The Last of the Python Documentaries, I Swear
Actually, for reasons I don't entirely understand, this is two documentaries packed into the same box set. There are two discs, despite the fact that they combine to a run time of under two hours. While they do have the broad thematic similarity of "being about Monty Python," you have to dig a little deeper to come up with any commonality beyond that. It's an American commonality--the set equates "before they were famous" with "before they were famous in the United States." Now, there are plenty of these documentaries, all over the place, and there's no reason not to package a few of them together instead of soaking the kind of fan who'd buy them all. It might even make the concept of spending money for a documentary which includes some of the same interview footage I've seen three times before a little more appealing, though it would also make it more obvious that these documentaries are borrowing from one another.
The first documentary of the set is [i]Before the Flying Circus[/i], another "historical" special about what happened in the days before [i]Monty Python's Flying Circus[/i] aired. This one is different only in that it's in B&W. There's a whole play on how this is prehistory, so long ago that only B&W is possible. It's mostly about the acting prehistory of the group, with only a minute or so of Eric Idle's residual bitterness from his school days. The documentary is paired with [i]Monty Python Conquers America[/i], which features a lot more new information. It talks about the group's rise to American prominence. How Hugh Hefner was intrigued by the show and helped get American distribution for [i]And Now For Something Completely Different[/i]. How PBS was the group's natural American TV home in those days before cable. Even a legal battle between the group and ABC after the network played bowdlerized and abridged versions of the show on network.
Frankly, it's the [i]Conquers America[/i] stuff I wanted to know more about. [i]Before the Flying Circus[/i] was not a bad documentary. It's slightly under an hour, so I'm guessing it aired on TV at some point. As such, it's not bad for what it is. Yes, you can get the information a ton of other places, even as special features on longer documentaries' DVDs. Even as special features on DVDs from the other material. However, if you want an hour-long summary of the history of six guys leading up to the premiere of a TV show from decades ago, this isn't a bad way to go. Sure, you can get the information somewhere else, but if you're only interested in dipping your toe in the water, so to speak, and aren't, say, up for Ken "Howard" Johnson's memoir of the time spent in Tunisia on the set of [i]Life of Brian[/i], this is worth watching. Or even if you're trying to decide if you care enough to learn more. Which not everyone needs to, no matter how interesting I find it.
The new information, though, comes from [i]Conquers America[/i]. For some reason, these are details which get skipped in even long documentaries about the group's history. I knew that the first PBS station to air the show was in Texas, though I never knew why. It still seems a little random, to be perfectly honest. However, the documentary does go a long way toward explaining why pretty much everyone in the United States has heard of [i]Monty Python's Flying Circus[/i] and not, say, [i]At Last the 1948 Show[/i] or [i]The Frost Report[/i]. Or even various British comedy shows without any of these guys involved with them. (They did exist!) A lot of it doesn't even require the show to have been better or more universal than the others. It just came to the attention of the right people at the right time. Unfortunately, that right time was in part the time when John Cleese had gotten sick of the whole thing, which isn't touched on for very long.
I've still got some Python left--one of these days, I'll even get around to watching and reviewing [i]Meaning of Life[/i]. However, until that day, that's the reviewing you're going to get from me. Most of what's left is just sketches. Even if [i]Live at the Hollywood Bowl[/i] were available on Netflix, what is there left to say? I've seen them all before. [i]Parrot Sketch Not Included[/i]. I've got a bunch of the [i]Personal Best[/i] collection still to go. I find the documentaries interesting, as I'm hoping other people will as well. But you don't need me to tell you to watch the bits that are just comedy. I like to hope that one of the purposes these reviews serve, if I'm not just sending electrons into nothing, is actually getting people to watch things they wouldn't ordinarily watch. I would hazard that there's essentially no one who just hasn't ever heard of [i]Monty Python's Flying Circus[/i]. There might be people who don't think it's funny, but there's nothing I can say to convince my mom, much less total strangers.