Non-fiction, in particular anything biographical or autobiographical, has seldom been of interest to me. It’s just not my sort of thing. The statement it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at has always held some truth for me, look you see. What’s interesting to me is what people do, not where they are from.
There are times, granted, when some background knowledge or information on someone can give a more rounded, indeed fuller, understanding of what they’ve done. Ultimately, though, when an artist or other such entertainer delivers a work or performance, it must be able to entertain, impress or otherwise make an impact for what it is, and cannot rely on previous knowledge for success.
Exceptions come up in this regard. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, for instance, which was the book Warren Zevon requested those who he left behind construct, was a work I very much wanted to read. And, erm, I think that’s about that. When, however, you’re given the chance to have a look at the life of someone who lived a life like Graham Chapman, it’s difficult to find a reason to pass it. Thus, when one of my website shop things offered me A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story Of Graham Chapman for just north of ₤1, I took it..
For those unaware of this film, this is no ordinary look at a life. Rather than being a flat documentary or re-enactment, the approach here is to present elements of Chapman’s life via several different forms of animation, with the overwhelming majority of the soundtrack being recordings Chapman made a couple of years before he died.
Is A Liar’s Autobiography any good? Yes and no. It held my attention for the 82 or so minutes it runs, as in at no point did I pause or let it play and wander off for a cigarette or similar. But then, at the end of it, I had something of an overwhelming, compelling sense that I’d gained nothing at all from the experience of watching. And I really, really love the work Graham Chapman did, whether as a Python or in those rare instances of him working away from them.
Why no gain? Part of it is, presumably, from the fact that I had a fairly good working knowledge of what was shown. The parts of his life concentrated on in the animated segments have all come up time and again in documentaries, interviews, articles and what have you. There was no “mysterious” or big reveal here.
Another part of it is, in the words of Graham Chapman himself, there’s not all that much of interest to tell, really. Decent parents with a relatively normal childhood, bar one or two incidents the likes of which everyone has similar too. He wrestled with his sexual identity, but it certainly didn’t beat him – whilst not minding either, he just worked out he rather liked boys more than girls. Further to this, he battled with alcoholism, but to a degree won the fight.
This all sounds a bit harsh as I write it, when it is not meant to be. Graham Chapman had an incredible talent which brought him fame and fortune and entertains us to this day. Whilst I’d be reluctant to say he had an easy or straightforward path to achieving this, it is fair to say that the life story of Graham Chapman is not the story of how a black, blind, one legged lesbian overcame the odds to win the hearts and minds of people.
It feels exceptionally mean of me to say this, but there’s no point not being honest. The animation – as good as it mostly is – is a total irrelevance to A Liar’s Autobiography. It’s hearing the wonderfully eloquent, beautiful voice of Graham Chapman that’s the point of interest. No doubt it was necessary to do animation to get this together as a film, but alas the best thing that can be said of them is that they don’t distract from what you are listening to.
Distractions play a big part in reviewing the film. Whilst Cameron Diaz as a “gratuitous guest star” is welcome and funny, Stephen Fry is not. The film is yet another incident of Stephen Fry indulging his “woo hoo, look at me, I like Oscar Wilde a lot and if I keep associating myself with him perhaps people will accept that I am his reincarnation”. I wonder if we all just said to him “yes, Stephen, you surely are” then the whole thing could be dropped and we could all move on.
A tale of two Pythons provide the other distractions. The first of these would be the fact that it’s an animated film, you have Terry Gilliam – famed animator from the Monty Python team – in the film and yet he doesn’t do any of the animation. It is the second that is the most ominous. Eric Idle is the only Python not to be involved here. No reason is given as to why, and I can’t find anything online. I have a vague recollection, however, of there being some money dispute affecting the Pythons around this time – maybe royalties for that whole Spamalot thing, perhaps something else. From what I do remember John Cleese took to that Twitter thing and referred to Mr Idle as “Yoko Python”.
Speaking of internet things, if you look up A Liar’s Autobiography on that IMDB thing you see it suggests you might also like Anatomy Of A Liar, with Anatomy having a more that 2 point average higher user review score. Anatomy is the “making of” or behind the scenes documentary. It is on the very same DVD, and it is very much a more enjoyable experience to watch. Hearing the stories of the animators, and the interviews with the Pythons involved, is wonderful and I dare say better than the actual film.
Further on the internet, most have taken the name of this film as an excuse to describe it all as a “fictional” life story of Graham Chapman. Methinks many have missed the comical tone intended. Outside of some obvious altered for dramatic effect and some partial hazy memories, virtually all you see and hear here is how his life went. As in, yes, he really did meet the Queen Mother and she she really did encourage him to go and do the tour that would essentially establish him as a performer and actor. You’d have thought people would, by now, know not to believe taglines or descriptions on things associated with Monty Python, for to do so would be to assume they’d missed a chance for humour.
Is this DVD worth getting? Yes. The actual film you will watch and possibly forget all about. The making of documentary and the 8mm footage which appear as extras, however, make the disc all very much worthwhile.
I feel kind of bad not being too complimentary about the actual film. Undoubtedly a lot of work, talent and effort went into the animation, and the whole thing was made with a lot of love and heart. Huge amounts of effort does not in itself make something assured of being good, though. But, still, blessed be those who worked so hard to come up with a suitable means of letting us hear Graham Chapman’s story in his own words and very much in his own voice.
be individuals, think for yourselves, you are all unique, etc......