What to watch when you’ve already watched everything Part Eight! Binge worthy, not cringe worthy recommendations from Isolation Studios in the eerily quiet downtown Toronto. Three movies to stream, rent or buy from the comfort of home isolation. Today, a strange biography, lovestruck bank robbers and a cabin in the woods. #ALiarsBiographyTheUntrueStoryofMontyPythonsGrahamChapman #TheTown #ACabinInTheWoods
Monty Python has been called the most influential comedy troupe of all time. Their absurdist brand of humour spawned a new word, “pythonesque,” (look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary) and is in the DNA of everything from Saturday Night Live to South Park, from Kids in the Hall to 30 Rock.
Mike Myers says, “If comedy had a periodic element table, Python would have more than one atom on it,” and their impact is often compared to The Beatles’ effect on music.
Everyone remarks on the importance of Monty Python. Everyone, that is, except the members of the troupe itself. “I don’t see it as a legacy really,” says founding funnyman Terry Jones. “I can’t see it. I think people talk about it. I have no idea what impact we had on comedy.”
Even though Jones says surviving Pythons have “a limited amount of interest” in new Python projects — “Terry Gilliam is off shooting something in Romania and John Cleese is off in Monaco avoiding paying English tax and getting married again. Never learns,” he says — Cleese, Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin reunited to commemorate Graham Chapman.
Chapman, who co-authored the classic Parrot Sketch and played lead roles in two of Python’s hit films, Holy Grail and Life of Brian, died in 1989 on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In typical Python form Jones called his passing “the worst case of party-pooping in all history.”
The animated film, A Liar’s Autobiography — The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, is a fanciful account of the comedian’s life. Featuring vocal input from his former partners, it also contains a suitably surreal selling point — a return from the grave performance by Chapman, courtesy of recently uncovered audio recordings.
“I kind of felt it was very easy and natural to hear Graham’s voice again,” says Jones of the interacting on tape with his old friend. “It felt like he just walked out of the door.”
Despite their long association, however, Jones says Chapman was “a bit of a mystery to anyone who knew and worked with him. I don’t think we ever felt like we knew him.” He adds that Chapman would “be very pleased with (the film). I think it captures his essence. It captures his oddness, his looniness and a little bit of the mystery.”
These days the only movies that get screened at midnight are big Hollywood blockbusters hoping to squeeze a few extra bucks out of fanboys and girls with added showings in the middle of the night. There was a time, however when midnight movies were Midnight Movies, with capital m’s. Years ago the term referred to mind-bending fare like “El Topo” and “Eraserhead,” counterculture movies that brought together like minded—read stoned—people for singular movie experiences.
“A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman” is a Midnight Movie, a film that would benefit from the altered states that characterized the classic midnight viewing experience.
Graham Chapman was many things. A gay Cambridge graduate, physician, writer and actor, but it is as a founding member of Monty Python that he is remembered. “A Liar’s Autobiography,” directed by Python Terry Jones’s son Bill and based on Chapman’s book of the same name is an animated, impressionistic, surreal portrait of the comedian, that doesn’t focus on the funny.
Chapman was a complicated man. An alcoholic who drank four pints of gin a day to dull the pain of his insecurities, he rebelled against the “airlock” of fame, while hanging out in Los Angeles clubs with Keith Moon and Marty Feldman.
The film begins with a brain freeze on stage then cuts to his birth in Second World War England. At three years of age he witnessed a wartime incident when his street was littered with body parts. “Oh come on mum, this must be one of my major formative experiences!” he says, although we never really find out whether it was or not. Instead we are treated to a series of impressionist biographical tidbits that only loosely hang together.
The formation of Monty Python is set in a Monkey Zoo, fame is portrayed as being in outer space and his journey to discover his sexuality is shown as a rollercoaster. It’ll keep your eyes dancing, but isn’t very satisfying as a narrative.
Aping the anarchistic spirit of “Monty Python,” the style of animation switches every few minutes, which keeps things lively, but also adds a disjointed feeling to the story. The cumulative effect of the imaginative visuals is meant to create a fitting portrait of Chapman’s raucous life, but only succeeds in splitting the viewer’s attention one too many ways.
Focusing on Chapman’s often troubled personal life rather than his on stage and screen work with Python means that “A Liar’s Autobiography” isn’t simply a greatest hits packages of his best known work, which is interesting, but it doesn’t quote work as a bio either.
We are given some insight—the narration and many of the voices are supplied by Chapman, taken from recordings made before his 1989 death—about coming out—he invited all his friends over to announce he was “a bit bent”—his alcoholism, sexual appetite and problems with fame, but a movie about Chapman should be funny, right?
But it’s not. It works best when gentle humour mixes with and insight—a sequence about “Niven-ism,” the Hollywood disease characterized by name-dropping, is letter perfect.