Director: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett
Cast: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Cameron Diaz
Running time: 82 minutes
Synopsis: With the aid of 14 animation studios, Graham Chapman narrates his life story, some of which never actually happened. This is particularly impressive as he’s been dead for over 20 years.
Before we got to see A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN 3D (or ALA), we were treated to a press conference with the trio of directors and two actual, real life Pythons, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. All of whom were absolutely lovely, which makes this tricky, because ALA was not good. It was not good at all.
The premise is inspired and rather moving, essentially a voice captured 25 years ago returning from beyond the grave to narrate a film about himself, sutured by some spectacular animation. They even got the remaining Pythons on board to provide many of the voices (except Eric Idle, who presumably wanted five times what was offered and a producer’s credit).
Unfortunately it just doesn’t come together. That is by no means the fault of the ridiculously talented animators, as ALA provides a refreshing change of pace from 99% of cartoons that make it into cinemas, and this is a cartoon. Fourteen different studios provide the varying styles of animation, each one chronicling a story or flight of fancy of Chapman’s, be it a backseat chastising from his father, a fantasy about a fantasy about Freud (Cameron Diaz) analysing a dream about Biggles, or some sexual adventures in an Los Angeles hotel. These are all woven together cleverly and the artwork at hand is sublime, often repellent and mostly interesting to watch. Viewed as shorts on separate occasions, they would work better, but as a feature film, it becomes a bit of a chore. Even at a mere 82 minutes, there’s a lot of clock watching. This is mainly due to the God awful voice work. Palin, Cleese, Jones and Gilliam are all incredibly gifted comedy performers, but they sound so profoundly bored here, Cleese’s voice being the most grating throughout. His painfully unfunny impression of David Frost in particular is like inserting a nail inside your ear and scraping it down a chalk board. Chapman’s own narration is surprisingly half-arsed and when the entire cast seems not to care, one wonders why we should.
There are some very effective moments though; the sequence in which Chapman goes cold turkey is very unsettling. Presented from his point of view, it is incredibly evocative of the pain that alcohol abuse brings. The following scene in which he wrestles himself in a metaphorical ring connotes the putrid duplicity of the man created by his dependency, it’s a repugnant few minutes, as well it should be.
Beneath the lethargic voice work and eye melting imagery is a rather poignant love story, as his relationship with (and eventual dependency on) David Sherlock is something I wish was explored further. There are nuggets of gold among all the vomit and semen, a particularly good point is when Chapman explains his take on religion with a ‘lost Bible entry’ he wrote. His views and agendas are still prescient today and had we further glimpses of these facets of his character, we’d have a better film. Instead we get ‘Sit on my Face’ played ad nauseam. It’s a funny song, but not after the fifth bloody rendition.
So A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY is interesting, a bit. But probably only for die hard Python fans, and even they may find it a bit of a slog. Everyone else will wonder why these characters, who sound like they’re having a chat by a fireside as they drift of to sleep, would ever have been considered cutting edge. The skills of the animators and the wit of Chapman are razor sharp, but the film is blunt.
Read the rest of our LFF coverage here.