May 11, 2018

[Movies] Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus (2000) Review

Netflix has recently been blessed with the gift of a ridiculous amount of Monty Python content ranging from the classic episodes to many different documentaries about the franchise. And I've been indulging with watching from and have been happy to discover new things about a group of comedians that I have come to love visiously over the years.

Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus is a weird documentary that focuses on the lives of the Pythons before they became, well, Monty Python. And to stress this fact the entire documentary feature is presented in black and white, I guess for that old timey feel.

Given the time the documentary was made, naturally not all of the Pythons were available (read: alive) for the feature and could not contribute to the interviews. But they did a lot of good research and dug up a lot of archival material to really flesh this out.

Synopsis: Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus is a blakc and white documentary feature about the lives of the Monty Python crew before the show came into being. It was directed by Will Yapp and is now available on Netflix.

The documentary starts with the individual lives of the various members of Monty Python with a particular focus on their university years when many of them met and how they got into comedty. Terry Jones and Michael Palin met at Oxford University and they eventually got involved in the Oxford Revue. Graham Chapman, John Cleese and later Eric Idle both studied at Cambridge and got into the Cambridge University Footlights. And later Cleese would travel to New York with the Cambridge Circus and there first encounter Terry Gilliam.

The documentary goes into more than just the events of their individual lives but goes into the nuances of the sort of experiences they got from Oxford and Cambridge respectively. It covers the sort of comedy each group sort of specialized in and how that later played into the formula that eventually became Monty Python. This goes on into their professional lives before Python and what eventually brings them all together.

What I Liked: As a documentary, this was a lot of fun given what a Pytonite I am. I really appreciated the effort put into dissecting their respective life experiences and figuring out what may have played a role in the Monty Python experience, if you can call it that. And really, they did a lot of good research as I actually learned a lot watching this despite all that I alreadty knew about one of my favorite comedy franchises.

And the interviews were still nicely insightly and had good question hooks that drove the narrative forward. Combine that with some great archival photos and videos and you really get a nice deep look into the history of these crazy, creative gentlemen who managed to create something amazing.

What Could Have Been Better: Honestly, I didn't understand the need for it to be presented in black and white. I don't think it was shot in black and white given the quality of the interview pieces so they could have gone with color. And even if most of the archival stuff was in black and white it's not like we've never had a documentary that switched between color and black and white. It just felt weird and maybe they wanted it to be somehow funny or ironic but it didn't work that way.

And a documentary that focuses solely on the time before Monty Python can't quite go all the way to the part that things really come together. It's not mandatorty of course and it helps given this documentary a very specific scope and angle to it but I feel like they could have gone a bit further. Like really driving home how the Oxford and Cambridge elements of their comedy show up again in Monty Python sketches. Just a thought.

TL;DR: Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus is certainly an interesting documentary about the memorably crazy Monty Python. It presents some interesting ideas about the nature of the show's origins and gives a richer appreciation for the Pythons. And thus the show gets a good 4 early sketch ideas out of a posssible 5.


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