Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Review: A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpsons, Ben Timlett
Screenplay: Graham Chapman, David Sherlock
Starring: Graham Chapman, Philip Bulcock, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Cameron Diaz

Synopsis is here 

Much like the abstract documentary such as Kurt Cobain: About a son, or the autobiographical American: The Bill Hicks Story, A Liars Autobiography plays old audio of its subject (Monty Pythons Graham Chapman) and sets it to new footage. In this case A Liar's Autobiography is similar to the Hicks documentary, with 17 animation teams have bounded together to create a different visual look for nearly each scene.

The outcome is rather idiosyncratic. The film irrelevantly glances over many aspects of Chapman's life; cheerfully documenting his schooling, the formation of the python name, the realisation that he was homosexual and his addiction to alcohol. The tone is light, breezy with just a touch of crassness about it, joyfully detailing Chapman's delight in indulging of the carnal pleasures. A playful hotel scene highlights Chapman's excess, as he takes a lift downstairs only to bump into a fan and stroll straight back up to have sex with them. Moments later, after heading down the lift again, he spies a younger fan (of age still) and engages with sex with them, with their mum on the telephone, seemingly none the wiser. It's hard not smirk, if not laugh out loud like I did.

The film should also be taken with a pinch of salt, as easily spotted by the title. Chapman himself declares early on that there is only a hint of truth in what he says, and it's clear that the films melding of both fact and fiction is also trying to lock down the man behind the enigma. Whether the film finds it is down to the viewer.

The films featherweight approach is welcoming but also a flaw. The moments of poignancy are quickly dealt with as not to bum the audience out and the films climax fizzles out, leaving us with nothing to gasp onto afterwards. This is clearly not an issue film, but it's final farewell to its subject lacks the emotional weight it could have had. I found myself left knowing as much about Chapman as I did in the beginning; intelligent, witty and fun loving. I could have watched Life of Brian and gained the same.