Even though Monty Python ended their run in the 1980s, they’re still curtural icons. Even for people like me, born after their disbanding, films like Monty Python and the Holy Grain (though less their Flying Circus roots) have a firm hold in our conscience. They created true comedy classics, and I hope (and suspect) that they will stand the test of time well into the future.
The Meaning of Live focuses on their 2014 reuinion show, “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go.” But though I’ve seen a few of their films and that sketch about the Spanish Inquisition, I’m really not particularly well versed in the Python ways. Which meant that I had no nostalgia in seeing the old gang back together performing the old sketches one last time. But I got to see them for the first time.
And that was pretty damn good too.
Monty Python: The Meaning of Live
Directors: Roger Graef and James Rogan
Country: United Kingdom
I’m on the younger side of New York film critics. I’m certainly not the youngest (not anymore), but I know a whole bunch of critics more than twice my age. And that means that many of the people who I saw The Meaning of Live with were alive when Monty Python was big, and a fair number of those were probably old enough to remember them. Those people were laughing at the film for different reasons than I was.
Those people were laughing because they were seeing sketches they knew by heart for the hundredth time, though with the added quirk of thirty years. Monty Python is no longer made up of spring chickens. They’re older, grayer, and feeling the effects of those first two things. Going between clips from back in the day and the modern iterations, the sketches themselves haven’t changed much, but the people definitely have. Seeing John Cleese in a wig as a young man was funny. Seeing him in a wig as an old man is freaking hilarious.
The film isn’t just about the stage show, though. It’s also about the past, about their time in Britain and then going abroad. It’s about what led them to split up in the 80s and then return in the 2010s. It’s about the entire Python timeline. And it’s all fascinating, because they’re fascinating people. And they’re funny. I mean, of course they’re funny, but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy. Watching them talk and interact, seeing how they do this thing and then talk about what they did, it’s all enjoyable because they’re just enjoyable to watch. Near the end of the trailer, John Cleese is in a hallway and he trips over his own feet. He’s on camera, but he’s not doing it for the audience. He’s doing it for the two workers in the hallway with him. He turns it into a bit, doing it a few times, just to get some laughs out of the people who are doing all of the thankless work to get him up on stage. It’s a wonderful moment, and it makes you fall in the love with man yet again.
The Meaning of Live feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, even though it’s professionally done. The camera people honestly aren’t that great at their job, and frequently try to find focus as everyone involved walks around. It looks kind of guerilla, to be honest, and that’s unfortunate. Even if the show that’s being filmed has some technical hangups, there’s no excuse for the film to as well. Moments of brilliance were obscured in a camera operator’s inability to find focus. I’ve filmed things like this before, and I know how difficult it is to do this job, but that doesn’t excuse it. They should have been on point. Because everyone else was.
Whether you could recite Monty Python sketches in your sleep or just have vague memories of hearing someone discuss a holy hand grenade, there’s something in this movie for you. You don’t need to know Monty Python to find their story fascinating. I expect you’ll get more out of it if you do, but it’s hardly a requirement. Really, the only thing you need to bring is a sense of humor. And that shouldn’t be a problem. If Monty Python can’t make you laugh, then you’re definitely dead inside.