Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reading Monty Python's Flying Circus

AP photo

Monty Python's Flying Circus: 
Complete and Annotated ... All the Bits
Edited by Luke Dempsey
(Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)

The Complete Monty Python's 
Flying Circus: All the Words (2 vols.)
Written and conceived by Graham Chapman, 
John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, 
Terry Jones and Michael Palin

     I’m a big fan of the TV program Monty Python’s Flying Circus and of the comedy troupe of the same name. I own the complete series on DVD (as well as most of their comedy records, films and ancillary books), but even with a remote control in hand it’s easy to miss some of the dialogue (especially with the laugh track, live or canned as the case may be). I’m also a book nut. So, way back in 1989, I purchased a two-volume work titled The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, which is exactly what the title suggests: the scripts (or perhaps a transcription) of every episode of the show, including lines deleted by fussy censors. It also contains an index, so if I want to read (or watch) a particular skit, I can easily determine in which episode it occurs.
     One drawback of the book is that Terry Gilliam’s animation links are almost completely absent. Also, the books are paperbacks (although I bought it as a boxed set, so it has held up pretty well through the years).
     Now there is a new, hardcover alternative: Monty Python's Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated ... All the Bits. I like hardcover books, I like annotations, and the format allows for color pictures which allow the Terry Gilliam animations to be excerpted as well.
     “Every script is thoroughly annotated with notes that cover the plethora of cultural, historical, and topical references touched upon in each sketch. Sidebars and commentary throughout include profiles of the principles -- Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese -- and interviews with the cast and crew; fascinating facts about technical concerns, set design, and shooting locations; insider stores from on and off the set, including arguments, accidents, and practical jokes; goofs and gaffes; and much more. Also included are thousands of stills and artwork from the shows.” 
     Of course, I already have the first book(s) – which are still in print, by the way -- so, is All the Bits worth the upgrade?
     Alas, no, for several reasons: 
     One, the cost: All the Bits sells for $50 list, although you can probably find it for less this holiday season. All the Words isn't a lot less at $39.90 list, so the new book may be more attractive if you don't own the old one. For me, there's not enough new content to justify the purchase.  
     Second, it’s cumbersome, the size of a phone book. I don’t think you could comfortably read it in bed, maybe not even one’s lap. All the Words is more portable. 
    Third, there are strange colored borders around photos, with annotations in coordinated colored text and colored footnote numbers in the text. 
     By contrast, All the Words is just plain text, with a few photos inserted in the center of the book. It’s designed not to be hip or eye-catching, but for clarity and ease of use. Call me crazy, but that’s all I need or want from the book.
      Fourth, most of the annotations are of mundane matters, such as a difference between the attire in the script and what was worn during filming, or describing what line was drowned out by laughter, or telling us how iconic a bit is. Not exactly essential reading. 
     If you don't already have All the Words, take a look at All the Bits. It might be worth it to you. Meanwhile I'll wait and see if it's remaindered and shows up in the Daedalus Books catalog or at a Barnes and Noble store; I might consider it then for the “annotations.” Until then, I'll stick with All the Words. (Now, which episode has the Mr. Hilter sketch …)


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