EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier this week, Witney Seibold reviewed A Liar's Autobiography in the Film Channel. As a counterpoint, Fred Topel has offered us his opinion as well.
I must admit my knowledge of Monty Python is moderately limited. I have seen all their films, and I know the parrot sketch, but have not really delved into “Flying Circus.” I saw the 90 minute version of the IFC miniseries “Almost the Truth” and the later works of all the performers, but I may be missing some of the in-jokes or I may take it for granted that you all know this stuff already.
A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman is sort of a documentary. It is pieced together from Chapman’s audio recording of his own memoirs prior to his death. The segments are animated and feature the voices of other Pythons John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle, sometimes as themselves, but usually as other characters because Chapman did their voices too.
There’s some inherent comedy built into this process. Of course Chapman wrote comically and gave it the right inflection in the reading. Just the nature of animating biographical segments is comic, and then the animation itself heightens moments like awkward anatomy classes and fornicating with animated women’s bouncing cartoon boobies.
The story was actually somewhat familiar to me from portions of the “Almost the Truth” straight documentary. I knew Chapman had trouble with alcohol and that he died young in 1989. Liar’s Autobiography filled in some of the blanks and went into more detail. It touches on the development of his relationship with Monty Python but it’s not a behind the scenes account of the sketches and performances.
The different styles of animation are all beautiful in their own way. They were originally composed for 3D as they’ll be shown in theaters and perhaps a 3D Blu-ray. I think I appreciated them fully in 2D. You get a sense of the layers of depth that make up each shot. Some styles seem more Python-esque with jerky heads stuck on bodies, or surreal monkey versions of the gang while others are just interpretive, impressionistic styles based on what’s going on in Chapman’s life at the time.
There are laughs along the way, and Chapman gets profound when he talks about about religion, sex and reproduction. It’s pretty raw when it goes into his heavy drinking. At times I felt like it wouldn’t be such a big story if he weren’t a famous person, but then that may be what makes it relatable after all. There are certainly enough disparate elements at work in this complex film that there’s at least some hook for anyone’s interest.