Summary: An oral history of the Pythons (incorporating archive material of Graham Chapman), that is filled with more than 1,000 photos from the group’s archive, as well as from the Pythons’ personal collections.
The Pythons Autobiography, by Monty Python 7.5
‘The Pythons Autobiography’ is a book that revisits Monty Python’s career up until their 30th anniversary reunion at Aspen. Released as a large coffee table book in 2003, it’s really just a collection of recollections in the Pythons’ (and Graham Chapman’s partner, brother and sister-in-law) own words, like interview extracts. Some entries have been lifted from their personal diaries.
At over 350 pages in length, it makes for an interesting read, even as it lacks objectivity: there are no historical notes to provide context or set-up of the various chapters. The book offers the Pythons’ recollection as a chronological account of their origins and career together; it barely references their individual work after Monty Python was formed, leaving huge gaps.
A perfect example of how subjective this history of Monty Python is is that the participants often don’t agree on the details, sometimes completely contradicting each other. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it just goes to show that recall and fact aren’t quite the same thing – which, to me, was one of the most interesting aspects of the book, actually.
There were also lots of amazing archival pictures from a variety of sources, along with plenty of Terry Gilliam’s art – which I adore. The overall presentation was really nice, but it was clearly designed for the original over-sized coffee table book, as the later reprint had a downsized format and some the more layered pages became too dark for the text be entirely readable.
As is typical of most of the Monty Python books, with the notable exception of ‘Tunisian Holiday‘, this historical account of the troupe becomes less detailed as it goes on – it’s as though the post-‘Life of Brian‘ years are less documented and/or notable. I find that strange, given that Python were in the spotlight by then. Surely there must be a good reason for this, but what?
So I was a bit disappointed that the book didn’t touch on aspects of the latter part of their career in more depth, because the rest has already been covered to death in various media (‘Monty Python Speaks‘ remains one of the best, actually). But it did at least end on a high note, with a small bio of each important player and a humourous send-up of the Pythons themselves.
It was brief. It was an afterthought. But it wasn’t too little, too late. It was just right.
The problem is that I read 350 pages and really didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know from reading the other books. Granted, there was new archival material on the page, but I wish that the Pythons had saved the best for last. I’ve read claims that this book reveals previously unheard stories and details about Monty Python, but that’s simply not the case. It’s all déjà vu.
When you think about it, ‘The Pythons Autobiography’ should be the be-all and end-all of Monty Python books; comprised of recollections by the Pythons themselves, it should be as candid and insightful as one might ever hope for. Except that the book came many years too late: plenty of other books have been written on Python and most of what is discussed here has been told before.
And sometimes more eloquently.
Still, it does make for a nice coffee table book.