And Now For Something Completely
out of ****
is almost an impossible endeavor reviewing a film by Monty Python,
Britain’s most beloved group of anarchists and satirists.
The jokes and gags are so completely random and dependent upon
the delivery, that no explanation of them could possible give
them justice unless I gave away the punchline. But giving the
punchline away, of course, takes away the surprise.
I’ll give an example: There is a sketch in the film in which
a few terrified men learn from a loud-mouthed safety instructor
how to defend themselves from muggers who use fruit as weapons.
“You’ll thank me for this when they threaten you with
a deadly banana!” he insists. Yes, it is as bizarre at is
sounds, and not particularly funny when read on paper. And yet
somehow, because of the performances and the timing, it is funny,
particularly in the last, surprising moment when—but see,
I can’t give it away and still play fair.
the pet shop scene, in which a customer comes in with a return,
insisting that his parrot is dead even though he bought him only
minutes ago. “In fact,” he says, “he was only
standing on his perch because he was nailed there.” The
clerk insists that the parrot is alive, just asleep, sedated,
etc. The clerk then laments that he hates his job and explains
how he would rather be a lumberjack. Sounds like a bad night of
late night comedy, I know, but somehow, the Python Troupe pull
it off, because in the end, they manage to bring the sketch together
by—nope, can’t tell you that either; it would give
the joke away. You’re beginning to understand my dilemma,
Python consists of five British comedians (John Cleese, Graham
Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin) and one Yankee
animator (Terry Gilliam). The Brits wrote and perform all of the
comedy, and Gilliam deals with the transitions between the sketches,
creating animation out of magazine cutouts and photographs that
straddles the line between comedic and nightmarish. And Now
For Something Completely Different was their first movie,
filmed after two successful seasons of their British, Flying
Circus television show.
film’s creation is actually an interesting story: An American
production company (Playboy Films; yes, there is a relation) caught
their show in Great Britain and decided that it was too extreme
for American television, but that it would be terrific as a film—particularly
in the college circuit. The company pitched the idea of a motion
picture to the Pythons, who agreed to film some of their best
and/or most successful sketches for an American film release.
And Now For Something Completely Different consequently
is a plotless variety show, but you’ll be hard pressed to
find a variety show of such wicked humor and blatant shock value.
Pythons agreed to make it on the condition that it was only released
in America, because Britain would recognize the sketches from
the show. This promise was, of course, broken, and while the film
developed a cult gathering in the United States, it tanked among
the Brits, who found the film’s title to be a blatant lie.
Because of its unkind reception on their homefront, And Now
For Something Completely Different is not anything that the
Pythons are particularly fond of. But for those not familiar with
Flying Circus, it will be difficult to keep a straight
face at Python’s odd, offbeat sense of humor.
key to the Pythons’ success is their black humor. They poke
fun at human weakness, including hypocrisy, British hierarchy,
and sexism, in such a way that you are left laughing at their
sharp wit and surprisingly honest insight. But you have a sting
of guilt mixed in with your giggles; after all, isn’t it
a sin to recognize fellow human beings in agony and laugh at their
Anniversary, starring Bette Davis, thought so, and I
gave it a one-star rating for it. But there is something different
in the tone of the Pythons that makes the laughs acceptable. While
The Anniversary harshly belittled the audience as well
as the characters, the Pythons recognize that we’re all
in this sick, hypocritical world together, and we might as well
laugh about it collectively.
explanation works for me, but I’m still stuck in a rut regarding
this review. If the Python’s humor cannot be accurately
explained or summarized, what else I can I tell you? I suppose
the lack of explanation comes from the fact that the Pythons are
less about material and more about lifestyle. Their archaic, witty
insults are a bit like the Marx Brothers in the way that any material
will be made funny when their random, “we’re all a
bunch of silly sods” attitude is inserted. Unlike the Marxes
however, the Pythons are less the gods of the arena so much as
they are the Greek Chorus, pointing out humanity’s absurdity
and soliciting laughter. And most of the time, we do laugh. Loudly.
What more can I add?
Graham Chapman: Various roles
John Cleese: Various roles
Terry Gilliam: Animator, various voices
Eric Idle: Various roles
Terry Jones: Various roles
Michael Palin: Various roles
Carol Cleveland: Various roles
Columbia Pictures presents
a Playboy Production release of a film by Python (Monty) Pictures
Limited. Directed by Ian MacNaughton. Written by Monty Python.
Rated PG, but it would probably score a PG-13 today for comedic
violence and lots of innuendo. Running time: 85 minutes. Original
United States theatrical release date: August 22, 1972.