Roger Graef and James Rogan’s documentary relating the reunion of the surviving members of the cherished comedy troupe Monty Python, as they are ready to perform a series of live shows, their first in over 20 years, is highest quality cubic zirconia for fans, for everyone else it’s still bound to entertain, provided they aren’t uptight, of course.
For reasons alluded to rather foggily in the film (Terry Jones’ mortgage and a lawsuit of some sort), the five Pythons agree to a 10 night stand at O2 stadium in London. And with such adored, articulate, and amusing subjects as these, there’s much to appreciate beyond the nostalgia and oral history shared by these consummate showmen.
Monty Python, as Michael Palin puts it, has been “forever saying ‘up yours'” through an impressive 45 tv shows, 5 movies and countless live performances. Stock footage from the 1960s and 1970s offer up lots of insights and split sides — though there is perhaps too much repetition of some of the material that Graef and Rogan show us — and seeing the Pythons presently, decrying the press for all their ageist commentary, is something of a skylark.
In fact, seeing these old friends match wits, express genuine concern, and even scamper out a few skeletons (“I’ve never agreed with a single thing to come out of Terry Gilliam’s mouth,” confesses John Cleese in all seriousness) is a pleasure. In fact, probably just seeing Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Palin, Gilliam, and Cleese standing together and muttering “lemon curry” for hours on end would have me in seventh heaven, but that’s just me and maybe I don’t get out much.
A fair bit of lip service is paid to the late Graham Chapman, who died in 1989, and hearing his friends discuss his genius, his battle with alcoholism, and his recovery as a triumph, is heartening as well. Coupled with other highlights such as appearances from a giddy and starstruck Mike Myers, an appreciative and even ad-libbing Stephen Hawking, and testimonials from kindred impassioned superfans, The Meaning of Live is indispensable fan fodder.
It’s true that the documentary tends to meander and lose its thread here and there, dipping into some murky maudlin waters — Michael Palin paraphrasing Spike Milligan that the heyday of Python reflected upon today appears now like “one good summer” is effortlessly stirring — but any grievances are pardonable in the face of the merriment, the subversion, and the sheer joy these men have brought to the world.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)