DIRECTED BY: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett

FEATURING: Graham Chapman, , Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin,

PLOT: Fourteen different animation studios bring chapters of Monty Python alumnus Graham Chapman’s farcical written autobiography to life, with narration provided by Chapman himself (recorded before he snuffed it in 1989 at 48 years of age).

Still from A Liar's Autiobiography (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s weird enough, but the appeal is too limited—it’s mainly Monty Python memorial fanservice.

COMMENTS: It begins (after thirty seconds of abuse) with Graham Chapman, or rather with a photograph of Chapman’s head digitally pasted onto a cutout of Chapman’s body, forgetting a line while onstage performing a live sketch. As the audience and his cutout co-stars grow restless at the awkward silence, the roof opens and helpful aliens beam the suffering actor up into a psychedelic Saturday morning kid’s show version of a spacecraft. It appears that the foregoing was all a hallucination, however, and after spewing a beautiful chunk of rainbow vomit into a gas mask as he’s being wheeled into surgery, Chapman begins reflecting on his childhood. He focuses on a (perhaps unreliable) early memory of being taken for a stroll through the wartime streets of a British city, calmly smoking his pipe as mom pushes his pram over the severed limbs littering the street. And that’s just the first ten minutes of this odd opus. At its best, A Liar’s Autobiography skips along from one insane sketch to another with the absurdist impatience of a good episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Unfortunately, the script is rarely at its best, and things frequently bog down with scenes like Chapman’s memories of arguments over getting haddock or halibut during a childhood vacation; incidents that neither enlighten us about the enigmatic comic’s artistry nor, more importantly, make us laugh very hard. Chapman adds silly little jokes to his life story—such as the notion that his parents were disappointed when he was born because they were hoping for a “heterosexual black Jew with several amusing birth defects” because they “needed the problems.” This autobiography, however, probably could have used more substantial and ongoing lies, like a recurring supervillain nemesis, because a gripping life story does not emerge here: the movie plays more as a series of digressive comic essays loosely organized around Chapman’s personal chronology. The genesis and operations of Monty Python are largely passed over, though fans will catch some throwaway lines and references, and clips of some classic sketches are incorporated. None of the rest of the troupe are more than minor characters in the story. The two themes Chapman keeps returning to are his homosexuality (bisexuality, if he’d had a few drinks) and his alcoholism. From what appears onscreen, Chapman never struggled with his homosexual urges, but became a “raging poof” quite enthusiastically. Nor were his friends particularly shocked—though he does make Marty Feldman faint from giggling at his coming out party—so there’s no element of conflict to the movie’s sexual subtext. Alcohol proves a more fruitful antagonist, and scenes of hazy hotel room escapades with random groupies and a squiggly Edvard Munch-ian delirium tremens sequence add darker textures. What keeps Autobiography watchable even during its driest patches are, firstly, the constantly shifting animation styles, which range from a dingy variant on Pixar-style 3D to a blocky children’s storybook style to an experimental bits with partially translucent figures. The other thing that keeps you watching despite the lack of any compelling storyline are the completely off-the-wall bits that may pop up at any moment. A man walks out of a bomber cockpit and finds two lesbians making love in the cargo bay; Cameron Diaz voices Sigmund Freud as he analyzes the previous segment; Chapman rides in a roller coaster shaped like a penis past bizarre clumps of suspended breasts. Though not the funniest by a long stretch, Autobiography may be the most surreal project any Python was ever associated with, which is saying something in itself. Overall, this is an uneven piece, but regular readers of this site will surely find something to admire in it. Python fans will obviously want to check it out, although they also stand to be the most disappointed in its lack of probing insights into its central character.

The movie’s official site is worth a click; by answering an interminable series of silly screening questions designed to identify your level of (im)maturity, you can gradually unlock content from the film.


“…an engaging trip: miscellaneous, wittily surreal, with a sadness to lend it a structuring heartbeat.”–Nigel Andrews, Financial Times (contemporaneous)


  1. Graham Chapman was a curious man to say the least! I’ve read directly conflicting accounts about his contribution to the Python team. Some say that he wrote very little, but he had an instinctive ear for what was funny, so his input made the sketches written by the others much funnier. Others say that he wrote quite a lot, but he didn’t have the slightest idea which of it was funny, so a lot of it was painfully awful, though when it wasn’t, it was some of the best material they ever performed. Both of those can’t be true.

    I think it has to be the second one. Everyone agrees that he had talent, though there’s some confusion as to exactly what it was, but it seems to vanish whenever he isn’t part of the Monty Python team. He obviously needed somebody to say “that’s funny and that’s not” when it mattered. His 1976 solo TV series Out of the Trees (co-written with the incredibly overrated Douglas Adams) had only two episodes filmed, one of which was aired once, and then the BBC wiped them both. Judging by surviving clips, it consisted of material similar to all the terrible Monty Python sketches that nobody remembers, only worse.

    If Graham Chapman was still alive, a sympathetic but ruthless editor might have had a word with him about the source material, and this film would be a lot funnier. What is it with this excessive respect to the dead? There’s a great deal to be said for having your tribute movie made while you’re still breathing. Sadly it seldom is.

  2. In support of the first position, John Cleese did say that Chapman was not good at coming up with his own sketches but he was great at making other people’s ideas weirder and funnier. The “parrot” sketch, for example, was apparently originally going to be about a toaster until Chapman said “wouldn’t it be funnier if…”

  3. Well, I’ve read an equally reliable account from another Python – I forget which – that Chapman’s usual way of contributing was to pull out a sketch he’d written by himself and rather diffidently start reading it, pausing at intervals to ask “Is this funny?” because he honestly didn’t know. Apparently the most riotous script-writing session they ever had was when he read out the cheese shop sketch, and the fact that he didn’t have the faintest idea whether or not it was funny made the whole thing absolutely hysterical. Maybe after all these years they remember him differently.

    Utterly off-the-wall comedians sometimes have this problem. Andy Kaufmann was another one who persistently used material that nobody else found funny, but they put up with it for the inspired bits, and if you know much about Spike Milligan’s solo career, you’ll know that the same thing was going on there, and his mental health problems didn’t exactly help. It doesn’t show up so much with Chapman because everything he did that people remember was as part of the Python team. But if you watch his one-man show (available on Region 2 DVD as A Brown Trouser Job), it’s apparent that he really didn’t know how to tell a funny or well-structured anecdote at all. Fortunately he had a very indulgent audience.

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