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I wrote a review for A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Graham Chapman, which screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2012.
Something completely different and not completely true
The VIFF premiere of a Monty Python film.
Not a documentary, not a traditional Monty Python film, and not completely true. A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Graham Chapman is actually a uniquely told adaptation of Chapman’s book A Liar’s Autobiography: Volume IV (although it was the only volume) published in 1980. The book itself was a highly fictionalized take on Chapman’s life and co-authored with four others, including his life partner David Sherlock and Douglas Adams.
Animated by 14 different studios in 17 different styles results in each segment having a very different feel and keeps the viewer engaged. However, the addition of 3D effects felt pointless and unnecessary. Four of the five remaining Pythons contributed to the film — John Cleese, Terry Gillam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin — all added commentary to the film, which is narrated by “the dead one” (Chapman), despite being deceased for 23 years.
Before Chapman passed away in 1989 from cancer, he recorded sections of his autobiography before audio books really took off. It was from these recordings that the filmmakers Bill Jones, Ben Timlett, and Jeff Simpson were able to piece together the film.
Graham Chapman was born in 1941 in Leicester, England, where he grew up with his parents. As a young man, Chapman studied medicine, and later attended Cambridge where he developed his obsession for smoking a pipe, and met John Cleese. Members of the comedy theatre troupe Cambridge Footlights with Eric Idle, the boys got their start as scriptwriters, notably on The Frost Report where they met Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
The animated segments ranged from 4–15 minutes long, animating such events as the Pythons deciding on the name of the show, Chapman’s coming out, his struggle with alcoholism, and his rampant sexual escapades. Terry Jones, Python and father of one of the filmmakers, was recently asked how much truth there was to the stories, to which he replied, “Nothing. It’s all a downright, absolute, blackguardly lie,” in true Python humour. I would guesstimate about 70 per cent truth, with some fictionalized additions and convenient humour.
Do not expect traditional Monty Python fare with this one — some of the segments are quite serious, with just a touch of dark humour. The most powerful parts were the archival footage included with the animation, such as Chapman talking about being gay on television, and Cleese’s well-known eulogy.