I love Monty Python. It is a recent love affair thanks to the documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut and the live video, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. I know a lot of people that can quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I prefer Life of Brian. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” classic. I love the randomness of Monty Python’s Flying Circus especially “The Lumberjack Song” and the one with the two judges in drag. Funny stuff.
Now, you might be wondering, why does Chris think Monty Python is relevant to society today? Flying Circus is old and dated. It originally aired on the BBC from October 1969 to December 1974. Most of the movies are from the 70s and the 80s. The surviving members of Monty Python are in their late 60s and early 70s. How can any of this matter? Here are a few thoughts:
1.) Self-Deprecating Humor & Intelligent Discourse: The creators of Monty Python were smart and exceedingly intelligent, many being educated at Oxford and Cambridge, yet they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Yes, there was material that examined class struggles, literature and other high-brow notions of equality and politics, but they weaved that together with low-brow jokes, dressing in drag, and even occasionally sitting on a few pigs.
2.) Questioning of Societal Norms: Perhaps due to the amount of intelligence, as well as a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, each member was able to effectively question societal norms: Why do we hold some people in high-regard when they are human at the core? Can we make fun of the people that surrounded Christ because of their blatant humanity? What is fair game in the world of comedy?
3.) Ground-Breaking Writing and Innovative Production: While Flying Circus and the movies look somewhat dated, one cannot deny the ground-breaking writing of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin, along with the innovative production techniques courtesy of Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. For example, take the animation of Terry Gilliam that bridged and connected skits. He created a style, merely because he used what he had at his disposal: Art books, scissors and a camera. Crude, yet extremely effective. Mimicked by many animators even today.
4.) Group Collaboration: Any group of creative individuals could learn something from Monty Python. In their prime, they were the perfect example of individuals coming together to collaborate and create something better than what could have been produced by themselves. There were writing partners, but everyone would come together to make a collaborative decision about what worked, what didn’t and how to improve what needed help.
While it can be a stretch to say that Monty Python is relevant to today’s society, I believe that it is and that people can learn some valuable lessons from Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam.
I would encourage you to look up some of their movies or even the Flying Circus TV show. Read their biographies or memoirs, they are an enlightened read, opening your eyes to what went into each and every frame of Monty Python.
Until then, remember one thing: If you are unable to get horses for your film, you might as well use coconuts.