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Film Review: ‘Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’

The famed British comedy troupe's first live gigs in 34 years are chronicled in this affectionate docu.

monty-python-meaning-of-live
Image Courtesy of Hot Docs Film Festival

Gold for fans, though unlikely to mean much to anyone else, “The Meaning of Live” chronicles the reunion of surviving Monty Python’s Flying Circus members as the famed comedy troupe plays its first live shows in 34 years. Mixing a performance record with a light recap of the group’s original heyday, Roger Graef and James Rogan’s documentary premiered on British TV last fall. Its current fest run is high-profile yet unlikely to generate much further bigscreen interest, with tube and download sales remaining the ingratiating pic’s principal outlets.

The five Pythons (Graham Chapman died in 1989) decide to perform live for the first time since 1980, for the simple reason that a lawsuit (underexplained here) has had a serious impact on some members’ finances. Ergo, they’re doing a 10-day run at London’s O2 stadium, where they’ll play nightly to crowds of 15,000 who’ll mostly have their eyes glued to the Jumbo-Tron. Amid a blaze of media attention, we see them get reacquainted, begin rehearsals, and perform shows that are primarily exercises in nostalgia for audiences who can recite each sketch line-by-line.

Between stage sequences (which end somewhat anti-climactically with a guest appearance by Mike Myers), the docu looks back at their glory days, somehow managing to skip the feature films (“Holy Grail,” “Life of Brian,” “Meaning of Life”). Their pleasure in each others’ company is infectious, though any viewers previously unfamiliar with the absurdist material are likely to wonder just what all the fuss is about.

Packaging is pro.

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Film Review: ‘Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, April 30, 2015. (In Hot Docs, Tribeca film festivals.) Running time: <strong>96 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Documentary — U.K.) A Python Pictures production in association with Phil McIntryre Entertainment and Films of Record. Produced by Holly Gilliam, Jim Beach, Lindsay Jex. Executive producers, Lucy Ansbro, Hilary Rosen, Richard Watsham.
  • Crew: Directed by Roger Graef, James Rogan. Camera (color, HD), Paul Shammasian, Rogan, Charles Laing, Oliver Cheetham, Rogan, Luke Hallam; editors, Simon Barker, David Atkinson; sound, Ollie Nesham, Steve Massey; sound designer, Rory Madden.
  • With: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones. Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Prof. Brian Cox, Stephen Hawking, Mike Myers.
  • Music By: