Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monty Python's Movie Debut Was Different

In the 1970s and 1980s, Monty Python, a British sketch comedy group, made several entertaining and successful movies that were based on unifying themes, such as ...
  • 1975's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which told the story of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table from Monty Python's unique perspective;

  • 1979's "The Life of Brian," which gave the Python comedic treatment to the New Testament; and

  • 1983's "The Meaning of Life," which was a series of sketches that illustrated the various stages in a person's life.
But the very first Python movie was released 40 years ago today, and it had no such unifying theme.

"And Now For Something Completely Different" was a collection of the group's best sketches from its first seasons on British TV. For many Americans, I'm sure it was their first exposure to the zany, frequently irreverent comedy of Monty Python.

I knew little about Monty Python in those days. The show was picked up by the public broadcasting station in Dallas, and I watched it whenever we visited my grandmother here. But in Arkansas, where I spent most of my formative years, it wasn't being shown at the time.

My grandmother never really cared for Monty Python. I don't think she understood the humor. So Monty Python was sort of a guilty pleasure for me.

The humor certainly was different.

A priceless example was the "dead parrot" sketch, one of the most famous of Python's sketches, in which customer John Cleese tries to get a refund for a dead parrot from store owner Michael Palin.

Likewise, my grandmother didn't get the humor in the "marriage counselor" sketch. It probably was a little risque for TV in those days, maybe even for movies.

I mean, a sketch in which a marriage guidance counselor has sex with the wife of one of his clients right under the client's nose does push the envelope a bit.

So, too, for that matter, did the "lumberjack song" — which really defies description.

You've gotta see it for yourself.

As I say, much of the material probably was new for many Americans. But my understanding is that there was little new for British audiences.

It was an opportunity to see the sketches in color — at a time when most Britons had only black–and–white TV sets. And that was something that really was completely different.

While some Britons felt compelled to complain that the title was misleading and didn't really offer anything new, the movie did well enough with British audiences that it turned a profit even before being taken overseas in 1972

Not bad for a collection of reruns.