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Reviewed by Will Harris
ome would argue that there’s been enough said about Monty Python over the years and in the various special features of this DVD and that DVD. Those people, it perhaps goes without saying, needn’t feel obliged to purchase “Monty Python: Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut,” a six-part documentary which gives John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and even the late Graham Chapman the opportunity to tell the most definitive version of their story that’s ever been committed to film. But if you could do with a bit more insight into one of Great Britain’s funniest comedic troupes, then what a jolly good time this is to be a Python fan.
“Almost the Truth” is, for lack of a better choice of phrase, the comedy equivalent of the Beatles’ Anthology, even going so far as to duplicate the whole dead-member aspect. The documentary stretches all the way back to the childhoods of the Python members, then identifies how they came to meet each other: Palin and Jones went to Oxford together, Chapman, Cleese, and Idle all went to Cambridge, and Gilliam – well, he didn’t go to school with any of the other members, but he crossed paths with Cleese in New York, a meeting which proved highly fortuitous. Despite giving the first title of the documentary “The Not So Interesting Beginnings,” the black and white footage from the members’ various pre-Python projects is actually quite interesting for those who’ve never seen it, as is the story of the group’s original pitch meeting for “Flying Circus,” which Cleese describes as one of the worst of all time. Despite having little or nothing to offer insofar as a description of their series, the BBC nonetheless gave the green light to the “Circus,” and the rest is history.
No, wait, sorry, there are actually still five more chapters in the documentary: “The Much Funnier Second Episode,” “And Now, The Sordid Personal Bits,” “The Ultimate Holy Grail Episode,” “Lust for Glory” (about “The Life of Brian”), and “Finally! The Last Episode (Ever) (For Now…).” And, boy, are they packed to the gills with detail, including reminiscences from so-called honorary Python members as Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes, producers, directors, and even Chapman’s longtime companion, David Sherlock.
Granted, even those who have laughed at everything Monty Python has ever done will possibly find themselves thinking, “Did this really need to be six episodes?” This will likely come during the moments when some of the group’s more notable fans – both in England (Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, and Eddie Izzard) and North America (Dan Aykroyd, Seth Green, and Jimmy Fallon) – gush about how hilarious the group’s work is. Not that it isn’t interesting to hear the perspective of those who’ve been influenced by the Pythons, but there’s an occasional tendency to think, “Yeah, well, I think they’re funny, too, but you don’t see them wasting time interviewing me. Get back to the actual members of the group!” Similarly, others may be rather surprised at how seriously things get on occasion, most notably when discussing Chapman’s alcoholism. But if you’re looking for the no-holds-barred story of the group (but not their subsequent solo projects, which – aside from what they’re doing currently – are ignored), then this is definitely the place to go.
Special Features: Although it’s reasonable to presume that most people who’d be interested in watching “Almost the Truth” from start to finish already know most Monty Python sketches backwards and forwards, give Eagle Rock credit for offering up several classics – including “The Parrot Sketch,” “The Fish Slapping Dance,” and “Spam” – for your viewing enjoyment. There are also extended interviews with the various members of Python, outtakes, and a photo gallery of some of Terry Gilliam’s best Python-related artwork.