A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012)

Posted: March 2, 2013 in Movies

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To speak of Monty Python is an accident waiting to happen. The die-hard fans of the comedy troupe know every line from every skit, religiously follow each and every member, and maintain their cult-like behaviors by retaining every fact possible about the ensemble – from their inception in 1969 to their legacy of feature films to their current status as comedic and cultural icons.

The lads gained their notoriety during an amazingly short five year stint (1969-1974) on England’s BBC television network with their program of short, off-the-wall sketch comedy – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman wrote, produced and starred in the series that poked fun of religion, government and pretty much anything controversial they could get away with.

While all the members had their own, special way of warping my brain (I sat up long past bedtime many nights watching PBS reruns of the show on a black and white tv no bigger than a toaster) my favorite was always Graham Chapman. His deadpan style and awkward expressions were a compliment to the sheer zaniness of the rest of the cast, and his roles in the Python movies (most notably Brian in Life of Brian) stood out to me as sheer comic genius.

Like most “geniuses”, however, Chapman was a troubled soul.  This became evident after reading his self-penned book “A Liar’s Autobiography, Vol. VI” while I was in college.  The book was to be taken as “a fictional account” of his life, but between the outrageously tall tales and whimsically imagined exaggerations, much truth was told within the pages.

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The film, “A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman”, is an interesting reinvention of the novel.  The film uses Chapman’s own voice—from a reading of his autobiography shortly before his death—as the main narration in the movie. While you would expect plenty of archived footage of Chapman’s performances, you get relatively few. Instead, the focus of the visuals was placed in the hands of 14 different animation companies, each working on chapters that range from 3 to 12 minutes in length. The styles are widely varied and do an amazing job of bringing the recital to life. While not an “official” Monty Python production, Cleese, Gilliam, Jones and Palin (with a notable absence of Eric Idle) all lend their voices to help tell the tale of a man who was conflicted with his sexuality, the reality around him, and his addiction to alcohol.

The story twists and turns like a drunken waltz with references to his god-like worship of Oscar Wilde to some possibly false carousing with Keith Moon and Rod Stewart. To delve much deeper into the film’s story would take away from it’s viewing – but trust me when I tell you the time you’ll spend discerning the truth from the fiction is alone worth the watch (with the excellent animation at play here only adding to the experience).

Simply known as “the dead one” by his Python brethren, Graham Chapman’s life and legacy are given an insightful and thought-provoking treatment in this film .

Even if it is – as Terry Jones joked – “all a downright, absolute, blackguardly lie.”

Rated R – 85 minutes

Available now on DVD and BluRay

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