It can only be said that the Monty Python team have never really been ones to do things the easy way and this trend more than continues on the latest film to focus on them, and specifically Graham Chapman.
Based on Chapman’s mid-80s autobiography, and using an audio recording of it made at the time as its backbone, it tells what could be an entirely made up account of his life with extra vocal inserts from the rest of the Python team (with one exception) and a few others including a suitably Python-esque cameo from Cameron Diaz.
Stylistically the film is fantastic as it takes the original and new audio tracks and lays them over an hour and a half of animation that varies from work reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s to children’s cartoon styles (on the brilliant Sit On My Face musical number) to the frankly nightmarish as we see Chapman going cold turkey through his own eyes.
Away from the design, which reflects the style and content expertly, comes the film’s main problem – its conceit of how true the story is.
While in a book I could see this working as we are reading Chapman’s own words of the page, here, despite the use of the audio recordings, the very nature of making it into a film presents a disconnect in this relationship which makes the oddly believable, but certainly heightened, stories hard to pick out from the completely fabricated in a way that rather than adding an air of the Pythonically absurd is just frustrating.
Mixed within the confusion are some great moments, first is a scene from Graham’s youth where he and his mother went to meet his father at the site of a plane crash where the young boy remembers vividly seeing “body parts in the trees” which is rendered in brilliantly gruesome fashion.
Also well put across are the scenes surrounding Chapman’s first meeting with his long time partner David and his coming out to his friends which seem to grasp something of the way society felt about gay men at the time, but also hints at the more liberal world to come and paints a great picture of the juxtaposition between Chapman’s perceived and actual lifestyles.
In the end the film is imbalanced and disjointed and, I would have thought, for anyone not a fan of Monty Python, would seem to tell its story in a hugely nonsensical way – however, as a fan, I found it an interesting exploration of Graham Chapman’s life.
The main documentary in the extra features works very well as a companion piece to the film as it features both contributors who knew Chapman, including his brother and comedian Barry Cryer, alongside the Pythons, and the directors and animators who created the film’s visuals.
Across the 48-minute doc we find out just how much of the story is true and it serves to add a context to the main feature that I thought it was lacking and helps to really make the film more digestible.
While I understand the original film may not have wanted to be easily digestible, to me it veered slightly too far into the willfully obscure to match its content, almost like Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life does, and so is at best rather flawed, but, with the extra context provided by the bonus documentary it does become something interesting and worth seeing for fans of varied animation styles and Monty Python and people more interested in pop culture history.