(SOME OF) MONTY PYTHON SPEAKS - Blogs
(SOME OF) MONTY PYTHON SPEAKS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 3, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: The new book ‘Monty Python Speaks’ is comprised of a variety of interviews conducted with the six members of the comedy team Monty Python over many years. It’s an updated and revised edition of a book published by author David Morgan some 20 years ago, and it’s aimed directly at die-hard Python fans, as it takes for granted that many of the references they make to their own comedy, as well as others, will be understood by the reader. The interviews lean heavily on John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, but all six Pythons are included, along with some of their collaborators. It’s funny, as you might expect, but also poignant as the surviving five navigate old age, discuss Graham Chapman, who died 1989, and talk about Terry Jones, who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. And it got me thinking about my own interviews with the Pythons over my 20-year tenure as the movie critic for the Deseret News. So in this space will be four interview stories over the next few weeks. Below is the first, conducted during a press conference for ‘Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,’ and was published under the headline, ‘Meeting Monty Python,’ on April 3, 1983.
LOS ANGELES – Meeting Monty Python is bound to be a unique experience.
We knew this interview would be unusual when four of the troupe seated themselves behind a table with six chairs, and then set up life-size cardboard busts of the other two in the remaining chairs. A tape recorder provided dialogue for the missing members.
However, the 50 or so entertainment writers at the Los Angeles press conference — which followed a screening of “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” the latest essay in film madness from Britain’s Bad Boys — were prepared for anything.
Reactions to the film were, at best, mixed. There seemed to be no middle ground. Some loved it, some hated it. But everyone seemed to have definite — and loud — opinions.
Dissenting voters, however, kept their opinions to themselves during the conference, and the question-and-answer session did prove fruitful.
Monty Python in the 1970s: Clockwise from lower center: Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese
The four who showed up were Terry Jones (who also directed “The Meaning of Life"), Terry Gilliam (the one American in the bunch, and the cartoonist whose bizarre animation acts as segues), Graham Chapman (he was King Arthur in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the title character in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”) and Eric Idle (the fellow whose songs are also integral to Python madness). Michael Palin and John Cleese were represented by audiotape and cardboard cutouts. (And all, of course, write the films and play multiple characters.)
The rambling interview, lasting just over an hour, covered a multitude of subjects, and it took awhile to loosen them up — particularly Chapman and Idle. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Idle ever loosened up.
Here’s a sample of what was discussed:
How exactly do you collaborate? Jones: “ ‘The Holy Grail’ began as a sketch film, because we all just sort of went off and wrote things, and when six people write their own things they tend to be just sort of disconnected scenes. But then we come back together and throw in bits and pieces, and it all comes together.”
What has the reception been to “The Meaning of Life,” which contains more potentially offensive material than any of your films? Jones: “We had a preview in Yonkers, New York, and 80 people walked out, and the preview cards were torn up in disgust.” Gilliam: “It’s just not the sort of film for a first date.”
Are the episodes of your TV series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” available to television at all? Gilliam: “We own them, and we haven’t quite decided what to do with them yet. We’ve been talking about putting them on videocassettes for sale, but as of now they aren’t available at all.”
Monty Python, the surviving members, circa 2005 at the premiere of 'Spamalot' on Broadway: Michael Palin, left, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese
Will you be touring with your live show again? Jones: “Oh, we dredge up the old material every now and again for that, but we haven’t done it since the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years ago. We probably will sometime.”
What was your reaction to the picketing and banning of “Life of Brian” around the country — and the world? Idle: “In England it was silly because one town would have it on and the other towns wouldn’t have it on, and people were going across to other cinemas, and managers were very angry. That’s what got that system changed, about town councils being able to decide what films could play.” Gilliam: “When it was banned here, people didn’t go to it, but when it was banned in England, people made a point of going to it.” Jones: “You just have farther to go here. When it was banned in your state, you wouldn’t drive 600 miles to see it.” Gilliam: “Most of them (protesters) hadn’t bothered to see the film, was the problem.”
Is it unfair for your individual projects to constantly be compared to “Python” films? Gilliam: “Well, it was probably a mistake for my first film, ‘Jabberwocky,’ to be set in medieval times, when it came out right on the heels of ‘Holy Grail,’ but ‘Time Bandits,’ too came into that, and it was a very different film”
How are your films received in European countries outside of Britain? Jones: “The films do very well in France, in subtitles. In Germany it’s always a disaster, but then they’ve been dubbed in German.”
What’s next for you, individually? Chapman: “’Yellowbeard,’ a pirate film (co-starring Cleese, Idle, Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Cheech & Chong, etc.) opens in June.” (The others said they are involved in projects, but declined to discuss them in detail. Cleese has a film, “Privates on Parade,” which is finished and awaiting a U.S. distributor.)
And could we have a word from the tape? Palin: “.”