Seen by Martin before? Yes
What did I expect? A massive dose of Monty Python lunacy.
What did I get? Anyone who needs to be convinced or reminded that Monty Python is almost certainly the greatest conglomeration of comedic talent available on recorded media probably isn’t reading this blog. The fact is, there isn’t much original one can say about Monty Python at this point. If you’re fond of Monty Python, you’ll surely enjoy And Now For Something Completely Different. But newcomers will find better versions of these same sketches in the original BBC television series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. For the Python lover who regards the Flying Circus as sacrosanct — the Holy Grail, one might say — ANFSCD is more than a bit frustrating. The material is top-notch, but these versions are quite stilted by comparison.
As you can see, I’m a Python fan, so it’s with some regret that I must point out the flaws of ANFSCD. ANFSCD was the first time that American audiences ever got to see Monty Python, and therein lies its primary historical importance. The sketches are great, of course, but the now-familiar TV versions were reshot for film, and the boys, having spent a couple of years working on the series, were probably a bit tired out at this juncture, because the sketches here mostly lack the spontaneity of the original versions, and this material may not be optimal for the big screen to begin with.
Two examples. You know that gorgeous little bit where Palin runs up to Constable Cleese, saying that someone has stolen his wallet? After an awkward pause, Palin asks Cleese if he’d like to come back to his place; Cleese says, “All right.” End sketch — just lovely. The version here could not feel less fresh — Palin and Cleese blow the timing, and the exquisite rhythm the sketch had on TV never materializes. Likewise, when it emerges that the owner of the pet shop in the Dead Parrot sketch secretly wants to be a lumberjack, Python lovers of long standing may regard it as an affront, since they know that it’s really the Bloodthirsty Barber who secretly wants to be a lumberjack.
One of the differences between movies and TV is that whereas movies are a dictatorial exercise in monolithic, authorial control, TV is a piebald trollop. TV accepts everything, at any time, on any channel — comedy, drama, live sport, news, advertisements, white noise — while movies ruthlessly prune away the extraneous. This is why Python sketches work better on the small screen: Python’s genius breakthrough of replacing sketch-concluding punchlines with non sequitur transitions were a perfect corollary to television’s mongrel nature.
After ANFSCD‘s credits, tuxedo-clad Terry Jones pops out from behind a curtain, his dimensions scaled to approximate “actual size” in an actual movie theater, and explains that they are woefully short of the material needed for a full-length movie. That’s almost the sole attempt to translate Python’s conceptual trickery, so endlessly rich and fertile on the TV series, to the movie format. These sketches were written with TV in mind, and that’s where they work the best. However, it’s still Python. Nobody ever wrote better sketches, and few have ever been funnier in sketches.
What here smacks of 1971? “Playboy Productions Presents….”
IMDB score: 7.5
My score: 8
Director: Ian MacNaughton
Writers: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth
IMDB synopsis: A collection of re-filmed sketches from the first and second series of the cult TV comedy show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. Includes such classics as “Nudge, Nudge”, “Hell’s Grannies”, “Killer Cars”, “Dead Parrot”, “Lumberjack Song”, “Blackmail” and “Upper Class Twit of the Year”.