In celebration of their fortieth anniversary, the members of Monty Python, five living and one who has “expired and gone to meet 'is maker,” have once again been gathered together, separately, to tell the group’s history through a series of interviews and archival footage in Almost The Truth, a six-part documentary that aired on IFC. Also, on hand on are contemporaries, comedians influenced by the troupe, and even famous fans. The Blu-ray is a two-disc set.
Episode 1, “The Not-So-Interesting Beginnings,” looks at the men’s upbringing and how they came together. The surreal comic radio program The Goon Show, starring Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, is cited as a major influence for some of the members as is the stage revue Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Other than American Terry Gilliam, the Pythons attended Cambridge (Chapman, John Cleese, and Eric Idle) and Oxford (Terry Jones and Michael Palin) and got involved putting on revues. They became aware and impressed with each other’s work. Gilliam left Minnesota for New York to do humor magazine work. While there, he met Cleese who was performing in a show and made his way to London.
They began to write for and perform on television programs, including That Was The Week That Was, At Last The 1948 Report, and Do Not Adjust Your Set where they met Neil Innes, who became an auxiliary Python contributing material and acting in small parts. The six decided to work together and create a show.
This first episode reveals the rest of the documentary will likely be as impressive because it is filled with archival photos and videos, the latter of which is particularly interesting as it allows Chapman to contribute his reflections. The filmmakers also interviewed his partner David Sherlock.
Episode 2, “The Much Funnier Second Episode,” focuses on their influential television series Monty’s Python’s Flying Circus and the work involved as they dealt with the demands of the BBC and each other. In addition to themselves, the long list of speakers includes British comedians Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Stephen Merchant, Simon Pegg, and Eddie Izzard. Also taking part are musicians Bruce Dickinson and Nick Mason as well as Americans Seth Greene and Dan Aykroyd. A great many had trouble naming their favorite sketch when asked because of the great amount of material the Pythons had.
Episode 3, “And Now, The Sordid Personal Bits,” reveals the struggles to keep Monty Python going. Cleese felt they were repeating themselves in the second series and didn’t want to come back, but he acquiesced for the third and even contributed some writing for the fourth and final series. With Cleese gone, the BBC only commissioned six instead of 13 like the previous seasons and had the name shortened to just Monty Python. It’s fascinating to hear them analyze each other and their respective roles within in the group. They also discussed the difficulty of Chapman’s alcoholism.
Amazingly, the BBC almost wiped the tapes, which was an unfortunate standard practice, but they bought the shows back. Since there was no home video, vinyl records preserved and spread their work.
Episode 4, “The Ultimate Holy Grail Episode,” they talk about coming to America. The film And Now For Something Completely Different, a 90-minute sketch collection from the first two TV series, was supposed to help introduce, but it wasn’t until they got on PBS that the country took notice. As the title suggests, also in this episode is a look at Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin helped finance. Apparently Elvis Presley loved the film.