Friday, March 27, 2015

Forty Years of Python in America

"And Now For Something Completely Different..."

1975 Holiday Cinemas advertisement for
Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
featured in The News-Post.
Around 1974-75, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made an arrangement with Time-Life to distribute BBC programs to American television stations (this was long before the BBC set up their own distribution unit in the United States).

Many stations (mostly public television stations) across the country showcased such popular programs from the "Beeb", including the original Doctor Who, Civilisation, and Monty Python's Flying Circus (which lasted from 1969 to 1974 on BBC Television).

Television viewers in the United States were instantly hooked to the British comedy troupe's zany sketches, including The Ministry of Silly Walks, The Dead Parrot Sketch, Fish License, The Larch, Spam, The Lumberjack Song, The Spanish Inquisition, Confuse-A-Cat, Albatross, The Fish Slapping Dance, The Royal Hospital for Overacting, and countless others.  Graham Chapman (1941-1989), John Cleese, Terry Gilliam (who also provided the hilarious animations for the show, and the only American cast member), Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin would become household icons to the American television audience.

Public Television station KERA in Dallas, Texas was one of the first to show Monty Python's Flying Circus to American television audiences.  Around the same time in the Washington, D.C. area, viewers watched the series on WETA-TV (by way of vintage News-Post and Washington Post TV listing databases).  The series changed television history, and would introduce American television audiences to the art of British comedy.  Recently, KERA commemorated the 40th anniversary of the American debut of Monty Python, by showcasing the American television premiere of Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go, Monty Python: Live At The Hollywood Bowl (1982), and a new documentary, Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus.  It would have been nice if Maryland Public Television or WETA had pulled off something like this during their recent pledge drives.

Several years before Monty Python's Flying Circus made its way onto American television, the troupe was filming their first feature-length motion picture, which was titled after John Cleese's opening line in some episodes of the Monty Python TV series, And Now for Something Completely Different.

Filmed in 1971, the film was mostly Python members reprising sketches from the first two series of the TV show.  Columbia Pictures picked up distribution rights to the film, and released it to theaters in August 1972.  Because audiences in the states were unfamiliar with British comedy at the time, the film was not successful.  But thanks to the success of the Monty Python's Flying Circus series on American television, Columbia decided to reissue the Pythons' first film in 1974, and was a success at the box office.

JUST A FLESH WOUND:  This year will also mark the 40th anniversary of the Pythons' second (and more successful) motion picture, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The film made its American premiere in New York City in April 1975.

It was announced that the Tribeca Film Festival will hold a special screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on April 24th, with the five surviving members of Monty Python in attendance (along with the premiere of a new documentary, Monty Python- The Meaning of Live). The other two iconic Python films, Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983) will also be screened at the

It would be great if the Frederick area could commemorate the 40th anniversary of the film (from a fellow "Pythonite").

More on the films of Monty Python will appear in future editions of At The Matinee.

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