Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut) begins a six-night run this evening on IFC, and if you’ve even so much as giggled a bit at a Monty Python sketch, you really have to commit to all six hours.
I started watching expecting to scan through the stuff that’s usually boring in these sorts of documentaries — the trudge through everyone’s childhood; the descent into repetition and post-Python career attempts. Instead, I was enthralled from the opening moments onward, amazed by the frankness of nearly everyone involved.
As the Beatles of comedy, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam spent the 1970s spinning out a classic TV show, some uneven but lumpily brilliant movies, and endured a couple of break-ups and one long, slow death. (Cleese, who wrote much of his Monty Python’s Flying Circus material with Chapman, is strikingly honest about the awfulness of Chapman’s alcoholism and specific in his bitterness that the others never acknowledged what a difficult time Chapman put him through.)
Aside from the fact that much of the material shown here — their greatest hits — remains funny, there are other extraordinary elements. You must see the electric debate two of the Pythons had on British television with Malcolm Muggeridge and a Church of England bishop over the irreligious elements in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. You’ll want to hear how “the two Terrys” — Jones and Gilliam — tried to co-direct their movies and how each of them, in separate interviews, tries to justify his bad behavior.
Warts and all, joy and all, Almost The Truth does indeed seem to be very near the truth.
Watch it and tell me what you think, please.
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