The boys of Monty Python were never angry young men. They were cheeky lads and saucy fellows. From the look of "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl," an 80-minute concert film opening today at area theaters, the cheekiness and sauciness have dwindled away with advancing years and only a bit of smugness remains. It is not a pretty sight, nor fit entertainment.
Recorded two long years ago before an audience of shrieking Los Angeles dim-bulbs, the concert version of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" contains very little material that hasn't been seen in other forums, whether in the late, lamented TV series or in the previous movie compilation "And Now for Something Completely Different." As long as they were trotting out all the old shtick, they might as well have revived the dead parrot again. Most of what is included isn't old enough, or good enough, to be palmed off as classic.
The opening credits may be as funny as anything in the film; at least they lampoon something relatively current, the show-biz mania for doling out hyperbolic and meaningless titles (some people are billed as "executive guest superstars"). Then we are whisked pretty listlessly by director Terry Hughes to the underlit stage of the Hollywood Bowl, where the troupe performs such routines as Graham Chapman wrestling himself ("There it is, a double Eydie Gorme!"); John Cleese as the pope arguing with Eric Idle as Michelangelo about the 28 disciples and kangaroo that have turned up in the painting of the Last Supper; an Australian drinking song that celebrates the tippling prowess of famous philosophers; another visit to the ministry of silly walks; Terry Jones as the head of the Whizzo Candy Company, which has been selling frogs and ram's bladders covered in chocolate; a guide to cheap jokes through the ages (culminating in the "dispatch of an edible missile," i.e., a pie in the face) and, for a finale, the misleadingly wholesome Lumberjack Song.
They begin the show with a moderately obscene ditty that ends with the baring of their backsides. Not a good omen, but an accurate one.
Some of the material holds up, including the Argument Clinic, a cleverly worked-out round of word play, and a sketch in which four aging cronies sit around trying to one-up each other on the respective deprivations of their youths. In addition, there are pre-filmed bits like the 27th Silly Olympiad, which features such events as the freestyle competition for non-swimmers, all of whom promptly drown at the sound of the starting gun, and a marathon for incontinents, who keep darting off the road for rest stops.
The concert footage was shot on videotape and transferred to film. Occasionally there's a glimpse of the filmed bits as they were shown to the Bowl audience, so we are seeing film transferred to tape transferred to film. That audience is a problem, so arbitrarily demonstrative that it acts as a wet blanket which grows soggier by the minute. At times, some people in the crowd let out these loud wild whoops; this is the dread whoop of recognition, designed to tell the world that You Know What's Coming (because You're Hip). One hears this a lot on the ABC "Fridays" comedy show, or any other place in which people are trying to be funny but failing.
All the misplaced roars, whoops and shrieks on the soundtrack constitute further evidence that the most provincial yahoos and yokels in America are concentrated in supposedly cosmopolitan places like L.A. What were the Python boys doing there in the first place? Not having a high old time, alas.
Chapman, Idle, Cleese, Jones, Michael Palin and the animator, Terry Gilliam, who has joined the other chaps in concert as a kind of expendable Zeppo figure, seem to have devoted their lives to taking revenge on their education. Youthfulness was a part of the charm of that, and as it fades, their celebrations of the silly take on wan, even pathetic overtones.
They don't play with stage conventions the way they played with film and television conventions, and even if they did, a film of that wouldn't have a great deal of value. As a midnight screening feature, perhaps, or a cable TV program, "Live" might make tolerable diversion, but it doesn't come close to filling up a movie screen.