Friday, August 21, 2015

A Liar's Autobiography

Year 7, Day 233 - 8/21/15 - Movie #2,127

BEFORE: Surprisingly, the third "Hobbit" film was very nearly a dead end for me.  Even with a cast of 13 dwarves, 5 elves, 3 wizards, 1 dragon, and thousands of orcs, it shared NO actors with anything else on my list, until this film fell into my possession.  I've got no more Martin Freeman films, no more Ian McKellen films, no Cate Blanchett films, nothing with Orlando Bloom or even Hugo Weaving.  So, on to the 2nd tier - Stephen Fry carries over from both "Hobbit" films, providing the voice of Oscar Wilde in this animated film.

THE PLOT: An animated, factually incorrect biography of Graham Chapman, one of the founding members of the comedy group Monty Python.

AFTER: Really, this is my sneaky way of getting some Monty Python into my watchlist - I'd seen just about every Python film out there before starting this process, and they're not really making more films together as a group, so this is as close as I can get.  Chapman recorded himself reading his autobiography aloud before he died, because it's much more difficult to do that sort of thing after, and a production company made this film to go with the audio tracks, with many voices provided by nearly all of the other members of the troupe.  

Whether the film is 100% accurate about Chapman's life is not really the point - no one remembers their past accurately, anyway, and Chapman's no longer around to confirm or deny anything, so it's more of a challenge to capture his spirit rather than quibble over this minor detail or that.  

It's great to see that not even death is taken seriously by the Pythons - I remember a few years ago they gathered for a round of publicity appearances connected with a documentary series about them, and they'd taken to appearing on stage with an urn that supposedly contained Chapman's ashes, and eventually someone would trip and knock the urn over and spread the ashes all over, making a huge mess.  

Obviously, I'm a huge fan of these 6 guys, in and out of the Monty Python group, and I've had the pleasure of meeting three of them over the years at various book signings in Manhattan (Gilliam, Cleese and Palin), but I never met Chapman.  Chapman was the only "out" member of the group, he was gay way back in the 1960's, before it was acceptable, and then passed away in 1989, before it became fashionable.  One can only hope that he really enjoyed himself in the span in-between.

At a time when the stereotype was that gay people were not capable of forming commitments, which honestly is regarded as just so silly these days, Chapman had a long-term partner, David Sherlock, and together they adopted a troubled teen as their son - and this was in 1971, way before most gay people had the legal rights to do things like that.  But then Chapman started giving interviews during which he referred to sex as "something very fun for two or more people to do, provided they are both clean, and it doesn't lead to procreation" the gay rights groups probably said something along the lines of "Thanks very much, but please stop helping us." 

Chapman did speak about his relationships with women, some of which were sexual, but when he took stock of the number of people in public that he was attracted to, he felt it was somewhere around 70% men and 30% women.  Most people of any orientation just aren't that self-aware, so kudos to Graham for figuring himself out.  Even to this day, people who are bi-sexual are fairly misunderstood, even among gay people who wish that they'd just make up their minds already and get off the damn fence.  

The 1970's were truly a different time - and in some ways it seems like it was a more liberating time, there was more acceptance, but in some ways it also seems like there was more ignorance.  I mean, think about New York or London in the swinging 70's, before AIDS, before herpes - places like that, it was like anything goes, right?  But there was so much people didn't understand about what it meant to be gay, or what it meant to feel like a woman in a man's body, or a man who wants to wear a dress, they were just lumped together as deviants, or called "poofs" (Chapman's word, not mine).  Chapman even threw himself a "coming-out" party, only to have one or two of the other Pythons try to convince him that he was mistaken about himself, that he didn't "fit the profile".  

Now, the film itself has some rather adult moments, which I know freaks out some people, who think that all animation should be made for kids 13 and under, and there's simply no place for sex in a cartoon.  Bollocks, pure bollocks.  I've spent two decades working for an animator who draws sex scenes all the time, and even though it's sometimes a tough sell in America, his films do just fine in other countries, where they don't have the same hang-ups.  Think about Japanese animation, with all their tentacle porn and characters who change genders back and forth - they're light-years ahead of us on the adult animation front.  

Besides, would you rather have your kid looking at cartoon breasts, or the real thing?  They've got to grow up and get used to them sooner or later, and women in Europe walk around topless all the time, and kids there eventually get used to seeing that, and then it's no big deal.  I think in our repressed American society we try to shield kids from seeing nudity, and this creates teens who become sexually desperate, and they can't wait to become sexually active at any cost, usually before they're ready.  Or we create a generation of repressed, overly horny men who become dangerous and possibly abusive - if only they'd been eased into sexual maturity, like through animation, so they wouldn't go crazy upon turning 16, or led to feel like their sexual desires were dirty or somehow wrong.

We've got a situation now in NYC where there are "topless" women walking around Times Square, posing with tourists among the various superheroes and Sesame St. characters - and the Daily News headline read, "Topless women defile Times Square".  Believe me, if you knew Times Square during the 1970's or 1980's, you'd have seen a lot more than just a couple of titties.  But right there, they used the word "defile", which clearly shows a bias against the beautiful female form - why not "Topless women ENHANCE Times Square" or "Topless women BRIGHTEN UP Times Square"?  Why does the news always have to be so damn negative?  

Plus, a few points: A) These women are NOT topless, they're wearing body paint.  From a very basic technical point of view, there is a layer of paint on top of their breasts, so they are not exposing themselves.  B) Even if they WERE topless, which they are not, women do have a legal right to go topless in public in NYC - this was established years ago by activists who pointed out that if a man can walk around without a shirt, then legally, so can a woman.  C) If anyone is breaking the law in Times Square, it's people dressed like Batman or Elmo who are not paying anything to DC Comics/Time Warner or Children's Television Workshop for the legal right to dress as those characters.  In fact, the "topless" women have even more of a right to be posing with tourists for tips, because they're not violating any copyrights, they're simply being their own attractive (presumably) selves.  D) If you make topless women posing for tips illegal, you HAVE to also make walking around as Batman or Elmo posing for tips illegal too - you can't mandate what constitutes street art, and what doesn't - it's completely subjective. 

I just don't want to live in a world where we make naked women illegal - I can't even imagine it.  If you don't want your kids to see naked boobies, maybe don't bring them to Times Square?  Plus, you can't keep sheltering them!  Would you rather your son sees his first pair of naked breasts in a magazine, or out in the open streets, where he can be allowed to feel that it's maybe OK to look at some tits?  He's got to be allowed to experience these things as part of his maturation process, or the first pair of tits he sees will be on the dead hooker that he has to carve up.  Your call.  (That's what Freud believed, anyway...)

Anyway, see this film, unless you're a prude or a prick who can't condone images of gay sex.  Because after a while, nearly everything becomes a metaphor for gay sex.  I was telling someone the other day about those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 1970's where one person would be walking down the street eating a chocolate bar, and another person would be walking down the street with an open jar of peanut butter (because that's what you did back then, I guess) and they'd bump into each other on the corner, with the bar of chocolate ending up in the jar of peanut butter, and I guess maybe I wasn't describing it very well, because it started to sound a little sexual and maybe a bit perverse.  Hey, you got your "chocolate bar" in my "jar of peanut butter"!  (See what I mean?) But hey, that's how candy bars were created, and maybe how love connections were made.

It's a bit disjointed because the style of animation changes every four or five minutes, but that's probably a necessity of the process.  It takes much too long to make a complete animated feature in just one style (trust me on this one) so the trend now is to make these feature-length "mash-ups" where different animators handle small segments, and they all get edited together.  There's a feature based on Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" out in theaters right now, made by the same principle, with 6 or 7 different animators who each supplied segments that were 5 or 6 minutes long.  

It's great to hear the classic Monty Python song "Sit on My Face" again, but, really, they overused it. It's heard in this film about 6 or 7 times, and thus loses its shock value and most of its effectiveness.

Also starring the voices of Graham Chapman, John Cleese (last heard in "The Big Year"), Terry Jones, Michael Palin (last heard in "Arthur Christmas"), Terry Gilliam (last seen in "George Harrison: Living in the Material World"), Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz (last seen in "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Lloyd Kaufman, with cameos from Eric Idle, David Frost.

RATING: 5 out of 10 wrestling moves

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