Published May 01, 2015When the members of Monty Python agreed to do a run of 10 nights at London's O2 Arena, the host venue of what is their most elaborate stage production to date (and first in 35 years), it was mostly because the legendary troupe owed more than a million dollars in legal fees. This was due to a case that was lost by Holy Grail producer Mark Forstater over the derivative work Spamalot, but as Eric Idle declares in a televised interview, "We're all trying to pay for Terry's (Jones) mortgage."
To their surprise and no one else's, the first show sold out in 45 seconds. And while performers in their later years may lack the piss and vinegar it takes to properly scoff at the establishment, there is something warm and reassuring about twilight artists who continue their craft. This is absolutely the case with Monty Python: The Meaning of Live.
Super fans of Python will find some of this repetitive. Many of us are aware that Gilliam is the crusty one, or that Cleese despises the Silly Walk sketch, and this film is ultimately an account of their most beloved sketches, scattered with film bits that were shamelessly ripped from their early days at the BBC. Billed as Monty Python Live (Almost) — One Down, 5 To Go, a nod to the late Graham Chapman, the show went on to generally favourable reviews.
It gets interesting for longtime fans when it becomes a study of Python's love affair with the stage; it's where all original six members first met, and viewers get a taste of that history here (including the 1973 Canadian theatrical tour Monty Python's First Farewell Tour). There are some wonderful behind-the-scenes snippets from these earlier days, in the form of glimpses into their round table process.
There is some doubt at first, among these pioneers of comedy, that they could even pull this off. These are men in their '70s, after all, and it would seem cruel to doll them up in showy costumes or hang them from cables. But it leads to the most endearing part of this film, which is how they have all come to embrace each other. Together again after years of turmoil, they tease each other playfully, yet remain consummately professional. Beyond all of it, they are brotherly friends. And isn't that the real meaning of life?