A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman
Directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett
Despite his proper English childhood and Cambridge education, Graham Chapman—King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the lead in Life of Brian—had an unconventional life that’s been given an unconventional treatment: a 3D animated film, with three directors (including Bill Jones, Terry’s son) and 14 animation studios handling different scenes. Chapman narrates via recordings of his 1980s autobiography, while his fellow Pythons, as well as supporting player Carol Cleveland, voice themselves and other roles (except for the suspiciously absent Eric Idle). A few film clips of Python sketches are mixed in, as well as a too-short excerpt from his memorial service. (He died of throat cancer in 1989.)
In addition to his life with Python, the film covers, in haphazard order, his time at university and medical school, his homosexuality (and the reactions of friends and family), and his problems with alcohol and drugs. Each scene is done in a different style, from cartoonish to graphic-novel-style realism, and while some, like a nightmarish depiction of detoxing, are appropriately evocative, others are just weird: why are the other Pythons portrayed as monkeys? There’s also no mention of anything Chapman did post-Python, including his lecture tour of U.S. colleges that, ironically, provides the film’s first audio clip, nor does the film delve too deeply into what led to his self-destructive lifestyle. And yet we’re subjected to what seem like half a dozen renditions of the Python classic “Sit on My Face.” The 3D is often impressive and the risky conception pays off. But a little more coherence and insight into Chapman’s story might have produced a movie that was not only visually engaging but emotionally as well.
Opens November 2