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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
(2020 Reissue)


Starring: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Simon Jones, Patricia Quinn, Andrew MacLachlan and Michael Caine
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £14.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 28 September 2020

The most excellent comedians of all time chart the deepest questions of existence and save us from needing to know anything about everything – or everything about anything. Where, I ask you, would we be without Python? These happy philosophers had already given us two classical bent tapestries from history, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) but this is something else: a philosophy 101 lecture on the basic questions of life: Who are we? What are we? and Why? The syllabus is always grounded in organic neuro phenomenology worthy of Heidegger. The very lack of abstraction is as reassuring as the embarrassing stains our self absorbed carcases can leave on the earth.

It’s also a milestone in “Pythonia” to have all six of the troupe together one more time before the passing of Graham Chapman in 1989.

The film begins with a short “film-let,” Universal MCA logo (flecked and old) “The Crimson Permanent Assurance.” One is already wary and if you aren’t, you should be. An executive carries a clipboard belonging to “The Very Big Corporation of America” through a dour office in 1983 London, England where desks are minded by hunkering visored accountants. Neo-Dickensian grime. Sad old men at their desks overseen by this sharply dressed executive squire from Universal’s Studio City “Black Tower.” And yes there really is a black tower and nobody gets to the top floor without adhering to sartorial perfection. It was known as the Lew Wasserman dress code. I trespassed there once and stood out like a giraffe in Orwell’s Animal Farm. You say, there was no giraffe in Animal Farm. That’s the point. This minion from Hollywood strolls with cold aplomb along the row of Ebenezer Scrooge slaves. Smash-cut to a dank Roman galley where the same old coots are being flogged with cat of nine tails as they pull corporate oars.

Back to 1983. The executive squire from Hollywood is firing one of the decrepit geezers. The geezers revolt and thrash him and his colleagues. The 19th Century building is unlocked from its moorings, canvas shrouds on its scaffold catch wind and the whole behemoth ploughs off on its own course. Only a Monty Python building can do this. They are pirates now blasting into a forest of mirrored glass money towers, casting Hollywood executives out the windows, duelling with makeshift office equipment fashioned into swords. I have done no justice to this little film. It is as cinematic and artful, shot for shot, as anything you’ll ever see. Python knows film is assemblage, worthy of Vsevolod Pudovkin and this is a masterwork of composition, surface, motion, dialectic editing, rhythm, in short, pure cinema. True filmmaking at its finest. Not just talking with pictures. Students of film could fare well doing a shot-by-shot analysis of this whole little gem. It is the Python displaying its sinew and tendon of film art.

The tottering old British office hive destroys the financial towers and proceeds victoriously until it topples off the edge of the world. This is a statement. And now we’re prepared to see the main feature, which, again is introduced by the Universal Studios logo.

"The Miracle of Birth, Part I". The constant pimping of the falderal our cultural ritualists saunter around with is hoisted on the petard of wicked derision. In this case, doctors delivering a baby. “Is it a boy or a girl?” asks the new Mum. “I think it’s a little early to start imposing roles on it, don’t you?” You get the drift. Then comes “The Miracle of Birth, Part II, The Third World.” And here we see why the Roman Catholic Church damned the movie to hell. It’s that lively little choral masterpiece, “Every Sperm is Sacred” sung in the midst of degrading social smarm. Choreography superb, art direction dazzling. Few musical numbers in all film can stand up to this baby. Sperm, and the children’s hymn, “Every Sperm is Sacred” is a dynamically thumping joke knowing, as we do, none of those little scuppers had any idea what they were chirruping about.

Post production dubbing created the end effect with a carnal twinkle in the eye. And, I think this is the secret of why Python is so criticized. So hated. Not only for content but flawless execution. No less for the excursus on Protestant tradition that follows. Protestants don’t deserve to sing and dance but merely hold forth, preaching out of their arseholes. The morning service with Church of England headmaster in an Anglican school is a breath-taking visual with the content of homiletic fart gas. I’m qualified to say this. You’re not. I have two degrees in the subject. You don’t.

The Mr. Creosote vomit segment is reputed to be the only film sequence to gross out Quentin Tarantino. This is a heavy epaulet of distinction. This reviewer must say it’s easily the hardest piece of film he’s ever watched. It conveys convulsion and upchuck suggestibility like nothing else I know.

The Rejection sequence does pitiable justice to its title.

The most favourite thing about the film for me is Fabulous/Freemantle’s report that at an American screening of four hundred high school kids, eighty of them got up and marched out in disgust. Disgusting American know-it-all teenagers is, to me, worthy of a Nobel Prize and gives us a yardstick for the rigor of Brit wit compared to the rigor mortis of American teen sensibility. Call me ethno-centric here. I’ll shed tears sometime on a long winter evening. Everyone knows this is the best comedic mindset ever to breathe and deposit a crap on your Mum’s heirloom carpet. Fabulous/Freemantle also alerts us to the fact that Ireland banned the whole kit and kaboodle in its initial release but it had also done this for Life of Brian as well. Writing this as I am in Eire, is a remarkable irony in how far things have come – or gone. The 1983 Cannes Film Festival gave Meaning of Life its Grand Jury Prize.

Extras include a trove of delights and history. There is the 30th Anniversary reunion; a 2003 personal prologue from Eric Idle; deleted scenes; featurettes; songs unsung; audio commentary with Jones and Gilliam; an audio track for “the Lonely” and a precis on the sales campaign. That last item is worth the extra coin for the Blu-ray for anyone interested in marketing. Remember, John Cleese makes beaucoup bucks these years running corporate seminars on efficient communication and zinging the attention in ways unforgettable.

When we fear our seams have lost their integrity of assembly, and this never fails to come at the trickiest of times, rivets rattling, sheets buckling, it is best to let Python take the tiller, hoist the main sail and fearlessly ride the white horses. We will be in good hands. I promise.


John Huff

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