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Monty Python's Flying Circus



1970, 1972. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin; dir. Ian McNaughton. 3 cas. 60m. ea. $24.95 ea. Paramount. Image: good. 


What has six heads and makes you laugh? Monty Python's Flying Circus, the groundbreaking British series which began a whole style of television humor (and whose traditition, if not wit, went into Saturday Night Live). Its 45 episodes, filmed between 1969 and 1974, have inspired a cult following unsated by a plethora of books,· albums, .stage shows, and feature films. 


The show was created by five Britons and an American for the BBC to fill a late-night slot originally occupied by a religious program. (As one Python observed, "We were initially seen by insomniacs, intellectuals, and burglars. ") Their off-the-wall humor knew no limits and made no exceptions, poking fun at TV, the clergy, politicians, movies, pretentiousness, pomposity, and life in general. Before Python, TV sketches had beginnings, middles, and ends. The group did away with that, frequently having characters stop scenes by saying, "This is silly," and walking off, or just having a piece of bizarre (and often violent) animation take over. (In one bit, Graham Chapman's head is sawed off and used in the cartoon that follows). 


This collection of six shows from 1970 and 1972 features a cross-section of some of the Pythons' best work: the Ministry of Silly Walks (a government agency that gives grants for silly walk research); th~ Attila the Hun Show (in the style of the'Debbie Reynolds Show, with silly opening song, American accents, bad jokes, and a laugh track); the Argument Clinic ("I came here to have a good argument"); the Spanish Inquisition ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" cries out an inquisitor, who tries to torture his victims with "the comfy chair" and "the soft cushion"); the Charades Trial (in which a jury gives its verdict through a game of charades); the Summarize Proust Competition (in which contestants are given 15 seconds to summarize the author's works); and a James Bond-style film (with snazzy credits) called The Bishop (who rides around in a sports car to the tune of Peter Gunn). 


The Pythons excelled at mock documentaries, and these tapes feature a . classic: an examination of the Piranha .~ Brothers, a pair of unsuccessful gangsters. A criminologist explains, "A murderer is only an extroverted suicide," and a Piranha colleague breaks down on camera, exclaiming, "I've seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug." Interviewer: "What did he do?" Criminal: "He (long pause, biting his lip) used sarcasm ... dramatic irony, metaphors, pathos, puns, parody, and satire. " You could say the same about Monty : Python's Flying Circus. Or as George Harrison once observed, "Let's face it. : There are certain things in life which : make life worth living, and one of those : things is Python,"


VIDEO, February 1987