A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 301 – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – December 26th, 2010

I am experiencing some pretty severe holiday let-down today. It’s likely a combination of the snowpocalypse happening outside right now and a month’s worth of shopping and cooking and planning and whatnot all culminating in yesterday’s two separate Christmas get-togethers. And now it’s over. As is our Christmas movie fest. Except not quite, because this evening we discovered one more Christmas movie that had escaped our notice, sitting in a stack in the bedroom. Bizarre. We’ll watch it tomorrow since it’s on the long side. Since I’m a little out of it and cranky from post-holiday blah, we decided to go with something easy tonight. And hey, this one ends with a song about Christmas in Heaven (which really should be played back to back with Spinal Tap’s Christmas with the Devil). Hey, we don’t have any Boxing Day movies, okay?

This is a bizarre collage of a movie, starting with a short film about the elderly employees at the Crimson Permanent Assurance mutinying against their yuppie bosses and sailing their building off into the high seas of international finance as pirates. It has nothing to do with the rest of the movie really. There’s a callback to it later, when we revisit a location and the movie sort of laps itself, but really it’s just a passing reference to tie things in. It’s not part of the overall plot. And why is this? Because the movie doesn’t have much in the way of a linear plot. The rough idea is that the movie covers various stages of life, showing comedic takes on various situations and trying to point out the absurdity of finding meaning in it all. But by their own admission, Monty Python really just figured that was the only way to wrap everything they’d envisioned into a cohesive package.

I believe this movie was specially tailored for maximum embarrassment factor if viewed with one’s parents. I wasn’t allowed to see it for years and when I finally was I remember immediately understanding why. There were bits I loved, and bits I would fast forward through. Not because I disliked them, but because they were things intended to be embarrassing and they did precisely what they meant to do. There’s the thoroughly cringe-inducing scene with John Cleese and Patricia Quinn demonstrating sex for academic purposes. There’s the topless women chasing Graham Chapman through the streets to his character’s death. There’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the animated naked women who show up in a couple of places. It is full of bits and pieces intended to prod at you and go “So, who’d you take to see this? Your mum?”

So, after the Crimson Permanent Assurance short the movie begins in earnest. We get several stages of life, with a few sketches and bits in each. Birth features a hospital birth that gave us the fantastic reference to “the machine that goes PING” and the sperm song. Growth and Learning, focusing largely on a boys’ school, has the least sexy consensual sex scene ever. Fighting Each Other has some great commentary on war, the British army, and one of my favorite classic Monty Python bits: Waking up and down the square. Then we get the Middle of the Film, which has an utterly nonsensical bit with Michael Palin in drag and an invitation to “find the fish” in something I can only assume came out of Terry Gilliam’s dreams. Middle Age follows and features a medieval dungeon (haha, Middle Age, get it?) and a not so good conversation on philosophy from Eric Idle and Michael Palin with not so good American accents. Live Organ Transplants is probably my favorite part of the movie, since it features the Galaxy Song, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Live Organ Transplants is followed by The Autumn Years, which is where the infamous Mr. Creosote scene is. It’s classic Python, with the true humor coming from the waiter’s unflappable service to a pain in the ass customer. Death comes after that, ending the movie with an elaborate Vegas-style show full of showgirls in Santa/Angel costumes with fake bare breasts, singing about how it’s Christmas in Heaven every single day. The movie closes with Michael Palin in drag again, ranting about the state of films and offhandedly telling us the meaning of life.

Now, you can see it’s utterly ridiculous. It’s Monty Python, so that’s to be expected, but it’s a sort of bizarre cross between their movies and their shows. It’s not really a coherent movie with a plot and a cast of characters we follow the whole way, but it’s far more cohesive than any of the shows, with things roughly following a timeline. It’s just on a grander scale, with a bigger scope. What helps here is that at the end? In Heaven, before the big number starts, we’re shown the people in Heaven, seated at their tables. We see the children from the sperm song. We see the boys from the school. The soldiers from the war (from both sides). The couple who gave their organs. Everyone’s there, in this celestial dinner theater, enjoying a nice meal and a spectacle of a show. A cute bit of commentary there, if you squint.

As I mentioned, my very favorite bit in this movie is the Galaxy Song. I love a lot of the songs and sketches and gags in this movie and I have to say I always have. But I heard the Galaxy Song long before I’d seen the movie and I loved it instantly. I can sing it from heart. Eric Idle’s performance of it is absolutely perfect and it’s the sort of thing that sticks in your head. And even though it’s basically a recitation of some facts and figures, it does have a point. A snarky sarcastic point, but a point nonetheless. Which makes it all the better. Because in a movie like this, that’s all you can really ask for. Good humor and maybe a bit of a point under it all, but not anything deep enough to make you stop laughing.

December 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

December 26, 2010

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

This movie is very ‘R’ rated. That was my immediate reaction to it when I finally did see it. I did NOT see this in the theater when it came out due to my being only eleven years old, although I do remember one of my classmates before school describing the movie – and all the bare breasts that it contains. His perception of the movie was somewhat skewed, I think, by that distraction, and I can kind of understand. I mean how is a fifth grader supposed to react to a movie with the ”Every Sperm is Sacred” song in it? I was mortified when I eventually saw the movie with my parents at the age of sixteen or so.

This is a strangely paced film, even for a Python film. Unlike the television show the other Python films are more plot driven. The Holy Grail and Life of Brian both follow a smaller collection of characters through a single film length narrative. This movie on the other hand does not attempt to disguise the fact that it is much more a collection of individual skits. In most cases they don’t even have clever links, a Python trademark, to blend from one to the next. Instead they have title cards that introduce them each. There is some blending of one bit to others and characters that appear in the background of other sketches. It’s subtle though and I didn’t pick up on it the first time I viewed this. About the only thing I did notice was that characters from every sketch in the film show up in the final number, which is appropriate.

Over the years I have come to quite like this movie. It has a lot of classic moments, great sketches and a bunch of fantastic songs which I absolutely love. I would NOT recommend that your first viewing be with a parent, though. The irreverent tone of this film thumbs its nose at notions of taste and propriety and while they are often very funny they can also leave the audience feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Who wants to see the sexual education sketch with their father? Nobody, that’s who.

If this movie has a unifying theme it is not the supposed search throughout the movie for the meaning of life – it is lamenting the plight of being British. Now I can understand this in a kind of outsider looking in way, but it does somewhat alienate me. The boys poke fun at British boarding schools. They mock the British officer class in three different time periods. Death – the grim reaper himself – at one point accuses the British of not having any balls. I guess the Pythons are attempting to say something more serious and lean away from their usual madcap zany antics, but they’re writing mostly from what they know which makes me feel somewhat out of touch with some of the sketches. Oh, I get the jokes, but I’m not as much a part of them.

The other striking thing about this movie is how much of a budgetary upgrade it must have been. The sketches are much more elaborately staged, with big sets, complex costumes and one enormous musical number with a cast of hundreds. It’s a far cry from just the six of them (and Carol) on a sound stage with a laugh track. The Crimson Permanent Assurance very much feels like a dry run for Brazil, with all its miniature effects shots and the sense of bureaucracy being overthrown by whimsy. Terry Gilliam is listed as the animation director in the credits, implying that he has a whole team of animators working under him – and indeed the animation in this movie is a pretty big cut above the usual Python cut-outs. Somebody handed an awful lot of money to a group of guys who were used to producing comedy on a BBC budget, and it’s a strange sort of adventure to see what they decided to do with it.

I’m glad that I’ve overcome my initial squeamishness about this movie. It has so much that makes me laugh that it would be a pity if I had let my tender sensibilities cause me not to like it. How can I help but love the Universe song or Christmas in Heaven? Even the revolting Mr. Creosote is funny in the end. I love anything that gives a big raspberry to organized religion and things like the sycophantic school prayer tickle my fancy. This is a strange sort of swan song for a strange sort of comic troupe, and in a way it is fitting that their last outing should end on such a high note. It also ties in to our last week of movie reviews. “Every single day is Christmas day.”

December 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment