Roger Graef and James Rogan’s new documentary charts the reunion of Monty Python, the groundbreaking British comedy troupe who last performed to an audience back in 1980. The movie follows the group’s ten nights performing at London’s 02 Arena in 2014, interspersed with backstage banter and clips from previous performances and the BBC TV series which brought them to fame.
As a Python fan, I feared the worst. After all, these new shows were arranged solely to make money. Just how funny could a bunch of 70 year-olds be? The answer, I found, was very funny indeed. The strength of the original material hasn’t faded, and fact that the pension-age Pythons occasionally fluff their lines or burst out laughing during a sketch makes their new performances even more fun.
Perhaps the most endearing part of the movie is seeing the five remaining troupe members (The sixth, Graham Chapman, died in 1989) enjoying each other’s company again, cracking jokes backstage and having a good time during rehearsals. Even John Cleese, famed for his short fuse, gets into the spirit of things.
Rogue Cinema viewed the film at the Sheffield Docfest in the presence of troupe member Michael Palin, a local boy perhaps now perhaps best-known for his TV travel shows. Afterwards, Palin named the Fish-Slapping Dance,(a 20-second wordless sketch in which Cleese strikes Palin on the head with a huge halibut, knocking him into a canal) as one of his favorite skits. Rehearsals, Palin said, took place when the water was at its highest level, but when filming began, he was forced to plummet ten feet into the canal below.
The movie features the fish-slapping episode in its entirety as well as such favorites as the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” “The Spanish Inquisition,” “The Lumberjack Song’ and “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” While some sketches may be seen as sexist or racist today, most stand the test of time, retaining the wit and absurdity that turned the Pythons into comedy superstars in the 1970’s.
For fans, this is a must-see. However, for those not familiar with Python, it won’t hold much initial appeal. Instead, I suggest you crack open a beer and watch the original movies – Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian and the Meaning of Life – before taking on this endearing exercise in nostalgia.
Monty Python – The Meaning of Live
Director(s): Roger Graef, James Rogan
Duration: 94 mins