Monty Python, or The Pythons, is the collective name of the six creators of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired in 1969. The hugely influential series spawned several films by the comedy team, as well as books and a spin-off stage musical.
There were five Monty Python productions released as theatrical films:
- And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)
- A collection of sketches from the first and second TV series of Monty Python's Flying Circus purposely re-enacted and shot for film.
- King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Holy Grail, encountering humorous obstacles along the way. Some of these turned into standalone sketches.
- Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
- Brian is born on the first Christmas, in the stable next to Jesus'. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.
- A videotape recording directed by Ian MacNaughton of a live performance of sketches. Originally intended for a TV/video special. Transferred to 35mm and given a limited theatrical release in the US.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
- An examination of the meaning of life in a series of sketches from conception to death and beyond, from the uniquely Python perspective.
And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)Edit
- Main article: And Now For Something Completely Different
The Pythons' first feature film (directed by Ian MacNaughton, reprising his role from the television series) did not really live up to its title, composed as it was, of what were considered the best sketches from the first two series of the Flying Circus, re-shot on an extremely low budget (and often slightly edited) for cinema release. Material selected for the film includes: "Dead Parrot", "The Lumberjack Song", "Upper Class Twit of the Year", "Hell's Grannies", "Self-Defence Class", "How Not To Be Seen" and "Nudge Nudge". Financed by Playboy's UK executive Victor Lowndes, it was intended as a way of breaking Monty Python into America, and although it was ultimately unsuccessful in this, the film did good business in the UK (this still being in the era before home video would make it much more accessible to view the material again). The group did not consider the film a success, but it enjoys a cult following today.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)Edit
- Main article: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In 1974, between production on the third and fourth series (which Cleese declined to take part in for a variety of reasons), the group decided that the time was now right to embark on their first 'proper' feature film, containing entirely new material. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was based on Arthurian Legend| and was directed by both Terrys, Jones and Gilliam. Again, the latter also contributed linking animations (and put together the opening credits). Along with the rest of the Pythons, Jones and Gilliam performed several roles in the film, but it was Chapman, considered by far the best straight actor of the bunch, who took the lead as King Arthur. Holy Grail was filmed on location, throughout several picturesque rural areas of Scotland, with a tiny budget of nearly £150,000; the money was raised in part with investments from rock groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin - and UK music industry entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith (founder/owner of the Charisma Records label, for which the Pythons recorded their song albums).
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)Edit
- Main article: Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Following the success of Holy Grail, many reporters asked them for the title of the next Python film, despite the fact that the team had not even begun to consider a second movie. Eventually, Eric Idle once flippantly replied "Jesus Christ - Lust for Glory", which became the group's stock answer once they realised that it shut reporters up. However, they soon began to seriously consider a film lampooning the New Testament era in the same way Holy Grail had lampooned Arthurian legend. Despite being non-believers, they agreed that Jesus was "definitely a good guy" and found nothing to mock in his actual teachings; on the other hand, they shared a distrust of organised religion, and decided to write a satire on credulity and hypocrisy among the followers of someone mistaken for the "Messiah", but who had no desire to be followed as such.
The focus therefore shifted to a separate individual born at the same time, in a neighbouring stable. When Jesus does appear in the film (first, as a baby in the stable, and then later on the Mount, speaking the Beatitudes), he is played straight (by actor Kenneth Colley) and portrayed with respect. The comedy begins when members of the crowd mishear his statements of peace, love and tolerance ("I think he said, 'blessed are the cheesemakers'").
Directing duties were handled solely by Terry Jones on this project, having amicably agreed with Gilliam that Jones' approach to film-making was better suited for Python's general performing style. Holy Grail's production had often been stilted by their differences behind the camera. Gilliam again contributed two animated sequences (one being the opening credits) and took charge of set design. The film was shot on location in Tunisia, the finances being provided this time by former Beatle George Harrison, who formed the production company Handmade Films especially for the movie. He was rewarded with a cameo role as the 'owner of the Mount'.
Despite its subject matter attracting much controversy, particularly upon its initial release, it has (together with its predecessor) often been ranked amongst the very greatest comedy films of all time. A Channel 4 poll in 2005 ranked Holy Grail in 6th place, with Life of Brian at the very top. 
Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982)Edit
- Main article: Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl
Filmed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles during preparations for The Meaning of Life, this was a concert film (directed by Terry Hughes) in which the Pythons performed sketches from the television series in front of an audience. The released film also incorporated footage from the German television specials (the inclusion of which gives Ian MacNaughton his first on-screen credit for Python since the end of Flying Circus) and live performances of several songs from the troupe's then-current Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album.
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)Edit
- Main article: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Python's final film returned to something structurally closer to the style of Flying Circus. A series of sketches loosely follows the ages of man from birth to death. Directed again by Jones solo, The Meaning of Life is embellished with some of Python's most bizarre and disturbing moments, as well as various elaborate musical numbers. The film is by far their darkest work, containing a great deal of black humour, garnished by some spectacular violence (including an operation to remove a liver without anaesthetic and the morbidly obese Mr. Creosote exploding over several restaurant patrons). At the time of its release, the Pythons confessed their aim was to offend "absolutely everyone".
Besides the opening credits and the fish sequence, Gilliam, by now an established live action director, no longer wanted to produce any linking cartoons, offering instead to direct one sketch - The Crimson Permanent Assurance. Under his helm though, the segment grew so ambitious and tangential that it was cut from the movie and used as a supporting feature in its own right (television screenings also use it as a prologue). Crucially, this was the last project that all six Pythons would collaborate on, except for the 1989 compilation Parrot Sketch Not Included where they are all seen sitting in a closet for four seconds. This would be the last time Chapman was filmed on screen with the rest of the gang.