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Published: Saturday, 10/17/2009

IFC revisits Python's silly view of life


NEW YORK - Those who don't know Monty Python, and don't care, have been blessed with six hours they can spend on something other than watching IFC's new documentary series.

Of course, all Python disciples can look forward to comedy catnip in Monty Python: Almost the Truth (the Lawyer's Cut), at 9 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 23 on Buckeye CableSystem Ch. 218.

History. Hysterics. Dead parrots. All bundled into an everything-you-wanted-to-know-or-rediscover chronicle of this legendary comedy troupe, now marking 40 years.

Its distinctive style is clear from the first moments. After the very silly title sequence, each of the five surviving Pythons is heard from in fresh on-camera interviews (plus archived interviews with its sixth member, the late Graham Chapman), musing on their respective beginnings.

Step by step over the six hours, interviews, film, and audio clips will decipher how Monty Python became the most groundbreaking, transforming wellspring of comedy in the history of the world (OK, maybe a wee exaggeration).

Chapman, along with fellow Brits John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin,and Terry Jones, plus Minnesota-born interloper Terry Gilliam, were children during World War II. They were shaped by radio comedy as much as television. They feasted on the uptight, tradition-bound 1950s culture of their youth. They harnessed the gloriously subversive 1960s and used it as their launching pad.

On TV (notably Monty Python's Flying Circus), in live performances, recordings, and feature films, the Pythons' absurdist narratives and characterizations mixed raging intellect with shameless looniness.

Though the group has been effectively disbanded for years, classic Pythonesque drollery enjoys eternal life. The mere thought of "the Knights who say 'Ni'" or silly walks or the gay lumberjack song will reduce any Python fan to helpless silly-state, never mind the passage of decades.

Putting Monty Python: Almost the Truth (the Lawyer's Cut) together was a labor of love as well as persistence and filial pride for Bill Jones, the son of Python Terry Jones. He produced the miniseries with his partner and childhood pal Ben Timlett.

"The whole idea of Python was to be totally unpredictable," Terry Jones said when asked in a separate telephone call to summarize the troupe's de facto mission statement. "We were trying to be undefinable." Indefinable? Too bad. "Pythonesque" is now defined in the Oxford English Dictionary.

But en route to inventing that ineffable quality, the Pythons traveled a sometimes chaotic path. Six erudite, irreverent, and willful chaps were destined to butt heads, and the documentary is particularly fascinating as it charts their fractious creative process.

"I had always known that John Cleese and your dad would have big fights," Timlett said to his partner, Bill Jones, recalling their shared childhood.

"How the hell did they keep working together?" marveled Timlett. "It does seem a bit strange."

"It's not strange," Jones replied, "because they absolutely love arguing. It kept them interested in working together. They loved getting it all out."

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