Bill Jones / Ben Timlett / Jeff Simpson (director)
Trinity Films (studio)
Cert 15 (certificate)
82 min (length)
08 February 2013 (released)
07 February 2013
A Liar’s Autobiography is the 3D animated, untrue story of long dead Monty Python Graham Chapman – a guy whose early childhood ambition was to become a Goon!
Alas, he became a fellow Python instead, though that was a little later of course. But while all the other Pythons went on to embark on solo careers after the surreal comedy group had expired as a unit, Chapman decided to expire for good in 1989, having suffered from terminal cancer of the throat. Mind you, Chapman had picked a very special date for his untimely passing, for it coincided with the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The goon!
However, before Chapman drank and smoked himself into the ether, he managed to churn out his memoir in 1986. In case you haven’t guessed it already, it’s titled A Liar’s Autobiography. Now, over two decades later, it has been turned into a film. In keeping with the chaotic style of the original’s narrative, the film uses different animation styles and techniques to illustrate the different chapters in Chapman’s life.
So, who are the culprits responsible for this madcap idea? They are Ben Timlett and Bill Jones (son of Python Terry Jones), as well as Jeff Simpson. Timlett and Jones are also known in their joined incarnation as ‘Bill and Ben Productions Ltd’, a boutique film editing company based in Soho. Credits include docus on The Clash, and Who Killed Nancy?. In addition, Jones and Timlett received ‘Emmy’ nominations in 2010 for directing Monty Python – Almost The Truth.
As for Jeff Simpson, he’s a producer and director with a twenty-year experience working for the BBC.
Talking about their collaboration for A Liar’s Autobiography, they feel it was all very easy “because we had no idea what we were doing!”
Furthermore involved are fourteen different animation companies, as well as various authors: Chapman, his partner David Sherloc, Douglas Addams of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, David Yallop and Alex Martin. “Chapman?” I hear you say? That’s right! Chapman narrates and plays himself in the film, thanks to a set of previously undiscovered audiotapes he made of his autobiography before he died.
Of course, no film about a former member of Monty Python (dead or kicking) would be complete without the participation of fellow Pythons, hence the participation of John Cleese, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Eric Idle refused to be part of this charade, which is somewhat ironic as he is the one Python who once stated "We would only do a reunion if Chapman came back from the dead.” Well, in a way he has… but Idle seemed worried that A Liar’s Autobiography might be seen as a Monty Python reunion film, though of course it’s a Graham Chapman film. Still, Terry Gilliam also jumped aboard the enterprise, so that’s the unholy circle ALMOST complete.
In the film, the former Pythons creep up as all sorts of characters, but my favourites are the monkeys! Selected other celebs lend their voices, amongst them Stephen Fry, and Cameron Diaz as ‘Seigmund Freud’!
The film is split into various chapters, each telling different episodes of Chapman’s chaotic and troubled life, and using different animation styles to illustrate it. While there’s no doubt that the concept works well as far as showcasing innovative and upcoming animation talent is concerned, it’s bound to split the camps. Still, the film might get a new generation interested in the old Python movies.
Naturally, A Liar’s Autobiography begins with Chapman’s childhood years and his already evident struggle with parental authority (though that could be a lie), continues with his Cambridge years, his cake and tea cremony with the Queen Mum (the animators even gave her the same outfit and colours as when Chapman met her in college), and the exposure to Freudian psycho-babble… Then there’s the ‘cock car’, Chapman’s “I’m gay and I’m proud” coming-out years, his “I drink too much and love it” drying-out phase, his hedonistic party-hardy time in LA, encounters with ‘space pods’… Ok, it’s not as straightforward as it reads here! What am I saying, it’s just a lie with a few grains of truth thrown in. Or is it the other way around?
The humour is crude, tasteless and vulgar, and the kick-ass animations are much the same, in fact, they are even cruder. And of course, the whole lot is sheer nonsensical fun! The animation is occasionally interspersed by snippets of live action footage, such as the eulogy for Chapman read by John Cleese (and that speech is a riot-and-a-half!).
Having said that, I doubt that folks will be much shocked or provoked by what they will encounter should they go see the film, after all, we live in an age where sensibilities have changed considerably since Pythons heyday.
At the same time, the ‘in-your-face’ (or should that be ‘sit-on-your-face’?) approach perfectly captures the spirit of Monty Python and maintains the trademark barmy and anarchic sense of humour.
A Liar’s Autobiography opens in cinemas tomorrow, and will be available on DVD, Blu-ray & On Demand from 18th February.
Please read my interview with Bill Jones, Ben Timlett, and Jeff Simpson.