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A&E Home Video presents
"Python was not about jokes; it was really about a state of mind. It was a way of looking at the world as a place where walking like a contortionist is not only considered normal but is rewarded with government funding; where people speak in anagrams; where highwaymen redistribute wealth in floral currencies; and where BBC newsreaders use arcane hand signals when delivering the day's events. And as long as the world itself is accepted as being an absurd place, Python will seem right at home. That is why the shows and films remain funny to audiences thirty years after their premiere, even after the routines have been memorized."
Why is it that 30 years later the release on DVD of Monty Python by A&E seems so vitally important to my very existence? It seems too simple a reason that Python reminds me of watching the episodes as a boy, laughing with my sister Debi until my stomach hurt and tears streamed down my face. Or that, as I have noted before, "The dull life of a city stockbroker" sketch is where I saw the first naked woman to whom I wasn't related. And it can't be that I am just an overwhelming Anglophile, although I am.
Instead I think the answer lies in the basic rebellious nature of Python. If you are one to root for the underdog then you too are a prime candidate to be a Python fan. I mean, lordy, I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan...how much bigger an underdog booster could I be?! Fair weather fans or wagon jumpers need not apply. Thinking about this as I watched DVD after glorious DVD, I had an epiphany: Python may be solely responsible for my own dark, twisted sense of humor. I mean, I truly believe they have had a lifelong effect upon my poor little shivering psyche.
But why does Python continue to appeal to younger generations thirty years after its initial run? It's simple. It's the same reason that retro is in—and not just any retro, but that of the counterculture that came to be and pass in the late sixties through the mid-seventies. Rebellion against the staid toneless, expressionless lives our parents lived, which came awash in crazy colors, afros and crazy hair styles, tall shoes and flaired jeans—and Monty Python's Flying Circus. Seem familiar? The gen-Xers and gen-Yers established themselves in a similar way out of the bosom of the rapacious 1980's and 90's, where "GREED was good." Enough with the blue and purple button-up shirts and the power ties, they cried, and out came dress down Fridays. (Okay, so our youth have helped spearhead more sweeping changes than just business attire.) It's the same basic need for more interesting, true, free expression that drives our youth today, as it was for the Pythons back in 1969.
Episode 1: "Whither Canada"Recording Date:
"At 11 o'clock comedy struck this little house on Didley road; sudden violent comedy."
This episode contains these sketches: Killing pigs, Wolfgang Mozart hosts an episode of famous deaths, Italian class for Italians, Whizzo butter, "It's the Arts" with film producer Sir Edward Ross and composer Arthur "Twosheds" Jackson, Pablo Picasso painting while cycling, Gilliam's cut-out animation with full frontal nudity, Ernest Scribbler and the world's funniest joke which helps win the day during the Battle of the Bulge.
This is not the funniest episode ever, but it contains some of the motifs and repeat characters beloved by Python fans the world over, including the disheveled "it's" man (Palin), the knight (Gilliam), the viking (Gilliam), the offended Sargeant (Chapman), and the immortal Pepperpots (the troupe in drag). The Pythons' humor, although individually was vastly different, as a group their wacky comedy manifested itself in the form of absurdist concepts, physical silliness, and social commentary while moving seemlessly from half-realized sketch to half realized sketch (although not as well in this episode). I really like the fact that A&E is presenting the entire show, in season and episode order...I think it makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable. Although I know some of the humor is above my stepdaughter's head, I really get a kick out of passing these episodes on like family heirlooms.
Strongest Moment(s): A tie between the Italian class for Italians and The world's funniest joke sketches is so perfectly Pythonesque in their ability to skew the most mundane topic just enough to make it absurdly funny.
Weakest Moment(s): The Sir Edward Ross portion of "It's the Arts" sketch is Chapman gone awry, saved only by the peculiarity of Arthur "Twosheds" Jackson.
Episode rating: 2.5 dead parrots out of 5.
Episode 2: "Sex and Violence"
This episode contains these sketches: Sheep who mistake themselves as birds; Arthur Frampton: a man with three buttocks, a man with two noses, Arthur Ewing and his musical mice, sleazy marriage guidance counselor, lost footage of wacky Queen Victoria and Wilfred Gladstone with commentary by English Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ken, the playwriter's son turned coalminer comes home, a Scotsman on a horse, The Epilogue: priest and philospher wrestle to determine the existence or non-existence of god, Gilliam's animation: the hungry baby and statue music, The World Around Us: The mouse problem.
This episode is classic Monty Python, which sets the tone for all four seasons with such Python keepsakes as the coined phrase "And now for something completely different," the black-and-white clip of the old ladies clapping, and the introduction of the lovely Carol Cleveland. If this show doesn't prove to what depths the five would mine their Oxford or Cambridge education (Gilliam withstanding), it unequivocally shows they never minded making a few heads spin—even if those heads were amongst the clergy. "Nothing is sacred" may be deemed the Python rallying cry; not religion, politics, body parts, humanity, sexuality, or even farm animals (the only exception: sperm).
There is something completely different enough in this episode to tickle or offend the fancy of everyone, whether it be the utter silliness of a man with three buttocks or Gilliam's animation, the vaudeville black-and-white antics of Queen Victoria, the wonderful way Chapman had of turning a situation on its ear as seen with the playwright's coalminer son sketch, or the more erudite juxtaposition of the wrestling match between the priest and philosopher. And if none of that works, there is the tainted sketch about men who want to be mice.
Strongest Moment(s): I love the "Playwright" sketch...it's Graham at his finest.
Weakest Moment(s): None.
Episode rating: 5 dead parrots out of 5.
Episode 3: "How to Recognize Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away" or "Bunn, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot."
This episode includes these sketches: opening and closing with the "it's" man, episode 12b: How to recognize trees from very far away (which includes "The Larch," Mr. Larch on trial for a parking offense with witnesses, the dead Mr. Altridge, and Cardinal Richelieu, Officer Dim of the Yard sings "A Window Washer Me", F.G. Superman a.k.a. Bicycle Repair Man, "Storytime" with adult themes, the dirty fork restaurant sketch, Gilliam's animation: "purchase a life," milkman collector, newsman kidnapped by terrorists, and the world famous "nudge, nudge" sketch with an unsuspecting businessman in a bar, I can only explain my love for "The Larch" by sharing my favorite joke: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? It was dead. It's just so bloody sublime. For instance, I have always despised comedians who laugh at their own jokes. I prefer the underplayed over slapstick.Palin's "Bicycle Repairman" is typical of his playful, sometimes childlike humor, abruptly followed by Idle's naughty "storytime." It is often the positioning or juxtaposition of sketches, or Gilliam's imaginative and keen sense of odd transition, that make Python, well, Python. The classic "Dirty Fork" sketch is a classic mix of the Python's melding of concept and slapstick humor, and seems like the mold from which Saturday Night Live was made.
Strongest Moment(s): "The Larch". The "nudge, nudge" and dirty fork restaurant sketches are amongst all-time favorites.
Weakest Moment(s): Officer Dim sings. I don't know why three fourths of Eric Idle's songs don't do it for me, perhaps it's that he wrote mostly unchecked, and that there's a repetitive nature to his material. Still, many of my favorite bits are his. I have such internal conflict. Sorry, I need a moment.
Episode rating: 4 dead parrots out of 5.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Well, in its own amusing way, at least A&E is upfront and honest about the lack of money spent on the image transfer, as the keepcase reads, "How the DVD process works: The imperfections of the original analog Monty Python shown have been analyzed and painstrakingly reproducedas digital imperfections." Cracks me up every time! Too true. There is evidence of dirt, scratches, spam, nicks, scars, spam, cuts, eggs, spam, pluming whites, spam, spam, and low contrast spam throughout, but worse in outdoor scenes than in studio takes. The elitist in me wants to cry, but the collector is happy to even have this disc at all. It may not be perfect, but it's better than it ever has been in thirty years, and content is too darned important. Besides, Python had such a small budget it's amazing they used video tape!
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: What did you expect, the Spanish Inquisition 5.1? Well, you'll get this well-rendered center channel deposited mix, and you'll like it young fan. I can't remember any significant drops in volume, and the dialogue is well understood—as best as one can understand Welsh and Pepperpot that is.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsAll in all, despite the shortcomings of the image and audio transfers, I cannot tell you how important not just to me or to you, but to the DVD medium it is to have high caliber, diverse content available to the diverse ever growing DVD consumer universe. Highly recommended.
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