this collection is really worth owning for the material that never quite registered in the popular consciousness. Sketches such as the Summarise Proust Competition, the misunderstanding over the Hungarian phrasebook and John Cleese's manically embittered architect with a grudge against the Freemasons are every bit as funny as the more familiar hits and, free of any associated baggage, they will startle and delight the younger viewer as much as Python must have startled and delighted their parents when first broadcast in the 1970s.
And Now for Something Completely Different
And Now for Something Completely Different, Monty Python's first feature, is a reworking of their best skits from the first two seasons of the TV series. Originally made for the US market (where the show had yet to be aired), it was shot on film outside the usual studio sets ("Nudge Nudge", for example, is set in a tavern filled with passers-by). The writing and performances are fine and the film is packed with some of their best bits: "How to Avoid Being Seen", " Hell's Grannies", "Blackmail", "The Lumberjack Song" and "The Upper Class Twit of the Year", among others. Many of the sketches have been shortened, however, and the loss of the overly bright video sheen (the film has a muddy, dull look to it) and the invigorating presence of a live audience leaves the film sluggish at times. They're still feeling out the possibilities of the feature length, which they conquered with their next movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974). --Sean Axmaker
Life of Brian
There is not a single joke, sight-gag or one-liner in Monty Python's Life of Brian that will not forever burn itself into the viewer's memory as being just as funny as it is possible to be, but--extraordinarily--almost every indestructibly hilarious scene also serves a dual purpose, making this one of the most consistently sustained film satires ever made.
Like all great satire, the Pythons not only attack and vilify their targets (the bigotry and hypocrisy of organised religion and politics) supremely well, they also propose an alternative: be an individual, think for yourself, don't be led by others. "You've all got to work it out for yourselves", cries Brian in a key moment. "Yes, we've all got to work it our for ourselves", the crowd reply en masse. Two thousand years later, in a world still blighted by religious zealots, Brian's is still a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
Aside from being a neat spoof on the Hollywood epic, it's also almost incidentally one of the most realistic on-screen depictions of the ancient world--instead of treating their characters as posturing historical stereotypes, the Pythons realised what no sword 'n' sandal epic ever has: that people are all the same, no matter what period of history they live in. People always have and always will bicker, lie, cheat, swear, conceal cowardice with bravado (like Reg, leader of the People's Front of Judea), abuse power (like Pontius Pilate), blindly follow the latest fads and giggle at silly things ("Biggus Dickus"). In the end, Life of Brian teaches us that the only way for a despairing individual to cope in a world of idiocy and hypocrisy is to always look on the bright side of life.