Okay, so how many of you out there were aware of the fact that American music legend Elvis Presley was a big fan of Monty Python? Certainly not I. At one particular moment in time (those serendipitous late-teen/early-20s years), I had nearly every hard-to-find book about Britain’s bad boys of comedy. I had certainly seen my share of ribbing toward The King himself, but I never bore witness to any such claim that Elvis was a fan.
And that is just one example of what you can learn if you go out and buy Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut today. Note how I completely skipped over the whole “subtle salesman approach” and went straight for your jugular there. It’s not because they paid me to say so (they did), but it just so happens that Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut is by and far the best and most comprehensive Python documentary ever made (so far).
We begin at the beginning (or should that be “begin the beguine?”), with the first episode of Eagle Rock’s six-part documentary delving deep into the sordid pasts of the now really-fucking-old comedians. From there, the series devotes entire hour-long(-ish) episodes to the formation of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin as a semi-functional unit; the BBC days of Python; the feature films; and the present. Each surviving Python member is well-represented via brand new interviews, while the late Graham Chapman is on hand thanks to the wonders of archival footage (love that blazer he’s wearing!).
Originally broadcast on IFC, Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut is a good seven hours and 43 minutes of laughs, factoids, and a number of unforgettable clips from the memorable Flying Circus days up to the feature film years (and beyond). The series also boasts interviews with a venerable who’s who of celebrities (from both sides of the Pond), including Steve Coogan, Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden), Eddie Izzard, Dan Aykroyd, and Russell Brand to name a few — the latter of whom looks like he’s stoned out of his mind, and is so completely irritating that he is the only downside to this entire programme. Another highlight is the ever-altering theme song: every episode sports a new take on the old Life Of Brian theme song — although, as we get closer to the final episode, the new lyrics (sung by either Sonia Jones or diva Shirley Bassey — the jury’s still out) change from being honorary to downright hateful (a wonderful touch).
On DVD, Eagle Rock Entertainment has done a fine job bringing Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut to fans and newbies alike. The series is spread out over three discs, boasting an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer throughout (the older 1.33:1 footage is in its original aspect ratio, naturally, and is presented “windowboxed”). The newer footage is very solid and presents itself well, while the older, archival material looks no better than it did the first time it hit DVD. Sound-wise, viewers have a choice between a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround or a 5.1 mix. Each mix comes through fine and clear, and English subtitles are included, should you have any difficulty understanding Russell Brand’s mumbling.
The third disc in this set is devoted entirely to bonus materials. Several sketches from the Flying Circus days are included here. They may serve in entertaining the less familiar Python viewer, but the die-hard fans will find them fleeting and rather poorly edited (how do you only use a fraction of something that works as “stream-of-consciousness,” anyhoo?). The disc also includes extended interviews with Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin (totaling several hours!) as well as guest interviewees (Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes, etc.); several “Outtakes from the Cutting Room Floor” (including a visit to the Spam Museum — yes, such a thing exists); and some of Gilliam’s sketch work.
I’d like to take you on a personal note here for a second. As a teen, a very dear friend of mine and I were utterly obsessed with Elvis Presley — in particular, the bizarre “Elvis Seen In…” headlines that adorned the likes of Weekly World News and other questionable journalism. We used to create our own bullshit tabloids, just to see the most outrageous “Elvis Seen In…” headlines we could conjure up in print. Another favorite of ours was Monty Python, but it was a discovery that was short-lived: my colleague met an untimely demise a few months after his sixteenth birthday. To this day, I still shed a laughter-induced tear when I see an Elvis headline on a tabloid, or sit back to watch Monty Python. But now, thanks to the brilliant Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut series, I have since learned that Elvis was a Python fan — and I cannot help but feel that a ghostly pal of mine is up there, somewhere, laughing himself into a new pair of pants as a result.