The surviving members of Monty Python reminisce on the eve of their final performance in Monty Python: The Meaning of Live. Directors Roger Graef and James Rogan deliver exactly what one expects in the film — where a global simulcast offered fans the actual live show (the last of ten nights at London’s O2 Arena) last year, this one contains just snippets of that event and focuses on everything preceding it. Diehard followers of the troupe will of course want to see it, however little it contributes to the lore; releasing it in theaters, though, would be a stretch.
It had been 34 years since the last live Python performance (the Hollywood Bowl show), and a good deal of the behind-the-scenes talk here has to do with how up to it they are, how the reunion will be received, whether they’ve still got chemistry. But they’re happy to find in early read-throughs that, not only does it feel “like no time at all had gone by” (per Michael Palin), but, as John Cleese reports, they were actually making each other laugh.
Prep scenes are interspersed with footage from the many previous live events and tours, with tales from the road balanced against the ever-present concern the group had about carrying on past the point where they had something new to contribute. (Cleese recalls a jarring experience at New York’s City Center when he realized that their performances were no longer stage shows but pop concerts, in which laughter and applause were withheld until a skit’s end.)
Each surviving Python gets some sit-down interview time, with Terry Gilliam‘s being the most refreshing. Not only is he totally frank about the financial reasons for the reunion (they needed cash after losing a lawsuit concerning Eric Idle‘s Spamalot musical), but he winningly recalls being “always in awe of the others” and particularly intimidated by Cleese.
Graef and Rogan never show a skit from the final show in its entirety, but we get plenty of glimpses to sate us: The sight of Terry Jones playing through a minor injury; of Cleese amusingly wrecking the parrot sketch; of Palin getting in prim drag to tape a faux-prudish explanation of why certain song-and-dance numbers would not be broadcast live on air. Add Stephen Hawking “singing” a corrected version of “Galaxy Song,” and Python fans have reason enough to watch this before their umpteenth revisiting of the original series.
Production company: Python (Monty) Pictures
Directors: Roger Graef, James Rogan
Producers: Jim Beach, Holly Gilliam, Lindsey Jex
Executive Producer: Lucy Ansbro
Directors of photography: James Rogan, Paul Shammasian
Editors: David Atkinson, Simon Barker
Sales: Andrew Winter, Eagle Rock Entertainment
No rating, 99 minutes