I was just watching a video of this year’s Television Hall of Fame inductees. Remember when we watched “SNL” and “Monty Python” because we thought the performers were so rebellious? Now they all look and act like elder statesmen.
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.
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!
(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.
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!”
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.
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:
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!”
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.
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.
This is too weird! For decades, I’ve listened to a Monty Python sketch titled “Happy Valley,” but I thought they had recorded it only for one of their albums. I happened to be surfing YouTube just now and found a filmed version of it! Enjoy!
This blogathon is getting too silly for words…so it’s time to salute our remaining bloggers in
lifesdailylessonsblog finds too many life lessons to count in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
Reelweegiemidget Reviews finds fun in Eric Idle’s supported, er, supporting role in National Lampoon’s European Vacation.
And last but not least, The James Bond Social Media Project takes a look at John Cleese as Bond’s sardonic gadget man “R” in The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.
And that’s the end! Thanks to our creative blog entrants for their fun contributions, and thanks for reading us for the past three days. Stay tuned later this evening for yet another blogathon announcement!
Unlike the Spanish Inquisition, everybody expects a blogathon recap — so let’s pounce right into
(Click here for Day 1’s entries if you missed them. To read Day 2’s entries, just click on the individual blog names highlighted below.)
Serendipitous Anachronisms starts things off with a bang (or at least the clacking of coconuts) with her critique of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Moon in Gemini reviews John Cleese and Michael Palin’s underrated A Fish Called Wanda follow-up, Fierce Creatures.
And finally, The Cinematic Frontier offers its thoughts on Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.
And we still have one day of not-so-silly blogging left to go. Keep us bookmarked for Day 3! Because after all, you’ve got a nice blog, and we’d hate to see anything happen to it…