What most impresses me about the comedy of Monty Python is the breadth of their material. Rather than offer up quickly dated topical humor like 'Saturday Night Live' has frequently done over the years, the Pythons made great use of their college educations and infused a number of their timeless sketches with references to history, philosophy, literature, and many variety of cheeses that surely left many viewers curious to learn more. It certainly did this reviewer when he first encountered them on his local PBS station in the mid-'80s.
That's doesn’t mean the Pythons were always highbrow. They were also very comfortable with jokes that dealt with sex, flatulence, and other inappropriate topics. At their best, they mixed the two like in the "All-England Summarize Proust Competition" sketch, where the contestants get 15 seconds to summarize Marcel Proust's seven-volume "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time"), and due to their failure the emcee awards first prize "to the girl with the biggest tits."
Not counting tributes and remembrances of past glories, their last project together was 1983's 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life' due in part to the death of Graham Chapman in 1989. They have all had great success as individuals, and arguably, Eric Idle's greatest has been the musical 'Spamalot,' which has been a hit on Broadway, where it won a Tony for Best Musical, and the West End. "Lovingly ripped off from the motion picture 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'" as it states in the promotional materials, Idle teamed with John Du Prez to compose the music. They reteamed for and were commissioned by Luminato, the Toronto arts festival, to create 'Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy),' a comedic oratorio that spoofs Handel's "Messiah" as it presents the Life of Brian, adapted from the film of the same name, a contemporary of Jesus Christ who is mistaken for the Messiah.
To celebrate the ruby jubilee (40th anniversary) of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus', Idle and Du Prez brought 'Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)' to Royal Albert Hall for its British premiere on October 23, 2009. Joining them are opera singers William Ferguson, Shannon Mercer, Rosalind Plowright, and Christopher Purves, as well as 260 members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. As the Blu-ray jacket makes clear there were also a few Pythons on the bill. John Cleese being the only absentee.
After Sousa's "Liberty Bell March," the TV program's theme, which the crowd enthusiastically claps along to, Idle introduces the evening's narrator Mrs. Betty (Michael) Palin, who is wearing a lovely blue dress. He is difficult to hear at times because of the music. The same thing happens with Terry Jones during "Take Us Home." The members of the chorus, in yellow workman helmets, drown him out. Terry Gilliam comes out for an odd, brief cameo during "The Chosen One (cont.)" that's not worth the time spent setting it up.
The show presents a series of numbers performed in various musical styles and they are all handled quite well. "Woe Woe Woe!" is done as '50s doo-wop. "The People's Front of Judea" has a latin flair. "Amourdeus" is a movement of "choral sex" and is very amusing not just because of their orgiastic sounds but to see opera singers be so serious as they perform it. On "Individuals" Idle plays guitar and harmonica as he gives a good impression of a famous singer. "Find Your Dream" is a return to Latin music. The trumpeters are given false mustaches and sombreros. Jones, Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, and Neil Innes come out similarly dressed playing maracas, adding to the silliness.
Those who know Handel's 'Messiah" can probably better appreciate some of the songs. Spoofing "And There Were Shepherds" and "All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray," "We Love Sheep" is hysterical as it sets the scene in Bethlehem. Cleveland plays a shepherd and part of her costume is comprised of sheep puppets. "Hail To The Shoe!" is a take on "Hallelujah."
The highlights are the comedic bits from 'Monty Python's Life of Brian'. The very funny "What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?" shows the people have it better than they realize and remains a topical bit of political satire. "In Arrested!" finds Palin impressively recreating his speech-impeded Caeser from the film as he tries to find a prisoner to "wewease". In typical Python fashion, "The Final Song" is not the final song. Palin comes out dressed as a Roman asking prisoners if they are scheduled for crucifixion and one almost gets away. Idle then sings the film's concluding song, backed by the audience, "Always Look on The Bright Side of Life." Yet even that is not the final song of the evening. Palin returns dressed as Caeser, throws off his garb, and he sings "I'm A Lumberjack."
Python fans should be very delighted by 'Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy).' It's an impressive undertaking, with enough differences from the film that make it worth seeing, especially with the guest stars. Part of what makes this performance so special is the bond between the Pythons and the audience is palpable. During "You're The One" the audience is given lights that they wave side to side, and there's something heartwarming and life-affirming about the communal silliness all are taking part in.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings 'Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray is reported to be region-free.
The video is presented with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The source looks very good and the images are sharp, but the performance was obviously planned with the stage in mind and not the Blu-ray. The illuminated portions of the stage reveal clean, saturated colors, which slightly diminish when they are out from under the bright lights. The reds of the Mountie unifoms are especially vibrant. The blacks have marked separation as the buttons on the tuxedoes are clearly defined. There is some slight noise in the shadows but not enough to mar the viewing and no other digital artifacts were noticed.
The textures of the clothing are well detailed from Idle's tuxedo to cast members' sombreros. Close-ups present consistent fleshtones and facial details. The long shots allow for depth as separation can be seen in the placement of the performers. Audience members can be seen clearly, particularly the guys in the front row with kerchiefs on their heads dressed as Gumbys.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is lively and with great help from the surrounds puts the viewer in amongst the applause and laughs of the Royal Albert Hall audience. A great dynamic range is evident as the sound shifted between softer moments of spoken word that came out the front center channel to singing backed by the full force of the orchestra and chorus, which makes complete use of the sound system. The sub-woofer helped the orchestra reach its full potential. Aside from the source issues mentioned above where the lead singers were drowned out, the elements were frequently well balanced.
INTRO TO X
Eric Idle and the gang do the Python brand proud here as they present the life of Brian in such an impressive undertaking. They once again have me curious about the source material as I have never seen or heard Handel's "Messiah" and will now seek it out this upcoming holiday season. I highly recommend 'Not The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy)' for fans and recommend it for those who might like to try something completely different in an evening of comedy and classical music.