Friday, November 11, 2011

A Python Top Ten

And now for something completely different.

I'm bored and I'm running dry on current stuff to write about. So here's a list of the Top 10 Greatest Contributions of Monty Python's Flying Circus to Western Civilization.

1. Terry Gilliam's Directing Career - Now, I respect the work of Terry Jones, who co-directed "Holy Grail" and fully directed "Life of Brian," which are two of the greatest comedy films ever made, but Gilliam is one of my favorite directors. If Gilliam hadn't decided to try his hand at directing Python's first feature, and really gotten into it, he never would have gone on to make "Time Bandits" and "Brazil" and "12 Monkeys," and all the rest. And that would have been a terrible loss to us all. Okay, well maybe not "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," or "Tideland," or "The Brothers Grimm," but definitely all the others.

2. SPAM, SPAM, SPAM - I don't know how they got away with it, especially since Hormel proved litigious and grumpy enough to go after the Jim Henson Company for naming a Muppet character after the canned ham product, and E-mail spammers for linking them with electronic junk-mail. But the SPAM sketch endures, forever associating SPAM with mirth and overindulgence, and so ingrained into the public consciousness that Hormel had no choice but to capitulate, and offer up commemorative tins upon the release of "SPAMalot." After all, thanks to Python, they're the only canned ham product to appear in the title of a major Broadway musical.

3. The Spanish Inquistion - The dirty little secret of us doltish, uneducated masses is that very few people would even remember the Spanish Inquisition if it weren't for Monty Python. Seriously, how often does medieval religious history come up in every day conversation? And specifically the Spanish parts? But as far as I know, the Pythons are the only ones who have ever sent up one of the most heinous organizations of mass-murderers in history. Now the Spanish Inquisition will always be remembered as an incompetent lot of dullards in in funny outfits, and I take no small amout of pleasure in that.

4. This is a Late Parrot - My first exposure to the immortal Dead Parrot sketch wasn't the original. I actually ran across someone's homage/rip-off of it first, using a different dead animal and an entirely new list of euphemisms for its demise. And it was still hysterical. But nothing can compare to John Cleese's outrage and Michael Palin's evasion, as they spar over the state of the Norwegian Blue. The Dead Parrot sketch seems more timely and stinging than ever now, with so many major corporations and institutions out there pulling similar tricks on a daily basis to screw over customers and patrons. So thank you, John Cleese, for giving voice to our rage.

5. Eric Idle's Musical Career - In addition to writing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and the "Galaxy Song," which are two of the catchiest tunes it's probably not polite to sing in public, Idle went on to turn "Holy Grail" in the Broadway musical "SPAMalot" and "Life of Brian" into the comic oratio "Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)." Now say what you will about the quality of "SPAMalot," but it's a lot of fun, and at least it's success seems to have cut short Idle's rather terrifying and abominable acting career. If you've had to sit through "Casper" or "Dudley Do Right," you know what I mean.

6. Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink - It's funny how some of the most innocuous bits of Python ended up being some of the most memorable and influential. The Nudge Nudge Wink Wink sketch, with its silly innuendoes and its very un-Python punch line, has nonetheless entered the English lexicon. And that character that Eric Idle plays, that winking, leering, eyebrow-arching young mook, has been showing up in sex comedies ever since, usually to give bad advice to the leading man. Sadly, modern reincarnations always seem to leave out the best bit, where Mr. "Know-what-I-Mean" is revealed not to know anything about sex at all.

7. The Black Knight - "Holy Grail" is a goldmine of concentrated Python merriment, from the killer rabbit to the coconuts to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. But if I had to vote for the best moment, it has to be the Black Knight, a foreboding warrior who seriously overestimates his own capabilities, but refuses to yield until he's chopped into pieces. Cleese claims he wanted to subvert the idea that never giving up would always lead to victory, which I respect and appreciate. But really, it's all about the glorious absurdity a horribly maimed knight shouting "It's only a flesh wound!" and threating to bite people's kneecaps off.

8. The Teachings of Brian - I'll let this one speak for itself:

Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me, You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for your selves! You're all individuals!
The Crowd: (In unison) Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: (In unison) Yes, we are all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not.
The Crowd: Shhhhh!

9. Gilliam v. ABC 538 F.2d 14 (2nd Cir. 1976) - After the "Python" programs were licensed to ABC in the 70s, who of course heavily edited them for public broadcast, the Pythons sued and won. The judge in the case declared that ABC's actions had caused to program to lose its "iconoclastic verve," and set the precedent for authors of a work the right to retain a degree of control over its presentation, and to not be associated with any unauthorized mangling of it. Of course, the studios and the broadcasters make artists sign away all these rights immediately these days, but it's nice to know that the principle is there.

10. The Fish Slapping Dance - It's my favorite sketch. I make no apologies.

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