Movies: September 2010 Archives

"Mum! Dad! Don't touch it! It's evil!" - KEVIN, the soon-to-be-orphaned 11-year-old boy, at the end of Time Bandits

Long before I knew who -- or what -- Monty Python was, I was already a fan of the work of half of that venerable comedy troupe's members thanks to a certain subversive children's film called Time Bandits, which was a big hit at the box office when it was released in 1981. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it when it was in theaters, but thanks to frequent airings on PRISM (a Philadelphia-area premium cable channel that broadcast all the Flyers and Phillies home games, which is why my father insisted on it over higher-profile movie channels like HBO or Cinemax), it was a staple in the Clark household for many, many years. It was only much later when I started reading up on Monty Python in Kim "Howard" Johnson's First 200 Years of book that I discovered that Terry Gilliam, the American-born cartoonist who gave the Flying Circus its distinctive animated links, was also the man responsible for one of my favorite films of all time. Furthermore, it starred two other members of the troupe (John Cleese and Michael Palin) and one of them (Palin) had also co-written the film with Gilliam. If that doesn't make it a de facto Python film, then I don't know what will.

Anyway, whether they did so knowingly or not, Gilliam and Palin (and to a lesser extent Cleese) laid the groundwork for my future Python fandom (some might call it an obsession) and found the nexus between history and comedy that has informed my sense of humor to this day. That's a lot of baggage for a rollicking adventure story about a band of dwarfs in the employ of the Supreme Being who jump through holes in the fabric of time to steal from the rich and give to themselves, but Time Bandits can shoulder it. If it couldn't, it wouldn't be so well-beloved nearly three decades later -- and this isn't rose-tinted nostalgia talking. The film really does hold up and it stands as a testament to the power of imagination and individualism, two of Gilliam's pet themes which run through all of his films and which are embodied by its boy hero Kevin, played by 11-year-old Craig Warnock, who wins my vote for Best Child Actor Ever.

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"We praised the Almighty far beyond what any reasonable entity would have felt comfortable with, and blessed many, many things." - ETHAN COEN in his short story "I Killed Phil Shapiro"

What kind of sane, rational, responsible God would actually want to be worshiped? Shouldn't God be embarrassed by all those flattering hymns, prayers, and ceremonies -- not to mention wars -- in His honor? You'd think so, but a good portion of the Old Testament is given over to God's all-consuming desire to be venerated and obeyed by the people He created. In fact, according to many of His most fervent admirers, God still disapproves of such practices as birth control, homosexuality, and divorce because they deprive Him of earthly offspring. After all, fewer babies mean fewer worshipers, and He can't tolerate that. So be fruitful and multiply, everybody, and if you're a destitute Catholic ex-mill-worker with 70 hungry Catholic children and no income with which to support them, well, you can always sell the little buggers for medical experiments.

These were among my thoughts as I recently re-watched Monty Python's The Meaning of Life for what must be the fiftieth time. I "discovered" this 1983 film, the troupe's last proper group effort, during the early 1990s when I was still in high school, and I'm happy to report that it is still able to make me laugh -- and think -- all these years and viewings later. In fact, when screening the DVD in preparation for this article, I chortled loudly at the antics of Michael Palin's buffoonish Sgt. Major and John Cleese's fawning French-accented Maitre D', even though I knew in advance everything these men were going to say and do. If anything, time has given this film a luster it might not even have had when it was originally released. Nowadays, when "comedy" largely consists of pop culture in-jokes, jaundiced snark, and infantile male bonding, a comedy as audacious and ambitious as The Meaning of Life is a thrill.

And yet, even today, the film does not get the respect that it perhaps deserves from critics, viewers, and even the Pythons themselves, who are divided as to the film's merits. Mention The Meaning of Life on any film-related Internet forum, and you'll get the same few standard complaints. Perhaps foolishly, I will try to address these one by one. Let's see now...

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This page is an archive of entries in the Movies category from September 2010.

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