When members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus comedy troupe dropped hints earlier this week that they would be reforming for a stage show in 2014, the media reaction resembled that of the crazed and canned stadium-crowd reaction footage in their Upper Class Twit of the Year Contest skit. It was hard for me to believe, but next year it will have been 25 years since Graham Chapman died. The remaining members (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) have only reunited altogether in public one time at the 1998 AFI Awards, and even that was 15 years ago. And there we were complaining about Terence Malick, and he’s not even that funny.
Following on, all their back catalog of TV clips, movies, books and even records is being re-accessed and re-assessed. It has often been overlooked, but the Pythons were ingenious recording artists in their own right, often working in tandem with former Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band member Neil Innes. Sometimes described as the ‘Seventh Python,’ Innes was also responsible with Idle for the ‘Pre-Fab Four’ Rutles project, which also occasionally saw the participation of willing spoof-target and Python supporter George Harrison, and well as Python acolytes John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, and Bill Murray of SNL.
It is not surprising that all of these artists would mesh, as among other things they they all shared a love of the music and comedy of bandleader Spike Jones. Not to be confused with Spike Jonze (Adam Spiegel) — Sofia Coppola’s ex and film/video director (whose rise to the spotlight ironically coincides with the Pythons’ absence) — percussionist Lindley Armstrong ‘Spike’ Jones came to prominence in the 1940s, hitting big first with “Der Furher’s Face,” then after the war achieving a string of hits on radio and embryonic television with ‘depreciated,’ deconstructed, satirical yet intricately arranged versions of popular hits of the day, such as “Laura”, “Holiday For Strings,” “My Old Flame” and perhaps his most popular triumph, “Cocktails For Two.” Versions of most of these plus many more grace The Spike Jones Story (1988), which looks back on his frenetic and influential performances that appealed to not only adults, but perhaps even more strongly to youth such as The Beatles, the Pythons, early SNL players and many more — like my mother. You can see direct influences on the Pythons in much of Gilliam’s animation and television sketches, such as ‘Banging Two Bricks Together.’
Jones’ band alumni and collaborators included Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, and Billy Barty, Saturday morning influences on yet another generation. Check Weird Al Yankovich and Madness here. All in all, a fascinating and entertaining portrait also featuring Dr. Demento in full glory, and the pre-Chipmunks performance of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” — a natural pre-cursor to “The Lumberjack Song”?
The Spike Jones Story is available on demand at FilmOn:
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