Film Directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam
It’s difficult to imagine just how peculiar that first viewing of Monty Python’s Flying Circus really was. Shock, confusion, giggles, disgust, absolute uncontrolled barks of laughter… more awe and confusion… a heavy helping of discomfort… the nagging sense that something might be wrong if you find this funny… all right- maybe it’s not something wrong with you exactly, but with the world… clearly there is something wrong with those gents up there on the screen…
It is given now that the show was brilliant and the people behind it are global treasures, even if something was definitely wrong with them. More than any other U.K. export of the 1970’s (for that was when they really appeared regularly on PBS here in the U.S.), the show defined what seemed the current best thing from across the pond. All those rock bands might be great, but they belonged to an earlier migration. Nothing about the credits indicated that the troupe was anything but U.K. born and bred.
The discovery that an American had infiltrated the group (via newspaper profiles) was a revelation. In short order, it became apparent that he was the animator of all those strange bits that worked like Sergio Aragonés’ marginals in Mad magazines. He almost never appeared on camera. But then again, he did some writing. Then they made movies and he was doing directing. So, he wasn’t marginal. Yes, we had done comedy before and we had done it well, but this new style… Apparently, a dollop of us helped?
Did you know George Harrison produced movies?I did, but then I was a little obsessive about Monty Python and the Holy Grail for a couple years and it is just the sort of thing that an obsessive would know. He also made this fantastic gem, Time Bandits.
Honestly, this movie is another one of those litmus tests for me. If you’re not utterly bemused by the finale, then you are unlikely to be the sort of person with whom I can have a meal. For that matter, the whole Robin Hood thing… This was six years before The Princess Bride, which is so attuned to the same attitude. (Now I am old because they just don’t make movies like this anymore. The Marvel franchise people are trying with Guardians and the newest Thor, but that’s a pretty big backstory to lighten.)
Gilliam has made five of my favorite films. Even I find that a bit shocking because he really pushed the envelope. I have never gone into one of his films with any sense that the following two hours were in any way predictable. To a certain extent, I feel like Gilliam is along for the ride of discovery also.
The danger in making art is that you must become a skilled craftsman. For that matter, the practice of creation over and over leads down that path even if you want to remain unskilled. Naivete becomes feigned in certain ways. So, the artist who posts challenges that always push beyond current abilities is rare. That’s always incredibly hard work.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 45 more to go.
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