One of the advantages in being sick is that I can make a dent in the vast array of unwatched DVDs in The Collection. This time, I took advantage of my forced stay at home to watch a new addition before it had a chance to sit on the shelf like so many other DVDs have.
A year before his death in 1989 of throat cancer, Graham Chapman, best known as one of the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus, went on a tour of US colleges to talk about his life and career. The video tapes have finally been dug up and released as Monty Python's Graham Chapman: Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job.
The title refers to an incident during Chapman's participation in the Dangerous Sports Club. He was at the top of a black diamond ski run in Switzerland, sitting in a gondola with a member of the British aristocracy and a bandaged dummy named Eric, ready to take the plunge, when the arisstocrat leaned over said, "Looks like a bit of a brown trouser job, Graham." Apparently Chapman thought that that phrase was appropriate for describing his life as well.
Chapman had a reputation as the most difficult Python to work with. Generally, he wrote with John Cleese who has often described how Chapman would contribute to the writing by sitting back, smoking his pipe and downing gin at an amazing rate, and simply throw out funny words like "silly walks" or "ex-parrot" while Cleese filled in all the other bits. By the time they were making Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Chapman was downing, by his own estimates, 60 oz of gin a day and could barely manage his lines.
In spite of how frustrating he must have been to work with, Chapman comes across in the lectures as a very affable fellow. After Holy Grail he sobered up -- which no doubt helped his personality a lot! -- and it's fascinating to hear him describe all this from his own point of view. Recent Python retrospectives have not had a lot of Chapman's input, being dead and all, so this DVD gives a great chance to correrct that lack. He covers his early inspiration by The Goon Show (the grandfather of absurd British comedy, and woefully under-appreciated in North America), going to Cambridge to read medicine so he could join the Footlights club, and so on. Not to mention that he has some great stories about hanging out with Kieth Moon (probably one of the few humans who could out-drink Chapman).
The video quality on the DVD is horrid -- it's transfered from 17-year-old VHS tapes that had been sitting in the bottom of a trunk since shortly after they were made. But then, there isn't that much visual to actually see, so it's not a huge problem. Apart from Chapman's gestures and expressions, which add to the talk but aren't necessary, about the only spot where you need to actually see what's happening to follow is his description of teaching Kieth Moon how to play "Shitties" (immortalized in Canada in the Bowser & Blue song, Bum Darts!), which involves clenching a coin between your thighs and trying to drop it into a cup on the floor.
And for Iron Maiden fans, the DVD includes the Can I Play With Madness video, which features Chapman as a school headmaster. I had never known he'd done any music video work -- you learn something every day.
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