The Meaning of Life (1983)

Director(s): Terry Jones [& Terry Gilliam]

This happened to be on TV tonight, so, despite it having always been my least favourite of the Python films I watched it. And it’s still my least favourite Python film, nothing’s changed on rewatching, except that where I previously thought the “supporting feature”—Gilliam’s Crimson Permanent Assurance—was the best thing about the film, I kind of rediscovered tonight just how much better it is than the rest of the film. Conceptually ingenious and screamingly funny in a way the rest of Meaning of Life isn’t. The “feature presentation” itself is watchable (well, maybe not the Mr Creosote business), and bits of it are kind of tremendous (particularly some of Eric Idle’s songs), but… I don’t know. Certainly it was something of a step back from the previous two films, back to the sketch-based structure of the TV series and away from the continuous narrative of Holy Grail and Life of Brian (which they very rarely attempted on TV)… but it doesn’t work the same here, part of which is that the film doesn’t really use Gilliam’s animation skills like the TV series did, and part of it is that most of these sketches wouldn’t have been allowed to crap on at this length on TV. And, of course, part of that is because most of this wouldn’t have been allowed on TV at all… yet the Python team’s avowed delight at not being restricted by television constraints somehow didn’t really transfer into the sort of thing it could’ve been, there’s something calculated and sniggering and a bit juvenile about the offensiveness on show that stops it from being as really dark as they seemed to think it was. Still, like I said, bits of it are good—even if it can’t quite live up to its opening, some of the earlier scenes are fun—and it did remind me that being chased off the top of a cliff to one’s death by a horde of attractive women wearing nothing but roller derby helmets and pads isn’t exactly the worst way you could check out from this vale of tears…

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