A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman – Movie Review

A must see for Python disciples, this extensively produced 3D string of animations will run hot and cold with the general public.

Deceptively simple in its writing and directing credits, this 3D animated dark comedy is based on a book that credits six authors, uses fourteen different animation companies that work in seventeen different styles and features a narrator and star who has been dead for twenty-three years.

Introducing Graham Chapman, better known as “The Dead Python,” and the eponymous film narrated by the subject long after his death. The voice in the film is, indeed, Mr. Chapman. Even though he, as the narrative puts it, “selfishly dropped dead” in 1989, he had already made a recording of his reading of the book well before his untimely demise. Even better, the astute sound technician from the Python years had squirrelled away untold volumes of recorded out-takes, gurgles, pipe suckings and other disgusting noises by Chapman and the rest of the crew. Yes, these, too, were used in bringing the star back to life.

The result is a series of animated vignettes about the various stages of the Dead Python’s life. He was born, saw body parts hanging from trees, went to Cambridge, become an alcoholic, discovered he was gay, outed his gay self and hid his alky self, kicked the alky habit and croaked. There, that pretty does it. Eh?

Not quite. In between there was the birth and flowering of one of the greatest comedy teams of the twentieth century. Cleese, who, at Chapman’s memorial service, described him as “a freeloading bastard,” chose Chapman as his first writing partner when the two were at Cambridge together. It was also at Cambridge that Chapman became a medical doctor and started smoking a pipe at the same time. In his own words, the pipe gave him time to look wise and thoughtful when he could come up with neither answer nor retort.

As it turns out, the pipe also killed him, throat cancer bringing him down after he had gone to the trouble of kicking the gin habit.

In the understated manner of the British, “Liar’s Autobiography” does not dwell on the fine points of a tormented genius dropping into semi-conscious addiction because of seeing body parts in trees as a child and having international corporations squeeze the life out of him as an adult. It is homage to the man consisting of about a dozen segments of good animation and clever lines.

Beyond the autobiography part, the movie is a nod to anyone who ever dropped out because they had simply had enough, or to anyone who ever thought of dropping out because they had enough, which includes just about everybody. Although the credits and press materials go to absurd ends to remind the viewer that this is NOT A PYTHON FILM, it is more or less A Python Film, or at least A Neo-Python Film with substantially more sophisticated animation, 3D, and an outrageously blunt treatment of sex, than in the originals.

The rest of the Python crew play a couple dozen parts in the film, from the star’s parents (voiced by Terry Jones and Michael Palin) to David Frost (voiced by John Cleese), the “Biggles” pilot who gets the hand job (voiced by Terry Gilliam) to Sigmund Freud (voiced, in a fit of casting genius, by Cameron Diaz). The remaining cast and crew, including the fourteen animation companies, runs to a number just higher than the population of Singapore.

Getting back to the good part, sexual issues form a significant part of the film. These issues deal with straight sex as well as the gay variety have as much to do with integrating sexual experiences into life as accepting one’s own sexual orientation. Chapman’s parents never provided a sounding board for any of their son’s considerable talents and they certainly did not want to hear about either his sexual inclinations or his alcohol addiction. To some degree, this gives him a PhD in 20th Century family life, in addition to everything else.

The film is mostly very adult material. This is one of those films that makes a mockery of the MPAA rating system, because it is so far beyond any possible category that comes close to encompassing it. However, be it severed limbs hanging from trees (the Blitz in WWII), exploding bursts of semen or dueling phalluses, you may be sure the material is for only the mature and those of such bent inclinations that nothing could do further harm.

For the Python fans of the world, this is (another) must see. For the rest of you poor souls, it is up to you.

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Directed by: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, and Ben Timlett
Written by: Graham Chapman and David Sherlock (book)
Starring: Graham Chapman, Philip Bulcock and John Cleese
Release Date: November 2, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 85 minutes
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color