Synopsis: The Pythons invade Hollywood with live versions of classics The Lumberjack Song, The Philosophers Song, and of course, the incomparable Parrot Sketch, plus material never performed on the Flying Circus Program.
Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl features the whole team’s final, and most famous, stage appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1980.
eyelights: the selection of classic and rare skits.
eyesores: the dismal video quality.
“They’re a typical Hollywood audience. All the kids are on drugs and all the adults are on roller skates.”
‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ is a motion picture that documents Monty Python’s series of shows at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The four shows were performed in September of 1980 to roaring audiences of 8000 people each night.
It was the closest thing to rock stardom that the Pythons would ever experience: audiences knew every line, and interacted with them. There were celebrities hanging around backstage, limousines, security and parties to go to. Even Cleese had a good time.
Initially, the show wasn’t intended to be filmed: they were to be paid the then-handsome fee of 1 million dollars for the shows, perform, and that’s that. But their manager decided that they should release a movie quickly to cash in on ‘Life of Brian‘s success.
So he squandered the million. It’s unclear exactly in what way he spent the money, but Terry Gilliam suggests that it went to the filming of the shows, after which they were pretty much obligated to release it if they wanted to earn any money from the venture.
The shows consisted of some of their most popular skits, as well as some rare bits from their respective careers, hilarious clips from ‘Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus‘ (then rarely ever seen outside Germany) and some musical interludes by Neil Innes.
Interestingly, not all of the best moments made it into the finished 78-minute film: The Pythons sometimes sabotaged each other on purpose, making each other crack up (Palin, for instance, changed the lines to ‘The Dead Parrot’ sketch). These were unsalvageable.
But the show is filled with tremendous material, including “The Argument Sketch”, “The Ministry of Silly Walks”‘, “Crunchy Frog” and “Nudge, Nudge”. They also performed songs from their albums, such as “Sit on My Face” and “Never Be Rude to an Arab”.
They even brought the show into the audience, with Cleese wandering about the amphitheatre dressed as a snack girl, trying to push an albatross. Idle ran into the audience at the tail end of “Travel Agency” on an impressively lengthy monologue that he not once interrupted.
…although he did interrupt the next sketch in order to continue his speech.
My favourite bit remains the non-Python skits “The Four Yorkshiremen” and “The Last Supper”. The former was originally performed on ‘At Last the 1948 Show‘; it is brilliant. Sadly, they changed some of the lines here and Cleese’s absence is felt.
For the latter, which was written by Cleese for Python but was actually performed for the first time at his Amnesty International shows ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball‘, Idle plays Michelangelo as though it had been written for him; he owns the part.
Also of note are some of Gilliam’s animations peppering the piece and Carol Cleveland’s involvement in some of the sketches as well as with Innes’ numbers. There are also amusing opening bits spoofing 20th Century Fox and MGM and giving each Python outrageous credits.
‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ is an inspired bit of lunacy that is only marred by its poor video quality (it has never been properly remastered) and by watching Eric Idle perform Michael Palin’s signature piece, “The Lumberjack Song”; he’s good, but we’ve seen better.
These shows were so popular that the audience wouldn’t go home. The Pythons would do curtain calls and people would stay there, long after they’d gone. The Pythons went so far as to project a caption on the screen at the end, telling them all to “Piss off”.
People lapped it all up.
It would be their last live performance together. Although they made one final film together, ‘The Meaning of Life’, and reunited for various occasions, the six of them never performed live again: by 1989 Graham Chapman had passed away from cancer.
Python was no more. It had ceased to be.
Many years later, the remaining members would perform live again. But it wouldn’t be the same without Chapman. Fans and all involved regard ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ as Python at its peak; they were superstars then. Now they’re a nostalgia act.
Date of viewing: March 14, 2015