2009 stands as the 40th anniversary of a whole raft of things, from the moon landing to Woodstock to the Manson murders. Among the many things that began in ’69 was the television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which I and many of my confreres became addicted to back when it started appearing on American TV.
Thus, I counted myself lucky that I was among the folk who attended the reunion of the five surviving members at the Ziegfeld Theater — which was oddly foreshadowed by a reunion of four of the members the night before on The Jimmy Fallon Show, and a quick interview of three of them on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which actually constituted the only time they were asked serious questions, and gave (semi-) serious answers. The event was the official American premiere of the Eagle Rock documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth, which by this time has aired on IFC, and which I’ve viewed in both versions. The shorter one (a two-hour cut made for British theatrical release, purportedly) is actually the better of the two, unless you are a fan like myself who likes all the sordid details, and who is willing to sit through heaping chunks of the feature films in order to get background info.
I felt the documentary shone when it found the Pythons rhapsodizing about their heroes, who all happen to be folks who should be better known by the American public: Spike Millgan and the Goons; the Beyond the Fringe group, especially the blindingly brilliant Peter Cook; the Bonzo Dog Band (the single most important link between Beatles/’60s and Python/’70s, and many of the participants would agree on that). That Was the Week That Was (which I’ll readily admit is the entry in this list I know very little about); and humor-mag pioneer Harvey Kurtzman. All the lionizing goes on in the first episode of the series (except for a juicy bit about how Spike Milligan beat the Pythons to the punch with his wildly surreal Q series in the second episode). The third episode proved equally compelling, supplying info about the personalities of the six Pythons.
“Disguised as a normal person” (thanks, David Steinberg), I covered the Ziegfeld Theater reunion for the trade magazine Video Business. Here is my account.