Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Liar’s Autobiography: Monty Python’s Graham Chapman is in There Somewhere

He was the one with the pipe.  Graham Chapman could be as silly as any of the Pythons, but only he had the noble bearing to portray King Arthur, the would-be messiah Brian Cohen, and a battalion of aristocratic British military officers.  He also played the title role in Yellowbeard, but nobody’s perfect.  Indeed, that could be the mantra of Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett’s A Liar’s Autobiography: the Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (trailer here), a hyperkinetic kitchen sink of an animated biography, which opens in 3D this Friday, day-and-date with its 2D premiere on Epix.

Viewers of Jones (son of Terry) & Timlett’s Monty Python: Almost the Truth will know Chapman was the tragic Python, who struggled with substance and sex addictions, before succumbing to cancer at the terribly early age of forty-eight.  Chapman was also perfectly open, if rather ambivalent, about his sexuality.  Such a dramatic life offers plenty of grist for a biopic treatment and it all in Liar’s Autobiography—somewhere.

Fourteen different animation houses using seventeen different animation styles illustrate the events of Chapman’s life, as narrated by the subject himself from the memoir that would inspire the film.  Given the relatively brevity and rapid succession of each constituent episode, it is hard to keep them all straight. At least, they proceed in a somewhat orderly narrative fashion, depicting Chapman as a rather macabre baby (not unlike Seth Macfarlane’s Stewie), a precocious student, and as one of the gaggle of monkeys co-founding Monty Python. 

The thread is easier to follow in his early years, though Autobiography is still prone to distraction, even dramatizing one of the Biggles war stories (strikingly rendered by Made Visual Studio) that captivated young Chapman.  However, by the time Autobiography reaches Treat Studios’ Space Pods, the connection to reality has been gleefully severed.

The greatest irony of Autobiography is that its biggest laughs and greatest emotional payoff comes from the real-life-honest-to-gosh video of John Cleese’s eulogy for Chapman, in which he promises to avoid “mindless good taste.”  Most of the Pythons are represented in Autobiography, playing themselves as well as other co-conspirators and innocent bystanders.  Fans will be delighted to hear honorary Python Carol Cleveland turns up for old time’s sake too.  Bizarrely, Cameron Diaz, who also used to famous once, supplies the voice of Freund.  However, Eric Idle is MIA, though his song “Sit on My Face” gets the full “Blame Canada” Busby Berkley treatment.

You don’t walk out of Autobiography, you stagger.  While the 3D is characteristically hit or miss, the film[s] bombards the audience with wacky, tripped out imagery.  At times, it is almost too much, but it least it scrupulously observes Chapman’s wishes regarding gratuitous good taste.  You have to give its spirit proper due.  Recommended more for the fanatical Python fan than the causal viewer (quick, what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?), A Liar’s Autobiography will be the first 3D release to play at the Angelika Film Center when it opens this Friday (11/2) in New York, simultaneous with its 2D broadcast on Epix.