The Pythons

The Pythons BBCSynopsis: 1979 documentary film The Pythons, shot on location during the making of Life of Brian.

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The Pythons 8.0

eyelights: its exclusive access to the Pythons on the set of ‘Life of Brian’. its flowy structure.
eyesores: its brevity.

‘The Pythons’ is a BBC documentary that was filmed in Tunisia, during the making of ‘Life of Brian‘. It takes us behind the scenes with the Pythons themselves, as they discuss each other, their career as a group, their respective solo careers, and, naturally, the picture that they are making. Oh, and poke fun at each other and act silly, too.

Originally broadcast on June 20, 1979, and intended as a 10-year anniversary retrospective on the “best known British group in the world”, the one-hour special (which is also known as ‘The Pythons: Somewhere in Tunisia, circa A.D. 1979’) can now only be found on the Criterion Collection DVD of ‘Life of Brian’ and nowhere else.

Despite all the material that exists on the group (could they possibly be more documented and heralded?), and the many times some of the stories have been heard, ‘The Pythons’ feels veritably fresh, offering as it does exclusive access to the group on location, while they are sitting around in the sun waiting for their next shot.

It provides a rather candid perspective on the group, who were truly relishing their time in the North African nation (it is said to have been their best film experience of all their time together). They are all jovial and relaxed, at ease with each other and in front of the television crew. Palin, in particular, was in terribly silly mood.

As any retrospective would, ‘The Pythons’ goes through the troupe’s career, but it does it with a twist: instead of doing it chronologically and/or linearly, the BBC crew decided to edit the documentary in a more flowy manner, tying together elements that were being discussed on screen instead – a technique that I found rather refreshing.

And thus we begin with the films, go through the Pythons’ solo work (complete with a number of outrageous and/or intriguing clips) and later go to ‘Flying Circus’ itself, complete with a bevy of skits to hammer the point home. It’s interesting to note that the filmmakers didn’t have a game plan when they started; they just filmed everything.

And this led to some interesting moments, including a clip of the Pythons sitting in chairs, jokingly refusing to address the camera because they weren’t being paid enough, getting one of the cast to speak for them, and another that shows a dialogue between John Cleese and one of his idols, Spike Milligan, who had a small part in ‘Life of Brian’.

It’s unfortunate that this documentary isn’t easy to find, because it’s probably one of the better documents of the Python’s work. Granted, it’s short, and dated (it doesn’t cover any of the rest of their career), but it shows the Pythons in a very different light, casually discussing their ground-breaking humour without performing for an audience.

And that alone (and the laughs it provides) makes finding ‘The Pythons’ well-worth the time. Or price.

Date of viewing: April 27, 2015

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