I probably don't have to spend a lot of time telling you
that Monty Python's Flying Circus was
an incredibly influential and ground breaking comedy show.
If you need convincing, think back at how
many comedy acts you can name from 40 years ago or more.
The list will consist of the greats: Lucile
Ball, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and
Monty Python. (Other shows
from 30 or 40 years ago aren't
funny at all today. Have you seen The Flip Wilson Show, or Laugh-in
recently?) To celebrate the 40th
of their first show, a six-part documentary was made with the full
of the 5 surviving Pythons: Monty
Python: Almost the Truth - The Lawyer's Cut. The series that just aired last week (as I
write this) has been released on Blu-ray (or soon will be.) It's a great look back at the group and their
output and well worth watching for the Python fan.
Monty Python consisted of six people: Graham
Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam,
Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
Most of them had worked together on a British TV show, The Frost Report and a few years later
decided to join together to pitch a show to the BBC.
As John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and
Michael Palin describe the scene, they met with the head of Light
Michael Mills, it was the worst pitch ever.
"He said 'Well what do you want to do?' We said, 'We want to do
show.' He said 'What's the show going to
be about?' We said 'We don't know, really.'
He said, 'Well, now, what about film, are you going to use a lot
film?' Ws said, 'Oh umm, film. Are we
going to use film? Yeah, we'll probably
use some film.' Then he said, 'Well, is
it going to have any music in it?' 'Ummm... no, no, no.'
'Is it going to have any guest stars?' 'We
haven't thought about that.' He said
'Well, what's it going to be
called?' 'We haven't got a title.' It was the worst interview that any group or
any one has ever done. Then they all go
looking at each other and saying, 'Well.... I'll give you 13 shows, but
all!' The rest, as they say, is history.
This six-part documentary covers the whole history of Monty
Python, starting with the childhood of the members, through their
when they first started acting and writing, the formation of Python,
records, films, public appearances and their legacies.
All of the surviving members of the troupe
(Graham Chapman died in 1989, but he's represented by his partner and
his friends) are filmed and open up about their experiences and that
cut with clips from their shows and films, and other comedians (Steve
Eddie Izzard, and Russell Brand among others) commenting on the
Python had how the group affected comedy world wide.
Some of the more interesting moments include their
discussion of the controversy that the movie The Life of
Brian caused in both England
and the US. There are some wonderful clips of John and
Michael Palin debating the merits of the movie with a Bishop and some
conservative. I would have really liked
to see the whole show, but the segments that are provided show the two
having the upper hand, and being quite amusing at the same time.
They also talk a fair amount about their last film, The
Meaning of Life. I was cheered to hear
the group more or less
admit that it was a failure, and it was interesting to hear about the
genesis. Basically after Brian
did so well at the box office, a
promoter said that if they would do one more movie they could make so
money that they'd never have to work again.
This was appealing, obviously, and they would get together and
a bit, break apart, come back and write some more, but they were never
latch on to a single idea and run with it.
As Cleese says, doing a skit movie at that part of their careers
The show has to walk a fine line. The
Pythons spend a lot of time talking about
various skits and moments from their films, and those have to be shown. Everyone who would be interested in this
has already seen them over and over though, so they can't show them too
or have the clips be too long or the flow would be lost.
While there were a couple of parts where I
thought that the program was a bit clip-heavy, they generally did a
of balancing clips and interviews.
The only real part of the Python story that I thought was
glossed over a bit were their records.
In the days before VCRs I tracked down every python record I
(including the three sided record... on side was a regular recording but
other had two grooves instead of one so every time you started the
weren't sure of which track you were going to hear.
Wonderfully brilliant!) The show
does touch on their recordings and
how they helped them in America,
but I would have enjoyed a bit more depth.
Aside from that, it is a very complete look at one of history's
These six hour-long episodes come on two Blu-ray discs.
The first has four episodes and the second disc
finishes off the series and includes the bonuses.
The 1080i MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc looks pretty good, though
there aren't a lot of impressive visuals to begin with.
Most of the series consists of the 5
remaining Pythons being interviewed in front of black backgrounds (it
like they this background was added in post production) and the level
is fine. The classic clips from their
shows aren't as impressive, naturally, as most of this was recorded on
SD. The segments taken from Life
of Brian have a bit of odd
coloring, the skin tones look a bit on the red side, but this was minor. It's nothing to crow about, but the transfer
gets the job done.
The series is presented with a LPCM stereo track and a DD
5.1 surround track also. I checked both
tracks and they were both fine though nothing really outstanding. This is a documentary and there just isn't
much you can do with a talking head to make it aurally exciting. The dialog was clean and clear and easy to
understand, even with the accents some of the guests spoke with. There was a few surround effects used in some
of the clips, but these were minor.
Overall, this is one of those audio tracks where there's not
There are a lot of fun bonus items included on the second
disc. Just in case viewers don't have
all of Python already on DVD, there's a selection of their best
480i/p). These include Dead Parrot, The
Spanish Inquisition, The Fish Slapping Dance, Ministry of Silly Walks,
Song, The Cheese Shop, and SPAM. These
run nearly 30 minutes and are arguably the funniest half an hour to
on TV. There are also extended
interviews with all five surviving Pythons, which run a bit over an
hour all together.
There are also eleven scenes that were cut from the final
production and run about 50 minutes all told.
It's like getting an extra episode for free.
These bits cover the origin of the cheese
shop sketch, more of the guys giving their opinions of the other
visit to the SPAM museum including an exhibit on the Python sketch, and
non-python sketch by Michael Palin and Terry Jones.
The bonus section wraps up with an image
gallery of Terry Gilliam's work.
I started watching Python on PBS back in the mid 70's.
I've seen every one of their movies in the
theater (along with many of their solo projects. Who
else went to see The Missionary?), bought
their records and even the books. While
much of this information has been available in other places, it was
to hear the story of Monty Python in their own words straight from
mouths. The members relate a lot of
humorous anecdotes and while it's not a comedy, this documentary is
enjoyable, especially for hard core Python fans. Recommended.
images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not
represent the image quality on the disc.