Graham Chapman died in 1989 of tonsil cancer, putting to bed any hopes Monty Python fans the world over had for a new film from their comic heroes. The announcement of A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, an animated take on the pipe-smoking comedian’s 1980 book of the same name, seemed to ignite hopes of the first proper outing for the Pythons since The Meaning of Life, 30 years ago.
Sadly it is nothing of the sort. Built around a recording of his book that Chapman made shortly before his death, A Liar’s Autobiography is fleshed out with visual accompaniment by a number of different animation studios working with vastly different styles. The goal is to recall the kind of anarchic, surreal montage work that Terry Gilliam perfected for the Pythons back in the day, but with an overuse of bland Flash animation and dated 3D models the whole project is an eyesore to say the least. The film’s most obnoxious sequence, in which Chapman bemoans his habit for namedropping while continuously dropping famous friends’ names, is animated in a crude, blockish manner where all the elements of the image are see-through. It is difficult to endure.
But there are moments when the animation amuses, particularly a sequence where the self-proclaimed “raging poof” discusses his youthful attempts to engage in heterosexual intercourse – these see Chapman travelling through his past on a rollercoaster car shaped like a penis.
This is not for the easily offended, and indeed Chapman’s humour is far cruder (and more personal) than even the naughtiest bits the Python’s ever dared to show on screen. Sequences range from an adolescent sex dream about Biggles to a full-blown song and dance performance of Python classic ‘Sit On My Face’ in a style borrowed all-too heavily from The Meaning of Life’s ‘Every Sperm Is Sacred’.
While Chapman’s decent into gin-soaked alcoholism and his often difficult struggles with his sexuality are interesting, they are never presented with enough humour to overcome the seriousness of the issues. The fact that Chapman is also challenging us to not believe anything he is recounting makes this all the more difficult to deal with.
What you realise watching this film is how much the Pythons censored and controlled one another. Too much of what Chapman delivers in his own reading is not very funny, and often it’s not even silly enough to warrant the Colonel from the Flying Circus (one of Chapman’s finest characters) walk in and say “Sorry, this is just too silly.” All the biggest laughs in the film come from clips of classic Monty Python scenes, and not from Chapman’s tales.
With the exception of tireless killjoy Eric Idle, all of the other Pythons make vocal appearances, and it’s nice to hear some banter between John Cleese and Chapman from beyond the grave. In a scene so head-scratching you may cause your scalp to bleed a little, Cameron Diaz cameos as the voice of a stop-motion Sigmund Freud. It’s too odd to be funny, and very much the wrong kind of silly.
At only 85mins, this should breeze by, but it drags incessantly, and there is so much filler around Chapman’s recording that hardly an hour of it is even used. For example, the Biggles sequence features a full minute of adequately animated aerial battle; this is not what we come to a Monty Python film for.
With only the occasional giggle along the way (the contents of the Queen Mother’s purse spring to mind, or John Cleese’s hilariously mean impression of David Frost), A Liar’s Autobiography is a frustrating, ugly film, that does little for the memory of the man who became Monty Python’s leading man. However, its brazen honesty (when it’s not outright fabrication!) does paint a unique, if unsatisfying portrait of a comic legend, dearly missed.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)