By Louis Bayman
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A Liar’s Autobiography

This article is over 8 years, 11 months old
Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett
Issue 377

As the subtitle says, this is “The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman”.

Chapman was an enigmatic centre of the Python team: the “very naughty boy” mistaken for a Messiah in Life of Brian, who was at once the troupe’s silliest and most silent member.

Monty Python represented a watershed moment in the British establishment which emerged out of various strands of 1960s satire. It was a product of that same establishment’s liberal promotion of a certain subversion on evening television – especially if it came from people educated at Oxbridge. Most famous as a satire on organised religion, Life of Brian is also an account of political radicalism and police repression. Which socialist could fail to recognise the painful truth of the exchange “Whatever happened to the Popular Front of Judea?” “He’s over there.” “Splitter!”.

Python also represented something completely different – a rejection of all convention for an embrace of the ridiculous. They mocked the army officer types and public schoolboy authority figures who lingered on in post-war Britain, by producing gleefully absurd comedy. A high watermark in what used to be called light entertainment, Python was also highly saleable – to which the ongoing West End success of Spamalot attests.

This animated biography is not, however, another Python film. It offers something more traditional than the comic flights of surrealistic fantasy in Terry Gilliam’s cartoons for the original series – even if the grey terraces of Chapman’s childhood are sprinkled with the blood of limbs after a wartime air-raid. This film is concerned instead with Chapman’s account of his personal journey away from British drabness, Scarborough and sandwich spread, of a young boy reading about Biggles and Claudius.

“Openly gay and secretly alcoholic” describes the film’s take on Chapman’s relationship to the world and his burgeoning homosexuality – a facet of his life presented to the strains of “Sit on my Face and Tell me that you Love me”.

Somewhat eerily, the film is narrated by Chapman himself in voice recordings made three years before his death from throat cancer in 1989. Despite featuring Chapman’s own voice and being interspersed with archive footage, the film seems somehow silent regarding its central character. Original, surprising and illustrative, it is somehow never quite illuminating. A Liar’s Autobiography is perhaps more fully absurdist than its surface biographical claim would suggest.

A Liar’s Autobiography is directed by Bill Jones and released on 8 February

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