This animated transcription of the late Python's autobiography fails to capture the chaotic spirit of its subject.
With roles as Brain of Nazareth, King Arthur and the plain-speaking Colonel character who regularly interrupted the flow of Monty Python whenever he felt things were "getting too silly", Graham Chapman occasionally appeared to be a touchstone of sense and reason within the swirling madness of the Flying Circus. Off screen, nothing could have been further from the truth.
His pipe, tweeds and patrician air – not to mention the fact that he was a fully qualified doctor – belied rampant alcoholism, private homosexuality and the carnageous fallout that often arose from being bezzie mates with fulltime crazy Keith Moon of The Who. His 1980 memoir, 'A Liar’s Autobiography (Volume VI)', is a looseleaf mix of semifictionalised reminiscence and phantasmagoric deathbed fever dream. It’s a slim, sprawling, strangely affecting book and one that hardly suggests itself to cinematic adaptation.
Fair play, then, to directors Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett for ditching any kind of straight-up biographical approach to such riotous material and instead presenting episodes from Chapman’s life in a series of splintered animations produced by an array of graphic design houses. The risk with any such technique, however, is that it will fail to hold together a cohesive narrative and, sad to say, this is more often the case than not.
The opening hour is not only badly fractured but especially low on laughs as childhood holidays and schooling at Eton are presented in a stilted and straightforward manner. It’s not until the final stretch that the film really hits stride, with Chapman’s boozy, druggy, extended late-'70s LA sojourn presented as a kaleidoscopic tumult of star-studded pool parties and lunatic sex.
These later sections – as well as an utterly surreal excursion into space with David Hockney and Alan Bennett – are spellbinding and far truer to the spirit of the book than the mere animated transcription that makes up the early scenes. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t embrace this kind of spiralling chaos from the off – Chapman himself would have surely approved.
Python docs aren’t exactly thin on the ground.
A bit – if not completely – different the norm.
Fades in the mind all too quickly.