The Pythons: An Autobiography
You know you've made your mark when: a) your name becomes part of the lexicon; and b) they start publishing huge coffee-table tomes about your lives and work. "Pythonesque," according to the ninth edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is defined as "after the style of, or resembling the humour of, Monty Python's Flying Circus, a popular British television comedy series of the 1970s noted esp. for its absurdist or surrealist humour." [sic]
THE PYTHONS: An Authobiography is full of the loony business that made them global favorites.
The comedy troupe --- consisting of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin --- was its own "British invasion" in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Like the Beatles, they are still popular years after their break-up and, also like the Fab Four, the members of the "sweet six" have done well on their own.
Cleese, for example, has appeared in countless TV programs both here and in Great Britain, and is enlarging his fan base thanks to his role as "Nearly-Headless Nick" in the Harry Potter films. Idle has not been, keeping his face in the spotlight with TV shots and concerts. Palin and Jones collaborated on the BBC series Ripping Yarns (Jones is also the author of the just-published historical murder mystery WHO MURDERED CHAUCER). Gilliam, the token American (born in Minnesota), has turned his talents to directing usually strange films, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998); Twelve Monkeys (1995); The Fisher King (1991); Brazil (1985); and Time Bandits (1981), among others.
Sadly, Chapman, who earned a degree as a medical doctor, passed away in 1989, a victim of cancer.
THE PYTHONS follows its autobiographical style with each of the lads offering his personal warped spin on his background, how the group came to be. how it attained success and battled the powers that were (i.e., network heads and censors) over creative and philosophical differences, and all the ups and down concurrent with fame.
Their television program ran from 1969-74 and gave fans such universally shared memories as "The Parrot Sketch," "The Spanish Inquisition," "Spam," "The Ministry of Silly Walks," "Twit of the Year," "Crunchy Frog" and, of course, "The Lumberjack Song" --- images that still make them chuckle after thirty years. Each Python contributed a unique presence, making him perfectly suited for his frenetic roles.
Besides the small screen, but especially after the show's demise, the Pythons turned out several feature films including The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which --- according to Python's website (www.dailyllama.com) --- is to be resurrected as "Spamelot," a Broadway musical, in 2005 (although anything coming from that source should probably be taken with an extremely large grain of salt.)
Supplemented with photos and Gilliam's bizarre cartoons (his animations for the show were no doubt the product of substance-induced nightmares) THE PYTHONS runs somewhat contrary to their tag line: "And now for something completely different" --- THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY used the same format. But that's fine. It's just what their devoted fans will enjoy: the same old silly stuff.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (RonKaplanNJ@comcast.net) on October 7, 2003