Sunday, September 7, 2008

A day of Palin's diaries and Life of Brian

I just finished a second viewing (since I received my own copy) of my All-Time Favorite Film Ever, Monty Python's Life of Brian. This after finishing Michael Palin's newest book, Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years.

Michael's take on Graham's alcoholism and recovery showed more a picture of a real human suffering from a real problem. In my opinion, Graham came across as less of a villain in Michael's diaries than he did in the book The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons. He was obviously not the "real Graham" during the throes of his awful disease, and after he takes himself off the booze and stays off it, Michael reports in September of 1978 that his ". . . abstention from alcohol has increased his appeal a hundred percent - he now sounds like, as well as looks like a very wise old owl. . ."

Certainly Michael reports irritation and disgust with Graham during his addiction, as Graham could be rude, boistourous and completely self-centered. Of course, that's how addicts run. He even noted his fear of telling Graham how he feels about the whole situation in June of '77: "I mention how cowardly I am about confronting him with direct criticism of his wasteful lifestyle." Graham was already well-aware, however, and about six months away from fixing his own problem.

So Graham slimmed down upon his recovery (he'd gotten pretty swollen and ill-looking during most of the 1970s) and got himself a new healthy shine for the filming of Brian. He even took on the role of doctor-on-the-set, and put well to use the name Michael had been calling him throughout the book: "Dr. Chapman." Michael reported during filming that "Graham is rapidly becoming a saint. . . and now he's stopped drinking he has time to do his medical work properly, and the ability to do it without shaking or dropping whatever he's about to stick in you."

In The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons, Graham's partner David Sherlock says that he's always moved to tears at the very beginning and the very end of Life of Brian. Me, too. . . The gorgeous swelling music as the Three Wise Men make their way to Jesus via Brian, and Brian's crucifiction at the end with Eric's exhortion to always look on the bright side of life.

Two wonderful ways to spend some time: Michael Palin's Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years and Monty Python's Life of Brian.

I can't wait to hear what Michael has to say about 1980.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Graham #11, I'm sure





Doug and Dinsdale Piranha's old English teacher Anthony Viney, from the Ernest Pythagoras Primary School, being interviewed by a microphone-impaired TV journalist (our Terry). Here's the video. You have to watch Chapman miming his experiences with the Piranha brothers, and then his distress at the memory. His expression is priceless.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

What is this, Graham Post 10, now?

A lovely photo of the handsome Graham Chapman, achingly young... This is likely a shot from his days at Cambridge. Again, thanks to Lady April of Pythonline. A lot of these rare Chapman photos come from Bob McCabe's The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons, which I received recently. I read through this huge tome and finished it feeling rather discomfited. Over the majority of the pages, old Graham really comes across as a drunken ass and a huge waste of time. He put out a lot of people, including his Python mates, and even the chapter on his death included Terry Gilliam saying, "He'd sold his big headline story to The Sun, I think, about how 'Python Whips the Big C' a month earlier, and so there's Graham once again conning people into parting with large sums of money." Of course, Terry might have been saying this with a grin and lots of love, who knows.

I did read passages containing affection and respect for him, especially when he dried out and contributed in so many ways to Life of Brian, but overall, Graham looks pretty bad in this book. And the only people around to talk for him are his partner David Sherlock, his brother John and his sister-in-law Pam. Graham himself is quoted extensively through his book A Liar's Autobiography and from a few other sources, but it's a pity Graham doesn't get to say anything new on his behalf, while everyone else certainly does.

He may have been a royal piss, but he was really enjoyable to watch, and the laughter he's given so many is genuine and well-appreciated. He did struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and I've seen it take down a couple of my own family members, so I know it's a rough go. But the people I've known who've had the disease were not simply talking bottles of gin. They made a contribution, they loved and were loved. And I know Graham was, too. I would like to have seen more of that in the book, especially since Graham was not around to give his side, you know? Great, so he received a hand job from a strange man backstage and could never remember a damn line. Wonderful. Glad to learn that...

But what did he do that made Python work so well? He was only one of six, but his contribution was sublime, and as much needed as the rest of his cast mates. He was the quintessential English gentleman. Tall, regal, pipe-smoking, intelligent. Yet never afraid to squawk, holler, or dress like a middle-aged matron. He made you believe him, no matter what he was doing, no matter how outrageous. He made you laugh, dammit.

Score one for Graham, I say.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My 9th Fan of Chapman Post - A Liar's Autobiography

Thanks to Lady April of Pythonline for this photo, and several more to come for sure...

I just finished reading A Liar's Autobiography, and what a surreal and totally entertaining experience that was. The narrative weaves in and out of reality, almost as if smudged by an alcoholic hallucination. I wonder if that's what Graham is trying to get across, since he covers a period of time when he's pretty free with the gin.

Here's a quote from the Mrs. Captain Mark Phillips Slightly Better Preface, which gives an indication as to what's ahead:

It looks like one of those children's riddles. . . you're riding along a country lane when suddenly you come to a fork in the road. You see a sign saying, 'One of these roads leads to Newmarket, the other to somewhere horrid.' To find out which is which, you have to ask one of the two brothers who live in the hut over there. But there's the catch. One of them only tells the truth, and the other tells only lies. And you can only ask one question. Think carefully before you ask!

Some of the book is the country lane, some of it hits a definite fork, and then there wait the two brothers, only all I can do glance at them in some confusion. And often I'm not even sure when I've hit the fork, and I go marching merrily along until I realize I'm certainly not in Newmarket. Then I have to back up until I hit the fork again, and I try the other way. I never once bother with the brothers; they only grin stupidly at me.

The book has a lot of crazy footnotes as well, including some that depict conversations between Graham and his partner David Sherlock, a co-author. And then we get small flurries of sci-fi, perhaps Douglas Adams contributions. I just have no idea. But I had a wonderful time, and I think I learned some more about Graham. Well, at least I'm pretty sure I did. As was described so accurately by Sherlock, "He was Adonis-like, with a very short Roman hairstyle". . .

He was a physician who delivered babies and treated tonsillitis, he was a comedian, a father, a son, a lover, a sex maniac, a drunk, an actor, a friend, a caregiver, a pouf, a rabid pipe-smoker, a mountain climber, a Cambridge graduate, a Python. And through his own sheer audacity and will, he became sober.

This man crammed a hell of a lot of living in his 48 years.

And Graham, I did appreciate that you waited until I took your book onto public transport to show me the black-and-white photo of you lying in bed, naked and hairy, with your testicles in almost-full view. And wearing a bunny mask.

D'ya think it was on purpose? He likely would have approved. I'm half-sure something like that was supposed to happen. . .

Monday, August 18, 2008

My 7th or 8th Fan of Chapman Post, I don't know


Jonathan Hills illustration from 1980's A Liar's Autobiography by Graham Chapman, David Sherlock (Graham's partner), Douglas Adams, et al. This drawing depicts Graham drying himself out in the late 1970s. He didn't go to a detox clinic. He stayed in bed for a few days and hallucinated and risked injury or worse to get off the booze. Incredible.

I have no idea what I'm in for when I read this book, but I can't tell you how excited I am. I feel a little bit like I've got Graham right here with me, ready to tell me a story, and not all of it true. All I want to do is hide away and crack it open, but I guess I have other things to do. A little bit at a time, then.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My 7th Fan of Chapman Post



A short sketch from 1967's At Last the 1948 Show, with Graham playing the minister who falls apart, and Tim Brooke-Taylor playing the man who interviews him while watching him lose his bits. The name of this show always confused me, as the date seemed quite wrong. Turns out the name poked fun at the BBC's habit of shelving new shows for quite awhile before they ever saw daylight.

Wikipedia says this show only ran during 1967, and much of it was wiped, so there's a lot of very valuable footage completely gone. I understand Python was spared that very fate by Ron Deveiller, an American PBS executive who just found the tapes sitting around on shelves. If he hadn't located the show and made it quite popular in the states, Python might well have disappeared for good.

Well, imagine that! Or better yet, don't.

I've just purchased The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons, and I plan to glom onto it quite ferociously once it arrives. The question is: Do I really want to know this much about the boys, and especially my favorite Graham? I understand Graham was often complicated and often drunk, and maybe not always as much fun to be around as he appeared to be on television (although he never tried to blow smoke up anyone's arse about that).

Sometimes if I learn too much about someone or something I like, I become disappointed. When you place someone very high up on the pedestal, only to learn they are quite human, well gosh, what a letdown.

I'm not saying it's fair.

But as I said, I know Graham could be a piece of work, yet I still adore him as a comedian. In fact, his personality likely made him the way he was on film, and I really, really liked watching him. So, I'll read the book, wince a little perhaps, and learn some more about what made him go.



Friday, August 15, 2008

My 6th Fan of Chapman Post



Break out the cream buns and jam, this arrived on my front doorstep this morning in a plain brown box.

My sister and I once spent an entire weekend watching this film over and over again. Of course, we were teenagers at the time, and had a schedule that allowed for this sort of thing. Then that Sunday I actually had to pause during my umpteenth viewing to answer the phone. It was someone from my group of friends in high school - a boy. He wanted to know if I'd like to take a walk with him. (How bizarre, does he like me or something?) I wasn't sure I wanted to break away from watching the video, but I was too nice to say no, so off I went to join him for a stroll about town. Good thing I didn't say no. I ended up marrying him four years later.

That would be almost 20 years ago now...

But anyhow, now I have my very favorite film, and what do you know, it has extra interviews and other loads of goodies, as if plain old Life of Brian wasn't brilliant enough. Think I'll make some popcorn, then!