A Liar’s Autobiography (2012)
Graham Chapman was erratic, flamboyant and, so close friends attest, somewhat unknowable. Before his death in 1989, The comic and Monty Python member completed a bizarre book full of his singular humour, formative experiences recounted in typically skewed fashion, surreal fabrications, and hints towards his struggle with alcohol (he was known to drink several pints of gin daily).
As animation producer Justin Weyers disclosed during LOCO’s Creating Your Own Funny World event, the production team, headed by directors Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett, required a certain scope and diverse approach to do justice to the subject matter. What resulted is a patchwork of various animation methods from fourteen different creative teams, helped along the way by vocal contributions from the Pythons, and sewn together with occasional film and interview clips.
The film leaps briskly between animation styles, including cell techniques and stop motion, all converted into stereoscopic 3D. This may sound a jarring and disparate visual style, and it sometimes is. But the piece is helped enormously by the audio narration Chapman recorded of his book, which ties the threads together and drives the whole thing along. There is a clear standout aesthetic, achieved by oil painting every frame onto glass (see above). Wielding rich, textured results, this visual style illustrates the darkest portion of the film, concerning Chapman’s attempts to confront his alcoholism. These scenes were so striking it’s almost a shame when the section utilising this method drew to a close, other animation styles seeming comparatively flat.
Other highlights arrive in the form of recounted Python meetings in which the comics are, for some reason, reimagined as monkeys, comically graphic sex scenes, and surreal flights which variously find the comedian wandering around space, and sipping spirits with the Queen. There’s an evident attention to craft throughout, and it’s clear this film has been made with conviction, and respect for the source material.
As to be expected from this sort of project, there are sections which don’t work as well as others. A stern talking to from a stop motion Sigmund Freud, voiced by Cameron Diaz (who else), is a disappointingly dry episode, and a definite low point. On the whole, this is a camp and absurd, sensitively crafted film, at turns irritating, but ceaselessly creative; a fitting tribute to an unpredictable, distinct talent.