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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Monty Python Discover The Meaning of Life

In the 1970s, when John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idol, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin started working together, they were full of enthusiasm.  The ideas flowed, and each was excited by the others' efforts.  But as the years went by, tensions mounted as each yearned to pursue his own projects, and all were frustrated by the low pay they reaped from their TV shows and movies.  In 1981, after innumerable discussions, writing attempts, and delays, the men felt as if they were getting nowhere with a follow-up to their previous film, "The Life of Brian."  In his diary from November 25th, Michael Palin records that he'll be "mightily relieved when this next Python film is done and out of the way and we don't have to write together for another four years."

Hoping that a change of venue might inspire them, the six men flew to Jamaica in January 1982, where they rented a house.  At first, they floundered to write material they all liked, or devise a structure that could encompass all the skits they had come up with.  One morning, while Michael Palin and Graham Chapman were working together, their cook told them she needed a ride to the market.  So they threw out ideas as they chauffeured Beryl around the island to buy the ingredients for the evening meal.  They dreamed up a musical number involving fish and a mystery play.  After lunch, none of the others liked their idea. John Cleese and Eric Idol wanted to revisit an old idea for an over-arching narrative, but no one liked that either.  When the two Terrys then suggested the old TV idea of "a rag-bag of non-sequiturs and complex connections" to link the various skits, the mere idea of repeating themselves sapped everyone's creativity.  "It's as if...this is the moment that this material--the best of three years' writing--finally defeated us."

But their efforts would not end in defeat.  The next day, Terry Jones estimated that they had roughly 100 minutes of good material.  "This seems to spur people into another effort," Palin wrote.  Within minutes, they had a title they liked, "Monty Python's Meaning of Life," and began hammering out the various phases of the movie's structure.  They are on a roll again, they are all excited, and most importantly, they had found the direction they needed to finish the script.  

Although they didn't know it at the time, "The Meaning of Life" would be the last movie the six men made together.  It may not be the best film ever made, but it holds an enviable 89% critics rating and an 82% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  More importantly, it was a film that the six men cared about, and dearly wished to make.  Yes, a moment of inspiration allowed them to assemble the film into a form that they could all agree on, but it only occurred after three years of hard work, and because they didn't give up on a project that was important to them.

Dragon Dave  

Related Internet Links
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life on Rotten Tomatoes

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