There’s a fair amount of ancillary Monty Python material already out there for fans, but the six-part documentary series Monty Python: Almost the Truth is by far the most complete and fascinating history of the Pythons available.
Featuring all-new interviews from the five surviving members — John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin— as well as a lesser amount of archival interview footage with the now deceased Graham Chapman, Almost the Truth features the best kind of interviews — from people with nothing to lose.
We don’t get any carefully crafted, promotional style softball questions and answers; we get the hilarious, uncensored and often conflicting opinions of the various Python projects. It’s unlikely the Pythons would’ve been any tamer answering these same questions 30 years ago, but it’s heartening to see none of them have lost any of their acerbic wit or absurdist flair in the decades that have elapsed since the last Python project.
The series chronologically tracks the group’s formation and subsequent projects, from the early BBC days when the group landed a gig to perform a little sketch show to their skyrocketing success that led to several feature films, and counted George Harrison and Elvis as fans.
The series gets plenty personal too, as the members discuss their shock at discovering the fact that Chapman was gay and an alcoholic. Their admiration for him is undeniable, but it’s clear that his constant inebriation, especially during the filming of Holy Grail, wore thin on the group’s patience. Chapman himself discusses this in an interview from the early ’80s.
Perhaps one of the best things about the series is there is none of the typical glad-handing that often occurs in retrospectives. (“He was just the nicest guy, and the best actor to work with!”) Not the Python’s style. It’s not done in a backbiting way, but each one has something to point out about a fellow member that’s not the most flattering. Overwhelmingly, the segments are filled with praise, but the fact that the interviews are tempered with some criticism as well makes them seem all the more authentic, and provides an interesting perspective on the Python’s group dynamic.
Frequent Python collaborators Neil Innes and Carol Cleveland are featured, as well as interviews with a host of Python fans, including Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, and Jimmy Fallon, and friends, including old schoolmates and Chapman’s partner.
It would be unthinkable for a Python fan to miss out on this set; for now anyway, this is the definitive making-of of the group’s career. It’s a wonderful way to walk through their world from Flying Circus through to The Meaning of Life. They’re clearly enjoying themselves, which makes it impossible for you to not follow suit.
The Blu-ray presentation of Almost the Truth is featured in 1080i high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (not including the archival footage). The interview segments with the Pythons, filmed against black, look incredibly crisp with excellent contrast levels. It’s also a treat to see clips from Flying Circus, Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life presented in high def, even though they weren’t specifically re-mastered for the format. In many scenes, it still provides an upgrade in quality, which will no doubt excite fans for the films’ eventual Blu-ray releases.
The two-disc set also includes extended interviews and outtakes from each of the Pythons and a selection of the most famous Flying Circus sketches, including The Parrot Sketch, The Lumberjack Song, and Spam.