Monty Python Live Review
It seems hard to imagine a time when Marching Bands could play the ‘Liberty Bell’ without fits of giggles, a time when Spam and Vikings had no connections and a dead, blue parrot was just, well, a dead blue parrot. But such were the times before Monty Python, and as it says on the case of Monty Python Live! ‘You’re either too young to have seen Monty Python Live, or too old to remember, either way its new to you’. This is sadly true, there hasn’t been any new Python material since 1983’s ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life’.
Since the advent of DVD fans have been clamouring for as much Python as they can get, which has lead to America’s A&E Network releasing as much as they can, in the way of bits and pieces. Last year they released what we Brits saw on BBC2 for the 30th Anniversary celebration as a box set of clips and documentaries (titled ‘Life of Python’), and this year they have followed it with a collection of all the Pythons ‘live performances.
The 2 DVD box set starts with ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ Which was released theatrically and still stands the test of time, showcasing the best of the Pythons TV sketches mixed with sketches that became live classics and bits of the German TV special. (More of which later)
Unlike most live comedy on DVD Python seem to have a high level of interaction with the audience and the ‘Albatross’ sketch is a hilarious example of this. You cant quite believe that the American audience really gets what is going on for most of it and this is summed up by Eric Idle by commenting that ‘This is a typical Hollywood audience, all the kids are on drugs and all the adults are on roller skates’.
The second collected artefact is ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Live at Aspen’ which is the retrospective tribute programme filmed at the Aspen Comedy Arts festival where the team were given the American Film Institutes Star award. It was also the first time they had all been on stage together for 18 years. The fact that one of the members of the group was dead might have proved a problem for any other group but in typical Pythonesque fashion they bring on the dead Graham Chapman’s ashes, which in turn, get knocked over, hoovered up and then start singing ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’!
They are also gate crashed on stage by Eddie Izzard (who is surely the Pythons heir apparent). Again you really wonder just how much of it the American celebrity audience ‘get’ or how much they are just laughing at the British ness or irreverence of it all. It’s a little sickly and fawning but the Pythons (in particular Cleese) themselves never allow it to become too mainstream.
On the second DVD are collected two programmes which while interesting, seem a little odd for a dvd that has the word ‘Live’ in the title, ‘Parrot Sketch not Included’ and ‘Monty Python’s Fligender Zirkus’. The first is a collection of classic Python sketches (with one notable yet obvious exception) commissioned by the BBC for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Monty Python. Its introduced by Steve Martin and is really only notable for the fact that it shows Graham Chapman’s last appearance. (He died of cancer only a few days after filming).
The second programme is a true rarity, being the German comedy special that the Pythons filmed entirely in German, learned phonetically. Some of the sketches are a little odd (seeing the Lumberjack song in German is an experience!) and some are classics (John Cleese as Little Red Riding Hood) but this programme has never been seen in its entirety outside of Germany before and as such is an essential for Python fans.
The Pythons are still held with reverence after all these years, and as such anything they do will be treasured by fans who are famished from lack of material (though Izzard and the League of Gentlemen do try and bridge that gap) This box set is on the one hand a shameless cash in but on the other hand you take what you can get don’t you? And it’s reasonably priced and can be got for as little as £22.
The Picture is non-anamorphic and the quality is about as good as you can expect for its age. As you would expect this is worse on ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ and the picture is both soft and grainy. It doesn’t look any different from the video version and you wonder if more of an effort could not have been made to restore it as with ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘Holy Grail’.
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital and is more or less the same as the picture quality, acceptable but nothing to write home about. Its not sharp or crisp, but since Pythons charm was never about technical quality (Coconut Horses anyone?!) it really shouldn’t affect anyone’s enjoyment too much.
Judging that this set is a pretty cheap and cheerful event I had expected the extras to be deeply lacking (and in comparison to Criterions ‘Life of Brian’ and the Python approved ‘Holy Grail’ they are VERY lacking) but there has been some sort of effort to provide DVD viewers with some extras. The ‘Main Bloody Menu’ offers the ‘Loony Bin’ where you can find Python Biographies, a section called ‘py-thon-isms’, which is just a mock dictionary of all things python, and ‘Bleeding Critics’, which shows some vox pops from the series itself reviewing various things. Also offered is an option to watch the sketches separately, just a glorified jump to a scene menu really. But the menus are in the distinctive style of Terry Gilliam and really fit in to the overall package.
All in all I would have to say that for a Python fan this would be a very good purchase, not as essential as the programmes themselves or as much fun as the movies (when will we get a decent version of ‘Meaning of Life’ though?!) but for someone who loves Python this is as close to a live performance (even though half of it is filmed sketches!) as we’re likely to get, sadly.
Last updated: 23/05/2018 15:35:24