At one point in the first of this pair of 20th-anniversary salutes to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, George Harrison is quoted as saying that the six Pythons — John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and the late Graham Chapman — continued the spirit of the Beatles after the Fab Four broke up in 1970.
To the extent that the Silly Six made first-rate popular art out of innovative writing, mind-blowing non sequiturs, and a beguiling team spirit, it’s not a bad comparison at all. For Americans, however, Monty Python’s importance was that the show made British humor laugh-out-loud funny for the first time.
Life of Python consists of chats with all the living Pythons. Each member was interviewed separately about a different period in the group’s career; edited together, they tell the story not just of Monty Python but of their lives. (Along the way, we’re shown a scene from a 1969 proto-Python series called The Complete and Utter History of Britain that’s terrific — why doesn’t Showtime or PBS dig it up and run the whole thing?)
The fellows also reflect on the reasons the act broke up (you’ve never heard the old excuse ”creative differences” more hilariously expounded upon).
Twenty Years of Monty Python (Parrot Sketch Not Included) offers Python’s greatest hits, as it were. (The legendary parrot sketch turns up in Life of Python — well, they always were perverse buggers, weren’t they?)
The hits are still funny, but Life of Python is the one to be sure to see. Here the fellows are at their literate best, rejecting the false pieties of American show biz in favor of cheerfully mean japes at each other.
The show even makes blithe, bitter fun of Python fans, contrasting the ga- ga boosterism of a New York branch of the Monty Python Fan Club — where members recite the famous ”I’m a Lumberjack” song like a sacred rite — with the Pythons’ comments about their American following. ”The real fans,” Idle says, ”are slightly crazy,” and he means it. A