4-7 March; DCA
A Liar’s Autobiography is based on the autobiography of Graham Chapman, the most enigmatic member of the Monty Python team. Reflecting Chapman’s inimitable style, the film visually displays the random, disparate nonsense that inhabited the comedian’s consciousness. These wild, surreal fabrications come together to form some semblance of an autobiography; the commentary is provided by Chapman himself, courtesy of the recordings he made in the years preceding his death from cancer in 1989.
A viewer expecting a straight autobiography will likely be sorely disappointed. Despite Chapman’s assurances that his story will be “more interesting than the usual hum-drum and wetting of nappies”, in the first half hour we are presented with a stereotypical childhood of someone “who reads over-much” (even suffering his father’s chastisement for this) and is dedicated to knowledge from a young age. Yet this rendering seems too polished, a clichéd idealisation of Chaman’s young self as it were. The depictions of his over-bearing father and over-eager mother seem just a little “pat”, despite the slick visual imagery which accompanies these childhood scenes. In keeping with the anarchic Monty Python style, the portrayal of Chapman’s sexual awakening is hurriedly passed over in a wave of cartoon breasts and buttocks. However, in these scenes, and despite clever allegory, we rarely delve deeply into the mind of Chapman himself. Despite showing Chapman’s “dream-self” literally side-step heterosexuality, and despite the repetitive imagery of him racing through his sexual experimentation with women from the comfort of a penis shaped cart, we are rarely given insight into Chapman’s psychology. We are told, quite bluntly, that, “after qualifying, I gave up and became a raging poof”. That is the level of detail that Chapman is willing to offer. Despite the comedic cartoon portrayals which accompany Chapman’s narrative, the audience is simply not presented with any significant revelations. Throughout, Chapman speaks matter-of-factly about his emotional plight that audiences might find it hard to relate to him; on the rare occasion that we feel empathy, we are greeted with phrases such as, “of course that is all entirely untrue”.
Despite these weaknesses, the excellent visual imagery in A Liar’s Autobiography makes this film wholly enjoyable. Beyond the cartoon carnality, the use of 3-D, at times disorientating, is also masterfully employed, making this film a visual triumph. The film reflects the clever, bawdy, humour that characterised Chapman’s writings. Where Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)’s 2-D animation draws the eye towards a mischievous vulgarity, 3-D can thrust such qualities into the audience’s faces. Where this approach really works is in the individualised form and feel of each of the vignettes. Different styles dominate different scenes, creating a stark division between stages of Chapman’s life and consciousness. The depictions of famous personas including the Queen Mother and Sigmund Freud (voiced with wonderfully Pythonesque incongruity by Cameron Diaz), provide excellent visual humour. This film truly benefits from the 3-D treatment and employs the medium in an effective manner.
However, viewers expecting to further their understanding of the Monty Python team will also likely be left wanting. Bar the depiction of Cleese and Chapman’s auditioning for “Footlights”, and an animated version of the “Bomber Harris” sketch, we are given little insight into the inner workings of the troupe. Although visually intricate and well-thought out, we are ultimately chasing shadows if we come to the film wanting to gain an understanding of Chapman himself. Indeed, a tricksy elusiveness seems to be the film’s point. A Liar’s Autobiography is an homage to the mystique and star persona of Chapman, void of any meaningful revelation, yet exuberant and visually stunning all the same.