'Liar's Autobiography' honors Python's 'dead one'

Some call Graham Chapman the forgotten Python. Some call him the enigmatic one. John Cleese calls him the dead one.

Don't expect the animated film "A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman" to sort out his place in the British comedy troupe. Based on Chapman's book, an "autobiography" curiously co-authored with five other writers, the film doesn't reveal much that Python fans don't already know about the facts of his life.

But fans will come away with a better sense of the strange inner workings of Chapman, who died of throat cancer in 1989 but is reunited with Cleese and most of his Python mates in the voice cast of "A Liar's Autobiography," which has a limited U.S. theatrical run that started Friday and has its television premiere the same day on Epix.

Ex-Python member Terry Jones thinks Chapman would have loved the cryptic mishmash of observations, self-analysis, bizarre asides, flights of fancy and revisionist personal history that make up the film.

"What an odd person he was," Jones fondly recollected at September's Toronto International Film Festival in an interview alongside son Bill Jones, who co-directed "A Liar's Autobiography" with Ben Timlett and Jeff Simpson.

Fourteen companies crafted the visuals in 17 different animation styles, presented in 3-D and leaping from such vignettes as a procrastinator's writing holiday with Cleese in Spain and a re-creation of a skit with Chapman as Oscar Wilde, to a sedate moment drinking spiked tea with the Queen Mother.

Chapman studied at Cambridge, where he became a doctor and met Cleese, who became his writing partner and closest colleague among the Python troupe, which included fellow Brits Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle, and American animator Terry Gilliam.

Joining the Cambridge Footlights performing group, Chapman gradually veered away from medicine, joining Cleese as a writer on David Frost's BBC show "The Frost Report" and eventually co-starring in the groundbreaking sketch comedy show "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which premiered in 1969.

"A Liar's Autobiography" chronicles not so much the facts of Chapman's life as his trickster spirit, as a cartoon figure named Graham Chapman works through such issues as his alcoholism, promiscuity and confusion over his sexuality (he eventually decides he's 70 percent gay, based on a survey he did with himself).

Chapman provides the backbone of the animation voices, which the filmmakers culled from recordings he did of his book. Jones, Cleese, Palin and Gilliam added vocals (Idle was too busy, co-director Bill Jones said), making it a reunion of sorts with their dead colleague.

The film includes video of Cleese's notorious eulogy for Chapman, in which he lovingly bid good riddance to the "freeloading bastard."

"Graham would have been very cross if John hadn't said that about him," Terry Jones said.


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