Review: A Liar’s Autobiography (VIDEO)

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Some background for those of you who are not familiar with Monty Python: Graham Chapman was a sixth of the now quasi-legendary British comedy group, known for their TV show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and films such as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian”, and also responsible for making Terry Gilliam (director of “Brazil”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, etc.) famous. Chapman, who played King Arthur and Brian, respectively, in the aforementioned movies, had many interesting traits, such as being a Cambridge med school alumnus, gay and an alcoholic, and he died of cancer at the age of 48, thus forever shattering the hopes of Monty Python fans to ever see the group reunited.

The bizarre animated feature “A Liar’s Autobiography” is based on Chapman’s literary account of his own life and narrated by Chapman himself (the recordings were made not long before his death). The film, which got a limited theatrical release in 2013 in UK cinemas, is the collaborative work of 14 animation studios; as a result, it combines a variety of techniques and graphic styles  (3d, cut-out, stop-motion, hand-drawn) without any attempt to make them fit together or match each other, which is in fact quite adequate since the story itself is just as disjointed and jumps back and forth in time between various moments in Chapman’s life and side anecdotes in such a manner that it may make you question either Chapman’s mental state or your own. All the former Pythons -except one- also contributed, and actress Cameron Diaz makes a guest appearance as the voice of Sigmund Freud. Make of that what you will.

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The above ingredients sound quite wacky and entertaining, and the logical conclusion would be that the result should be wacky and entertaining as well, but alas- something, somewhere, did not click as it should have. The greatest sin of “A Liar’s Autobiography”, a film about a funny man known for being a member of a group of funny men, is that it’s not really all that funny- a chuckle here and there, but the rest of the jokes fall flat or simply don’t seem to have been intended as jokes at all, just Graham talking to himself in a daze of sorts. I haven’t read the book from which the film is adapted, so it is entirely possible that it’s hilarious and the filmmakers simply selected the driest bits, but as it is here, it’s a bit dry. The second sin of the film is that it doesn’t reveal much about Chapman- not much more than what we could find out from Wikipedia, anyway. The film works best in the sequences showcasing the stuffy upper-class Englishness of Chapman’s life with his family and amongst the privileged kids at Eton and Cambridge- but Chapman’s later years, a mess of alcohol, sex and Hollywood parties, are, well, a mess, which may be accurate to reality, but doesn’t make for compelling storytelling. In a nutshell, I would assume that for someone unfamiliar with Monty Python, this film doesn’t really make it too clear why should one care for this Chapman chap at all.

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However, story/content issues aside, the time spent watching “A Liar’s Autobiography” is not time wasted for those who take an interest in animation, even if only to observe the variety of styles of which British animation studios are capable. Most of today’s popular animation is stuck in a visual rut- in terms of CGI, all we see are Pixar and Pixar imitators; in terms of hand-drawn animation, we only get anime and the thick-line, angular Flash animation of TV shows. It’s refreshing to see a reminder of the visual possibilities of the medium while comparing the different ways in which lanky ginger Chapman is drawn and rendered by a variety of talented artists. (Notably strange though, the animation style for which the Python show was known, Terry Gilliam’s surreal cutout work, is not featured.) I did not find the mix of styles or transitions from one another to be bothersome in the least, quite the contrary, and in a way, watching „A Liar’s Autobiography” as an animation fan is a bit like being a kid in a candy store.