For some reason, I’ve been in a particularly pythonesque mood this last week. Specifically, Lord 16 and I have been revisiting some of the earlier movies of visual genius and anti #Metoo douchebag Terry Gilliam (One should never meet, hear from, listen to, or read interviews with your heroes). And make no mistake, the director of Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a storytelling hero of mine, as were the other Pythons…… when they were Python.
Post-Python… the others… ehhhh, maybe not so much.
So when I turned my school-holidays-attention-span to reading, and swallowed the David Morgan-penned Monty Python Speaks! The Complete Oral History in just over a day, I was particularly drawn to the dismissive comments made by the living Pythons to the solo work, or rather, lack of it, undertaken by Graham Chapman (TL:DR He didn’t do much, and what he did was rubbish). Which gave me pause, because I can’t recall enjoying a lot of what the remaining crew have produced over the years. Still, in for a penny, in for a post, so after due consideration, here are the five remaining Pythons, and the works I think are the highlight of their post-Python careers.
5 For Friday: Pining for the Fjords.
No-brainer, right? Despite going on to a long and one-dimensional Hollywood career as a stiff-backed, barking, repressed English stereotype, Cleese is really going to be remembered for his classic 13-part examination of English bigotry, paranoia, and Dunning-Kruger lifestyle, Fawlty Towers. And it is a classic. And it is brilliant. And anybody who says otherwise really needs to just get the hell out of the room, because seriously, what the hell, man? Buuut I’m going to step sideways here, and remind everyone of an even-more omnipresent Cleese project: those training videos. You know the ones. If you’re of my vintage you saw about a billion of them every time a social studies teacher was bored, or you entered any type of customer service or public service job ever.
Sadly, Video Arts, the company Cleese co-founded and sold on in the 90s, retains a tighter grip over its material than a hungry cat on a sleeping man’s testicles, so it’s impossible to find a full video online. You can, however, find a tonne of previews: this one gives you an idea of what they were all about. Funny, pointed, and well-produced, utilising a host of familiar and famous names, they pretty much trained an entire generation in how to conduct every facet of business.
Which is why we’re so crap at it.
Thanks to the power of alphabetical order, the most obvious comes second. As mentioned above, Terry Gilliam left Python behind to become one of the most visually innovative and influential filmmakers of the last fifty years. The End.
If someone is aware of Gilliam, then someone has a favourite Gilliam film. For me, it’s Twelve Monkeys, but I’ve heard passionate defenses for almost all of Gilliam’s work, from Jabberwocky right up to Parnassus (although, in fairness, it’s usually me defending the latter). I’ve order Zero Theorem and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote this week: I’ll let you know what I think. Even his failures (and when he fails, he fails large: The Brothers Grimm, anyone?) generally at least look good.
If you haven’t seen any of his work, I’m not going to give you a snippet: go and lash out the 20 bucks for a DVD. Start with Brazil, The Fisher King, or Twelve Monkeys. Come back to me when you’ve impulsively bought another three after that: you will. What I will give you is the short film that started it all: Beware of Elephants was created for the wonderful pre-Python TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set, which featured Palin, Idle, Jones, and The Bonzo The Dog Doo-Dah Band, and was the piece that prompted Barry Took to bring Gilliam into the nascent Python team. All that came after is history.
(Deep breath). And now the hard one. I’ve always had a somewhat troubled relationship with Eric Idle’s work. He’s the Python I’ve always been least excited about, even in Python, then always most happily surprised about when he turns out to be utterly brilliant at something — he pretty much owns Live at The Hollywood Bowl, for example, and his talent for Ronnie Barker-ish rapid-fire wordplay is unparalleled. But let’s be honest: The Rutles aside, his post-Python output has largely consisted of appearances in a series of disappointingly shite movies or humping the Pythonic corpse for every last shekel he can squeeze out of it. Add in the fact that in recent years he seems to have transmogrified into exactly the sort of oily money-grubbing Hollywood Luvvy handshake-machine he used to take such joy in skewering, and frankly, it’s really hard to warm to the thought of Eric Idle in anything.
There is one thing he is better at than his compatriots, however: writing. His novel The Road to Mars was an enjoyable, sub-Douglas Adams romp, and his volumes of non-fiction, particularly The Greedy Bastard Diary, a diary of a comic tour of the USA, and Always Look On the Bright Side of Life: a Sortabiography is thoroughly insightful and engaging from page one. When his sense of performance is removed, Idle is simply very, very good with words, and that’s no bad thing at all.
Given that I can’t exactly share a book with you here, I’ll share a title, and wordplay, and, well, bet you can’t not sing along…
Actor, author, poet, historian, presenter, director… the problem with Terry Jones is not figuring out how he went after Python folded, but deciding which one to focus upon!
For me, it’s his work as a historian that leaps out. Always the warmest and most human of the Python performers, he brings that humanity in spades to his work on Chaucer and the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s Knight, Who Murdered Chaucer?, Medieval Lives, and Barbarians are immensely compassionate and intricately researched works, both for TV and in book form, and Jones infuses them with wit, humanity, and a progressive approach that stood in stark contrast to the often stuffy, easily-satirised “BBC approach” that characterised many of his contemporaries. His books are welded to my collection: if you haven’t experienced them, or his TV programs, I heartily recommend you do so.
You can hunt down many of his documentaries on Youtube, thanks to the largesse of the BBC. Here’s episode one of Medieval Lives: treat yourself.
No, I’m not going to recommend the interminably twee and noodly travel series’ (upon series upon series…) because I am not a ninety year old Nanna. What I am going to recommend is all the stuff that did not turn the bloke who got hit in the head with a giant fish in the fish-slapping sketch into Sir Michael Palin armsful of letters after it: particularly his serious acting.
Because what’s been lost over the years, and I think it’s a bloody shame, is the fact that Michael Palin is a seriously good actor, and more to the point, it was obvious pretty early after the breakup of Python, Watch Brazil again. Palin’s turn as the utterly normal, everyday, suburbanite torturer Jack Lint is sublime, and more to the point, completely believable. He’s just as good in A Private Function, and American Friends. He’s thoroughly absorbing in GBH. He pops up, here and there, to give grounded and sympathetic performances, and then bogs off to some place everybody else in documentary-land has already trudged through, to chat to some locals and pick up another medal from the establishment.
It’s a waste, really.