A&E // 1999 // 168 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // December 11th, 2000
They're not all dead yet.
Life of Python tells the story of how the disparate members of the Monty Python troupe came together to form the legendary team, the ups and downs of making Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the various movies, and finally the continuing careers of the members when the show ended. Combine that one of the "lost" German episodes on Disc Two, and A&E has put together a good set to round out the collection of any fan.
Disc One includes "It's...The Monty Python Story," an A&E Biography of the collective Monty Python troupe. In illuminating the history of the troupe's creation, its successes and failures in the TV show and beyond, extensive interview clips with the surviving members are woven into the narrative. One of the best moments comes thanks to John Cleese in a bit of film from Graham Chapman's memorial service.
Additional content includes some new sketch material created and performed by the surviving members, "Pythonland," where Michael Palin spoofs his travelogue career with a look at a number of the actual locations in London where sketches were filmed, a 1971 Python special created for the annual May Day celebrations (with such cultural contributions as Nun Boiling and the Dance of the City Stockbrokers), and a too-short partly-animated tribute from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Memo to Trey and Matt: Next time, more of Kenny, Cartman, and Stan, and less of you.
Finally, Meatloaf hosts "From Spam to Sperm: Monty Python's Greatest Hits," which looks at the numerous songs and musical numbers in the Python TV show and movies, with particular emphasis on the huge production number for "Every Sperm is Sacred" in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.
Disc Two is "The Lost German Episode," in reality the second episode made for German TV. While the first was done in German, this is entirely in English. You will see target practice with William Tell, chicken panning, the Philosophers International Football Match, and Colin Bomber-Harris' self-wresting match.
I suppose it is possible that some lost souls out there have never heard of Monty Python in all of its incarnations, from its television show (Monty Python's Flying Circus), to its movies (including Monty Python And The Holy Grail, among others), and a blizzard of comedy albums, books, and all manner of Python paraphernalia. From Python proper, its alumnus have branched out into further creative endeavors, such as movies (A Fish Called Wanda) or very independent-minded directorial efforts of Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys).
If you are unfamiliar with the works of Python, or are only vaguely familiar with them, then I would strongly recommend you run right out and remedy your terrible omission! When you have a working knowledge of Python, then you are ready to fully appreciate the in-jokes of Life of Python and generally share in the pleasant reminisces of the troupe. Clearly, even thirty some years after the fact, the surviving members have great affection for their shared experiences and for each other, but with just enough distance from the subject to be honest and fair. Furthermore, gluing the contents of Disc One together are short bits of original comedy from the Python cohorts, which are evidence that their comic ability still survives.
The mood is only lightly serious, even when the subject of the untimely death of Graham Chapman is discussed. A short clip from Graham's memorial service (featuring John Cleese) is a priceless gem, and quite touching. The Biography portion of the disc is crisply edited together, skipping unerringly between clips of material (TV or movie), interviews with the Python members, pictures of appropriate memorabilia, and a most inventive calligraphy timeline.
The next segment, Pythonland, is both a wonderfully dry poking-of-fun at Michael Palin's travel shows and an odd look at the locations where many of the most famous TV sketches were filmed. Some have changed, some have not, but revisiting otherwise unremarkable properties and seeing the tolerant bemusement of their present occupants is a sublimely funny experience. Next, the "lost" Mayday special is a bit of a funny throwaway due to its brevity, but the South Park tribute is an even briefer flash of humor (and far too short!). Rounding out the disc, the "Spam to Sperm" review of Python songs is as well done as the Biography segment, with clips of material edited together with Python insights, but Meatloaf (as host of the segment) is still too rock-star pompous to properly play his role, but thankfully he only pops in here and there.
The full frame video transfer of the modern-filmed clips is clean and clear, with adequate color saturation and limited digital enhancement artifacting, while the original materials are understandably of modest quality. The audio, well, much as with the video, it gets the job done as well as one could expect for this sort of show without being particularly notable. In any event, neither distracts from the material itself, and that is all I could ask.
My only (minor) complaint about Disc One is that all of the content is lumped together in one omnibus program. You can separately access each of the various parts (main A&E Biography, Pythonland, Mayday Special, South Park tribute, and the Greatest Hits segment) via the scene selection menu, but I would have preferred a more user-friendly organization of items from the main menu.
The blurb for the second disc includes this text: "Yes, Monty Python is funny in German! Unfortunately, this programme is in English." Sadly, this Python fan must admit that this claim is more truth than satire. Maybe the episode does seem funnier in German, or maybe it is geared more to the humor sensibilities of Germans, but this "lost" episode never really got off the ground. Not all is lost, for even here there are bits of inspired comedy, but the overall production is dragged down by skits and premises that are drawn out far too long. Perhaps the title ("Schnapps with Everything") holds a clue -- if you drink schnapps, the episode probably seems a lot funnier. The Loony Bin on Disc Two should look familiar if you have any of the TV show discs. The "Useless Tidbit" is a bit limp, the clip of "Fliegender Zirkus #1" was already included in the series discs, and there is yet again more of the sort of trivia games seen on the series discs. If you don't have any of the TV discs, then these recycled items will not seem as tired as they do to me.
The price ($40 retail) is a tad on the high side, though Python fanatics will not likely care. If you are enough of a fan to have collected the whole series, then you must have Life of Python to put just the right finishing touch on your shelf full of Python. For the rest of you, at least try to rent or borrow the set, as the first disc alone is an insightful, funny, and fascinating look into comedy history.
Bugger off, you free-loading bastards. Court's dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 168 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Art Gallery
* Trivia Games
* Production Note