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  Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, A Stop That, It's Silly
Year: 2012
Director: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Philip Bulcock, Stephen Fry, Cameron Diaz, Peter Dickson
Genre: Comedy, Animated, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Graham Chapman is reminiscing about his days with the Monty Python comedy team, and how when they were onstage one night performing the Oscar Wilde sketch, with him playing Oscar, when he dried: just couldn't recall the crucial line. He imagined himself doing something else instead: shooting off into outer space where he would climb aboard a spacecraft and embarking on a trip which began, like any good autobiography, with a visit to his birthplace which here he claims was Royal Leamington Spa. But you have to be careful what you believe with Chapman, as he was a liar...

Or at least the title of his book was A Liars' Autobiography, although that might have been down to it reputedly having been written by other people, including Douglas Adams, and only loosely following the pattern of its subject's existence. Indeed, there are parts in the text which tell you he's making it all up, though there were other parts which had the ring of authenticity about them, so how much you chose to believe was up to you: better perhaps to take it, like the film version here, as a fantasia on Chapman's adventures which were tragically cut short by throat cancer (he had been very fond of his pipe smoking).

Fortunately for the filmmakers, Chapman recorded an audio tape of his book about three years before he died, and that was the basis for both the narrative and the narration, augmented by the surviving Pythons themselves (except for Eric Idle - there were unhappy rumours of a falling out) and some guest stars, including fan Cameron Diaz who played Sigmund Freud in an example of an idea that may have been wacky but wasn't particularly funny. There were a few too many instances of that, which could have been down to the fact that a pall of sadness fell over the story early on and never lifted, mainly thanks to knowing Chapman had expired, and also the nagging feeling he had squandered his talent.

Not with the Monty Python material, where he was an integral part of the humour and justly celebrated, but in the way he drank himself into oblivion far too often, thinking he didn't deserve the acclaim deep down, which was a sad way for anyone to think about their successes, especially if they had the ability to generate such huge amounts of laughter around the world. Nevertheless, the three directors, including Terry Jones' son, corralled a selection of animation studios into creating a lively and miscellaneous appearance to the movie, ranging from computer graphics to more traditional techniques, and for the most part complementing the commentary with aplomb.

However, unless you were already au fait with the book, or at least the details of Chapman's life, you might well find yourself a little lost, and even if you were up to speed the chaotic methods offered more of a mishmash than a coherent narrative. It could have been a problem with expectations: when you watch a film of a book from a celebrated comedian you would want to be laughing for some of the time, if not most of the time, yet there wasn't much that was funny here. The blue spoof of Biggles that everyone who read the book remembers was recreated, for instance, but there's not much to have you giggling, and as Graham's descent into losing himself in booze and sex with partners of both genders (though mostly men) predominated, it didn't matter that they were shown in fun cartoon form, which may be why the more desolate parts were the most vivid. You might come away from watching this feeling you'd learned something, but there would be few surprises for those who appreciated it most.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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