Synopsis: Graham Chapman, probably best remembered as “the dead one from Monty Python”, writes and stars in the story, A Liar’s Autobiography. He was born, he went to Cambridge and met John Cleese, he smoked a pipe, he became a doctor, he became a Python, he decided he was gay (well, 70/30, according to a survey he did on himself), he got drunk a lot, he stopped being drunk, he made some films, he had some sex (actually, a lot), and moved to Los Angeles. Finally, he was whisked up into space by aliens (although that might have been in a film). Although Chapman selfishly dropped dead in 1989, he had taken the trouble to record himself reading his book, A Liar’s Autobiography, an those recordings have now ingeniously been used to proved Chapman’s voice for the 3D animated feature of the same name. Fellow Pythons John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam also turn up, playing themselves and other characters, along with a few surprise guests. Not a documentary, not a Monty Python film, A Liar’s Autobiography is Chapman’s own take on his bizarre life and his search for self-knowledge. Incredible, yes. Surreal, certainly. True, who knows? At this memorial service, John Cleese called Chapman a ‘freeloading bastard.’ Now, as the film re-unites Chapman with Cleese, Jones, Palin and Gilliam for the first time in 23 years, he is set to earn a new title – the most prolific corpse since Elvis.
eyelights: the awesome variety of animation. the abstract quality of the storytelling.
eyesores: Eric Idle’s absence. no proper ending.
‘A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman’ is an animated film loosely based on the 1980 book ‘A Liar’s Autobiography’ by Graham Chapman, of Monty Python fame – which in itself was loosely based on his life. What to make of this eventual fabrication may very well be cause for debate for minutes to come.
It focuses a large part of its screen time on Chapman’s early years and then on his sexual adventures, as well as his struggles with alcoholism – certainly a noteworthy topic, if any (And I’ll drink to that. Except that I don’t drink, thus I’m just as big a liar as that Graham chap). Some time is also spent on his career, but ‘Liar’ is mostly a look at the man, not the comedian.
All the Idles made appearances in the film except for Eric Python, who is too busy producing musicals and touring the world with his acoustic guitar to lend a hand (or voice, as the case may be), to the long-departed Chapman, who can no longer stand up for himself due to a slight case of death. Shame on you, Eric. What of poor Graham?
While relatively low-budget, the animation is terrific for its variety, some of which is 2D, some of which is 3D. Sadly, some of it is merely 1D. Actually, it’s not. Not really. But it sounds good, and it best illustrates the quality of some of the animation, which was likely hand-drawn by quadriplegic pygmies caught in a wind tunnel…
The Colonel: “Right, right, stop it. Now, I’ve noticed a tendency for this blurb to get rather silly. Now I do my best to keep things moving along, but I’m not having things getting silly. Those three last paragraphs got very silly indeed, and that last one about threedees was even sillier. Now, nobody likes a good laugh more than I do… except perhaps my wife and some of her friends… oh yes and Captain Johnston. Come to think of it, most people like a good laugh more than I do. But that’s beside the point. Now, let’s have a good clean blurb.”
14 different animation studios made this visual autobiography, and it varies in style from cut-outs to hand-drawn to cartoon to paintings to CGI and so forth. And while the execution of some of them is lacking, as a whole they make for a wondrous assortment of eye-candy of all kinds, thereby canceling each other’s limitations.
As with any biographical work, there are limits to what filmmakers can do to cover a whole man’s life – even more so in a film only just over 80 minutes in length. But ‘A Liar’s Autobiography’ does a decent job of giving audiences an overview of Graham Chapman’s dreams, hurdles, inspiration and imagination.
The picture ends with a video of John Cleese’s memorial to Chapman, a hilariously improper speech that unfortunately doesn’t get a full show. In fact, the ending itself is itself an abortion, as it never really wraps up properly. One gets the sense that, given that the material was written before the author’s death, the filmmakers had no idea how to finish the tale.
But, for all its flaws (and the criticisms that they engendered), ‘A Liar’s Autobiography’ is a unique and compelling piece of filmmaking: it adapts a false story about man we all knew (but not that well) cut it in fourteen parts and put it together again. It doesn’t so much tell the man’s story as create a near-myth, a Pythonesque legend.
It’s a perfectly fitting tribute to an ex-Chapman – befouler of truth or not.
Date of viewing: December 27, 2013