Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Monty Python's the Meaning of Life

Directed by Terry Jones and written and performed by Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Michael Palin, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is a film that consists of various sketches performed by the Monty Python comedy troupe about life itself. Through various subjects matters in the evolution of living, the film spans through different styles musicals and satire. Also starring Python cohort Carol Cleveland. The Meaning of Life is a rip-roaring and witty comedy from Monty Python.

The film is an exploration through a series of sketches about the meaning of life from birth to death. Most of it is presented in forms of absurd humor from the ideas of birth control, war, adolescents, and even death. It’s a film that is quite loose in its presentation where it’s all based on sketches and such to play into the ideas of existence and what does it all mean. Though the film doesn’t give out any answers, it does provide a lot of questions as well as ideas about life and all of its absurdities. Though some of the sketches that the Monty Python troupe doesn’t really work, it is balanced by some fantastic sketches that play into some of the flaws about how life works and such. The film opens with a 17-minute short film written and directed by Terry Gilliam called The Crimson Permanent Assurance about a group of aging employees of a British firm who rebel against their new and younger corporate bosses as they fight against corporations as if they’re pirates.

It’s among the many aspects of the film that showcases a sense of ambition in not just the troupe’s presentation but also in Terry Jones’ direction as he is going for something that is pretty big. Most notably the sequence for the song Every Sperm is Sacred as it is this lavish musical number with children and adults singing about birth control with some critiques towards religion such as Catholicism and Protestants as the latter makes critiques towards the former over not wearing condoms during sex. Much of the segments are structured in a narrative from birth to death as the first sketch is about a baby’s birth where doctors are more concerned about machines and such instead of the actual birth. It’s among these very offbeat sketches that plays into life’s evolutions such as a scene where a teacher showcases his students how to perform sex with another woman as it is later followed by a brutal rugby match where young kids are playing against adults.

Most of the sketches do play into silly ideas of war and such as well as a sequence in which Gilliam’s short tries to be in the main film at one point. Though some like the ones about conflict doesn’t entirely work as well as one very strange sketch about an American couple eating at a dungeon-themed Hawaiian resort as well as a talk-show sketch. The ones that do work do push the envelope of what can be done in comedy such as a man choosing his idea on how he would like to die. Yet, it is the Mr. Creosote sketch in which Terry Jones plays an obese man who vomits continuously and eats a massive meal at a posh French restaurant. The overall result is a messy yet very whimsical comedy about life and existence through the good, the bad, and the downright strange.

Cinematographer Peter Hannan does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography in providing many different palettes for the different sketches in the film with Roger Pratt providing the photography from Gilliam‘s short. Editor Julian Morris does terrific work with the editing in playing to the rhythm of the film‘s humor as well as create some stylish cuts for some of the sketches. Production designer Harry Lange, with art director Richard Dawking and set decorators Sharon Cartwright and Simon Wakefield, does fantastic work with much of the film‘s lavish set pieces from the look of the Every Sperm is Sacred sequence to the finale as the look also includes contributions from art director John Beard for the set pieces in Gilliam’s short film.

Costume designer James Acheson does brilliant work with the different array of costumes for the film for the actors to wear in the many different characters they play. Hair and makeup designer Maggie Weston does wonderful work with the look of the different characters the actors wear including the look of Mr. Creosote. Special effects supervisor George Gibbs does nice work with some of the film‘s visual effects such as the troupe playing fishes in a fish tank commenting in the film. Sound mixer Garth Marshall does superb work with the sound to play into some of the sound effects in the film while Debbie Kaplan does much of the sound for Gilliam‘s short. The film’s music by John du Prez is definitely delightful in terms of its playfulness along with some of the darker moments as well as it features some original songs written by the troupe.

The casting by Michelle Guish and Debbie McWilliams is great as it features some notable small appearances from Matt Frewer as a corporate executives attacked by the people of Permanent Assurance firm, Patricia Quinn as a woman who would have sex with a teacher for his class, and longtime Python cohort Carol Cleveland in a number of small roles including a receptionist and some voice works in Gilliam’s animated sketches. Finally, there’s the Monty Python troupe as they all give very exemplary performances in the many different characters they play. Terry Gilliam provides some pretty funny moments in his role as a Rastafarian getting an illegal liver transplant and a restaurant hostess along with some other small characters.

Terry Jones brings in some very memorable performances such as the wife of a million children, a priest, an army captain in battle, and most of all, Mr. Creosote. John Cleese plays the roles of the sex teacher, a priest, the grim reaper, an illegal organ dealer, and the waiter serving Mr. Creosote as he is just hilarious. Eric Idle plays the role of a Protestant housewife, a “meaning of life” singer, a posh restaurant waiter, a one-legged officer, and a Noel Coward-like singer that just showcases his talents as a singer and funny-man. Michael Palin is amazing in the many roles he plays such as a hospital administrator, a father of millions of kids, an army base sergeant, a female TV presenter, and a chaplain at the choose your death sketch. Finally, there’s Graham Chapman who is just superb in the different roles he plays such as a Protestant man, a doctor, a transvestite, a lounge singer, and the man in the choose your death game.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is an extraordinary film from Terry Jones and the Monty Python troupe. While it doesn’t have the consistency of their previous films, it is still a fitting bow from the troupe as they at least create something that is compelling and funny about life in all of its mysteries. In the end, The Meaning of Life is a sensational film from Monty Python.

Monty Python Films: (And Now for Something Completely Different) - Monty Python & the Holy Grail - Monty Python’s Life of Brian - (Live at the Hollywood Bowl) - (Almost the Truth (Lawyers Cut))

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