984 spoof This Is Spinal Tap deals with a completely fictional group and is far more effective in satirizing musical styles in general.) However, the real Beatles enjoyed it (none more so than George Harrison, who even does a cameo in the movie). So if you’re in the mood for Beatles-approved Beatles satire, The Rutles is surely your ticket to ride.

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MONTY PYTHON SPEAKS (2000) – The Pythons’ story in their own words

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Monty Python member Michael Palin says, “I think there’s a danger in Pythons analyzing their own work. I think we shouldn’t do it.” Unfortunately for him, he and the other Pythons spend 315 pages doing just that in the delightful Monty Python Speaks.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick history. Monty Python is the collective name for a group of five Britons — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin — and a transplanted American, Terry Gilliam. They are responsible for 45 of the funniest half-hours ever broadcast on television (in Britain beginning in 1969, America in 1974) and some equally inventive movies. Chapman died of cancer on the very eve of the group’s twentieth anniversary — “Worst case of party-pooping I’ve ever seen,” said Terry Jones.
For Python fanatics (I count myself among them), the new book is akin to the Holy Grail that the group sought in their infamous 1975 movie. The surviving group members and many of their associates are interviewed by David Morgan, and as befits their comedic style, the Pythons are quite open and frank about the group’s highs and lows. Among the many illuminated topics and tidbits are:

* Graham Chapman’s alcoholism, about which he was quite open himself. (While filming one of their movies, Michael Palin came across a half-empty bottle of gin belonging to Chapman. Palin had seen the bottle completely full earlier in the day.)

* Their first American TV appearance. It was on a 1972 “Tonight Show,” where guest host Joey Bishop introduced them with the immortal line, “This is a comedy group from England. I hear they’re supposed to be funny.”

* Python didn’t have a chance in America until a PBS station manager in Texas–“Dallas, of all places,” says Cleese — took a chance on them. Friends of the station manager were afraid his station would get burned down.

* Their then-manager absconded with the funds from their 1980 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. They made no money from the gig until they released their 1982 movie of the concert.

* When ABC-TV brutally edited three of their TV episodes for a 1975 special, the Pythons sued the network, on the grounds that they’d rather make less money than have someone else censoring their work.

The ABC incident points up two concrete truths about Python:

(1) Like them or not, their particular world view is uncompromised, and their fans appreciate their honesty.

(2) Said view shouldn’t be left in the hands of people who just plain don’t understand them. The people who would “sanitize” it are the same kind of people that Python’s comedy satirizes.

But maybe I romanticize Python only because I grew up with it. I completely don’t get the followings for later work such as “South Park,” but I can still recite reams of Python dialogue. For others with similar bents, the book is must reading.

MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (1983) – Food for thought

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The following is my entry in the Food in Film Blogathon, being co-hosted by the blogs Speakeasy and Silver Screenings from Nov. 3-5, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on edibles as presented in movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Despite its lofty title, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life never gets around to an exact definition of life’s purpose. However, based on the evidence presented here by the famed British comedy troupe, much of life’s meaning can be extracted from food, which certainly makes numerous appearances in the movie.

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After “The Crimson Permanent Assurance” (Terry Gilliam’s elaborate short-subject opening), the movie-proper begins with a sextet of fish (the Pythons, of course) exchanging morning pleasantries while ensconced in a restaurant-based aquarium. One of the fish looks out and shrilly notes that Howard, one of their former fishmates, is now being served to a customer. On that note, the fish get all philosophical: “Makes you think, dunnit?” – “Yeah, I mean what’s it all about?” On cue, the movie’s opening titles and theme promise that they’ll provide us with an answer. Don’t hold your gills.

A later sketch, “Fighting Each Other,” centers on a World War I officer named Biggs (Terry Jones) quietly but firmly ordering his troops to find cover during an attack. Sentimental group that they are, soldier Blackitt (Eric Idle), on behalf of the troops, gives Biggs a goodbye speech, a card, and parting gifts of a grandfather clock, a Swiss watch, and a monetary check.

When Biggs finally tells the troops that enough is enough and they need to run for cover, they all get quiet and turn to Blackitt. “You shouldn’t have said that, sir,” says soldier Spadger (Michael Palin) to Biggs. “You’ve hurt his feelings now.” The rest of the men grumble, and one of them declares, “Let’s not give him the cake!”

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Biggs says he doesn’t need a cake, but Spadger elaborates on how much effort Blackitt put into the cake — “I mean, you try to get butter to melt at fifteen below zero!” With that, Biggs agrees that he should honor Blackitt’s work, cheerily offering slices to his ever-diminishing (due to assassination) troops.

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Fish make their next appearance in the film’s mid-section, appropriately titled “The Middle of the Film.” A stately matron (Michael Palin!) invites the movie’s audience to join in the next segment, “Find the Fish.” A couple of indescribably strange characters (Graham Chapman and Terry Jones) recite a poem about a loyal fish — “…and it went wherever I did go!” — as Dr. Seuss-like creatures — the fish presumably among them — cross the screen, and audience members shout their guesses as to where the fish is hiding.

The fishy sextet from the film’s intro return to applaud this loopy sketch, then go quiet as one of them declares, “They still haven’t said much about the meaning of life, have they?” I thought fish were smarter than this.

The film’s penultimate segment, “Death,” shows the black-hooded title character (John Cleese) interrupting a dinner at an isolated country house where friends have gathered. It takes them a while, but the friends slowly realize that Death has come to claim them for good. Finally, a member of the group named Debbie (Michael Palin again!)  smugly asks, “How can we all have died at the same time?” Death points his, er, finger of death at the meal’s offending main dish:

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“The salmon mousse!”

The hostess (Eric Idle) then offers her apologies at having prepared the dish with cheap canned salmon. As the group are being escorted by Death to their final fate, Debbie comes to a too-late realization: “Hey, I didn’t even eat the mousse!”

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But undoubtedly, the movie’s most memorable and controversial ode to edibles is “The Autumn Years,” wherein a beyond-morbidly-obese man, Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones), enters a restaurant for a gazillion-course meal, offered by Mr. C.’s regular waiter, an obsequious maitre d’ (John Cleese). Mr. C. gulps down countless courses of food, punctuated every so often by his vomiting as a matter of habit, which does little for the appetites of the surrounding customers.

At meal’s end, the maitre d’ dares to offer Mr. Creosote “a wafer-thin mint.” At first, Mr. C. declares he’s full, but eventually he is talked into consuming the mint — lovingly served by the maitre d’, who then vaults behind a restaurant display, knowing the apocalypse to come.

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Beyond his control, Mr. Creosote’s already huge stomach expands, and then it explodes all over the restaurant’s guests, causing them to lose their meals as well. As pandemonium ensues, the maitre d’ returns to nonchalantly hand Mr. Creosote his check for the evening.

As with most of the Monty Python oeuvre, The Meaning of Life gives you a lot to sink your teeth into — and some of it is sure to haunt you later, in one form or another.

 

Don’t run away — THE MONTY PYTHON MOVIE BLOGATHON is here!

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To honor the 47th (!) anniversary of the world premiere of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” this blog is spending the next few days letting bloggers chime in on their favorite movies (group and solo) from members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Join us as we celebrate this groundbreaking comedy team!

If you are one of the blogathon entrants, please post the URL to your blog entry in the “Comments” section below, and I will link to it as soon as possible. Please have your entry posted by the end of the day on Monday, Oct. 3 (and if I may, the sooner the better!).

If you are just stopping by for some great reading, please give this blog bookmarked, as entries will continue coming in for the next three days. Enjoy the silliness!

Here are the blogathon’s entrants:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – The movie version of Graham Chapman’s A Liar’s Autobiography

BNoirDetour – Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

Cinematic Frontier – Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

lifesdailylessonsblog – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Serendipitous Anachronisms – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The James Bond Social Media Project – John Cleese in the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day

Moon in Gemini – John Cleese and Michael Palin in Fierce Creatures

The Midnite Drive-In – Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

Radiator Heaven – Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Reelweegiemidget Reviews – Eric Idle in National Lampoon’s European Vacation

 

And now for something completely different — announcing THE MONTY PYTHON MOVIE BLOGATHON!

 

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(DISCLAIMER: This blogathon is not in any way connected with or endorsed by Python [Monty] Pictures Ltd. or any member of Monty Python.)

On Oct. 5, 1969, the British comedy collective soon to be known as Monty Python first made its presence felt when “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” made its world premiere on the BBC. As the show was the final broadcast for BBC’s Sunday-evening programming, Python member Michael Palin said that their original audience consisted of “burglars and insomniacs.” From those humble beginnings sprang forth a laugh factory that influenced generations of British and American comedy makers.

To honor this hallowed anniversary, I announce The Monty Python Movie Blogathon. I know it’s ironic that I’m creating a film blogathon for a comedy troupe that began in TV — but let’s face it, if we allowed the Pythons’ TV entries into this ‘thon, it would be running for months! So here are the rules.

No duplicate entries about the same movie. You are about to be provided with a menu of choices generous enough that no blogs should have to overlap.

Do’s – You may blog about:

  • obviously, any of the Pythons’ team films, from And Now for Something Completely Different through The Meaning of Life. (Although not all of the Pythons participated in the three Secret Policemen’s Ball concert films, these can be included as well. If you wish, you may also review the DVD of Monty Python Live [mostly], the 2014 reunion concert of the surviving Python members.)
  • any movie — comedy or drama — in which a Python member played a starring or supporting role.
  • any movie in which a Python member participated in the writing and/or directing. (This obviously includes the vast filmography of Terry Gilliam.)
  • any filmed biography of the Pythons.

Don’ts – Please, no reviews of any of their TV work, as a group or separately, or as I mentioned, we’d be here for days. That said, I will make two exceptions to this rule: (1) any aforementioned Python biographies that happened to appear on TV; and (2) The Rutles (1978), Eric Idle’s irresistible mock-biography of The Beatles.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Sat., Oct. 1, through Mon., Oct. 3. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Oct. 3, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry!

Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – The movie version of Graham Chapman’s A Liar’s Autobiography

BNoirDetour – Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

Cinematic Frontier – Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

lifesdailylessonsblog – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Serendipitous Anachronisms – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The James Bond Social Media Project – John Cleese in the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day

Moon in Gemini – John Cleese and Michael Palin in Fierce Creatures

The Midnite Drive-In – Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

Radiator Heaven – Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Reelweegiemidget Reviews – Eric Idle in National Lampoon’s European Vacation

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