MONTY PYTHON BLEW INTO town to hype their new film, Monty Python's Life of Brian , a spook of Biblical epics about a nerd who gains a cult following and is crucified by the Romans. The film has created a good deal of controversy among some religious groups and has been picketed here in New York, with no harm to the box-office receipts. There are books connected with the film, and Grosset & Dunlap, publisher of the two-in-one, definitely oversized volume, Themontypythonscrapbook/Monty Puthon's Scrapbook of Brian (of Nazareth ), [a rack-sized, shooting-script version, Monty Python's The Life of Brian (of Nazareth ) is out from Ace, a Grosset subsidiary] was allotted a small piece of Python's frantic schedule, and cut the piece into fragments. "You can have Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam," said G&D to me over the phone. "Great, thanks," but actually I was disappointed. I wanted Michael. Not only is Michael Palin (pronounced PAY-lin) in most of my favorite Python sketches, but he's the . . . cutest. Still, any Python in a storm.
When we arrived at their hotel, Eric had been diverted to another appointment, and Terry was nowhere to be seen, but sitting in the lobby was Michael, having an earnest business conversation on the phone. "Well," said Grosset & Dunlap brightly, "You can have Michael." Virtue is sometimes rewarded, thought we smugly, having been boringly good lately. The Monty Python troupe, masters of the comic and the looney, are six men: Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam, the animator. They've been together 10 years, and a number of books have arisen from their television shows and films, including Ripping Yarns by Michael (Pantheon); Animations of Mortality by Terry Gilliam with Lucinda Cowell; the Grosset Book, and the two earliest ones from Warner Books, Monty Python's Big Red Book, Special New Hardcover Edition (it's blue, and it's paperbound)and The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok . Like Brian, the group has acquired a cult following, but are not presently awaiting crucifixion.
How are the books doing? I asked Michael. "I never feel they've reached their potential market in the States. I don't think the books have ever sold as well here as they did in England, which seems to be strange when you consider that Python is a very popular here. Python TV shows are shown much more often here than they are in England. Maybe it's something to do with the way books are marketed in the States. There's such a deluge of them. But the Python books have now got a niche, and you can always find them in bookshops, enriching the shelves." Who or what were the influences that shaped the particular brand of lunacy that is the Python humor? "I think probably everyone we saw around us, school house masters, our fathers' business colleagues, the middle-class world we were brought up with, with all its customs and habits, restrictions and rituals. Then there were people like Spike Milligan and the Goons, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Tony Hancock. But rather than being influenced, I'd say it gave one encouragement to hope that there was a market for that sort of thing. If they can do it, then maybe you can as well. Zany as we are, we do keep a fairly tight rein on it all. There's a certain type of fantastic, absurd humor which, if it has no conscious line or logic behind it, it evaporates. It's all over the place. You've got to provide audiences with little clefts in the cliff, where they can stand and see everything swirl by. If they're in the middle of that swirling, they can't seem to appreciate what's going on." What does the group plan after Brian? "We'll probably have a break, creatively, before we do the next movie. I want to do some writing on my own during next year . . . maybe a play, half-finished, or a novel which I want to write."
Do you think you'll stay together. "We're all grown and greedy men, and if the film makes money we'll stay together ad nauseam . I think that actually we've worked out a very good relationship in the group. There're not the pressures there were in the first five years, when we were spending 9, 10, 11 months of the year together, producing television shows, 13 in a year, 6 1/2 hours of material. Now we take a year and a half to write one film script that lasts an hour and a half. Those were pressures which were fairly intolerable, and people couldn't quite cope with being together like that all the time. So we sort of split, more or less amicably, but with a few rough edges, in 1974. We did the [Monty Python and the Holy Grail ] film, and then I think once people had stretched their legs a bit on the other projects and acquired a certain amount of confidence outside the group -- because that's what we did before we got together; we were writing for all sorts of different people in different ways -- once we'd had another dose of that, we were happy to get back to Python, but on a slightly less pressured basis . . . much more tolerant, mutual understanding. Everything that we do with Python should be a development from the last thing we did; we're all changing all our ideas all the time. I want a bit of writing time now. The first draft of my novel is finished, but I'm not quite sure it would survive in its own right. But I would hope to use what I've written and the confidence I've gained to write another one." PRIZE-WINNER THE FOURTH WINNER OF the Tony Godwin Memorial Award is Lee Goerner, an assistant editor at Knopf. The award was established in 1976, upon the death of the English editor, who was not only a greatly admired man but who, as an editor first at Weidenfeld & Nicolson in London and then at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York, had a career that successfully spancned two continents. Goerner is 32 years old, and began his career at Knopf, the house he still works for. He was the editor on Michael Herr's Dispatches . THE CUP AND THE LIP LAST MAY, WE REPORTED that A. Scott Berg and Thomas Congdon had just about signed the contracts for Congdon to publish Berg's new book, a biography of Samuel Goldwyn. But there was a slip between the cup and the lip: the book will be done instead under the aegis of Robert Gottlieb, editor-in-chief at Knopf.