21 October 2009

The Very Very Silly Post Concerning Monty Python


Welcome to the obligatory Monty Python 40th Anniversary Post. This post will forever be notable for its longevity, general admiralty and repeated references to fried haddock. This is a wholly compulsory post, believe me I'd rather be out drinking a Graham Chapman worth of vodka. The post must go on like any other, so now for something completely different:

The Owl-Stretching Inspiration - I've managed to catch three parts so far out of the Six Party IFC Documentary, Monty Python Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) (2009), which you all can watch at 9:00 pm this very night and the next two nights after. Or catch the whole mess on DVD. I've gotten most of me info from the doc, but it's also notable to scribe to all the universe here my thoughts in general on the slimy scaly comedians.

Days of Yore (When the Parrot was Still Alive) -

Python was very influential in a tremendous consortment of ways. Prior to the show, which admittedly was inspired by Spike Milligan's Q5 series among others, most comedy was pretty flat. There'd be a joke, punchline, everyone laughs, move on. The swarthy Pythons however, were never very satisfied with that. They burst free from a lot of restraints that comedy had (and still does), fiddling with joke and plot structure and sketch show narrative (with mind you, good and ill results). It became and still is one of the freest shows ever put on television. This of course also makes it one of the weirdest.

It's funny though. Like a horde of angry foaming badgers descending on a small English village, pillaging and hording, eventually electing a king who imposes unadjusted tax breaks for those who stand in shallow water as opposed to land.

"I'll have the lot."

While on land, the badgers watched the Pythons make five feature films, about three of which are wholly original and one of which has a consistent plot. I consider Meaning of Life (1983) to be by far the funniest, but Life of Brian (1979) is artistically the best from a film standpoint. I honestly don't give a lot of props to Holy Grail (1975), which should be heresy to most of you k-nigts, but I don't care. More of the film is miss than hit and there's enough cop-outs to be frustrating to me.

It's interesting that they pulled off any movies at all, and I feel like they hit their timing perfect by Meaning of Life. Loaded with offensive and barely watchable material, it's the closest thing you could get to a true translation of what Flying Circus should have been on the big screen. What made the show so revolutionary is its reliance on sketch jokes, but freedom from sketch parameters. They blew the frame like a penguin sitting on top of a television set.

"Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam"

In your face it explodes. One thing besides Lorne Michael's thining hairline that has been with Saturday Night Live since the beginning is a chronic inability to finish a sketch. It's tough because in sketch comedy typically a bizarre situation is presented simply for the given joke and then a forced ending can be pretty awkward. Python realised this very early on and decided to just ignore this problem. This aspect both makes the show revolutionary and alienates it from people who don't "get" it. Many viewers (typically American) are so inundated with a stale form of set-up/pay-off comedy that Python is weird and scary to them. If you don't get Python and consider it weird and scary it may give you some rest that those of us who do get Python still consider it weird and scary.

It works because once the joke is done, the sketch has no more purpose. There is no need to awkwardly finish. Instead Terry Gilliam as a knight with a chicken or Graham Chapman as a General comes on stage and ushers the sketch players off. It creates a feeling of abandonment in some I believe, not unlike the equally revolutionary plot turns of recent Coen Bros films No Country for Old Men (2007) and Burn After Reading (2008). The narrative structure of these movies as well as much of Python is so lose and constantly toyed with that there ends up being little to grab on to. The effectiveness of this style in Coen films is debatable, but within television sketch comedy it becomes very liberating and provides many more jokes and sketches a quicker pace than would normally be allowed with a conventional structure.
"I'd like to answer this question if I may in two ways. Firstly in my normal voice and then in a kind of silly high-pitched whine."
Modern Comedy while is also conventional in a narrative sense also tends to be much less silly than Python. The heartfelt aspects of Apatow Comedy has been praised with giving a film like Knocked Up (2007) much more depth than it would contain otherwise. Indeed without scatological male-centric humour the film would be little more than a chick flick. Again, Python really understood the meaning of comedy and realised that this was also unnecessary. There is a much greater degree of pure silliness, comic actors going all out for their dollar here.

You can see a lot of this silliness in surreal shows like Family Guy and South Park, the latter of which actually directly inspired by Gilliam-style cut-out animation. There is also a huge influence in The Simpsons, as well as most surreal cartoony Adult Swim programs. I miss a time when live action comedy was this goofy; yet the audiences of New Millennium are far leaning towards reality. The immense popularity of Chris Nolan's realistic take on Batman (Begins [2005] and The Dark Knight [2008]), the upsurge of reality TV since Survivor in 2000, and finally the popularity (or at least commonality) of single-cam set-ups such as The Office and most of this line-up as well as critical hits Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm attest to this notion of anti-silly.

This post has become too long and annotative, it must be cut short. Move on to the next one about movies.

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