When New York’s Ziegfeld Theater hosts an advance screening of IFC’s documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut) on Thursday, everyone in the audience will have a favorite moment they hope is included, somewhere between the interview with Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson from the first episode of the original BBC TV series to Mr. Creosote’s evening at the restaurant in The Meaning of Life. (For the rest of us, the documentary airs in six parts on IFC from Oct. 18-23.) At this point, however, the surviving members of the comedy troupe — who will be there to answer questions from the audience after the screening — have been apart much longer than they were together, and they’ve all done great projects on their own (or working in smaller clusters). Here are some of the highlights, presented in alphabetical order by Python.
1. JOHN CLEESE is probably just as famous for his late 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers as he is for his Python work. In just twelve episodes, his portrayal of a frustrated owner of a small hotel in England became a comedy classic.
2. Cleese’s biggest film role outside Monty Python was as Archie, the lawyer caught between scheming thieves in the 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda. If the role seems perfect for him, it’s no surprise: He also wrote the screenplay.
3. TERRY GILLIAM‘s first hit as a director apart from Monty Python was Time Bandits (1981), a comedy about a boy who falls in with a band of dwarves who’ve stolen the Supreme Being’s map of the universe and are tying to use it to steal history’s greatest treasures.
4. Gilliam has become a favorite director of cineastes over the years, and many of them regard The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) as a brilliant if flawed masterpiece — his battles with Columbia Pictures over the budget and then the release became notorious.
5. ERIC IDLE was the first Python to have a significant hit outside the group with The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), a TV special parodying the career of the Beatles. He not only wrote and co-directed the film, he stars as both the narrator and as Dirk, one of the Rutles’ four members. (Actually, the mockumentary was a bomb when it first aired on NBC, but developed a cult following over the years.)
6. Alan Smithee is a name Hollywood directors used to use when they want to take their name off a film because they don’t approve of the studio’s finished version. In the 1997 satire An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, Idle played the “real-life” Smithee, who is hired to “direct” an action blockbuster but winds up stealing the footage rather than see his name attached to the movie.
7. TERRY JONES directed a live-action adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (1996) in which he also starred as Toad. The film is especially noteworthy for being the closest thing to a Python reunion outside an actual reunion, as everyone except Gilliam makes an appearance.
8. In addition to writing, directing, and acting in films, Jones is also a medieval historian. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (2004), his first documentary series for the BBC, was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding writing in a nonfiction program.
9. MICHAEL PALIN has a major role in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil (you were wondering why we didn’t mention that earlier, huh?) as Jack, a torturer for a repressive police state. The disconnect between Jack’s friendly, outgoing nature outside the office and his professional demeanor is one of the movie’s most chilling aspects.
10. Like Jones, Palin has also produced and starred in television documentaries, including Around the World in 80 Days (1989), where he stayed as close to the travel options available to Jules Verne in the 19th century, and Pole to Pole (1992), crossing from the Arctic to the Antarctic through Europe and Africa.
A list of Monty Python extracurricular highlights wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Odd Job , a 1978 comedy starring GRAHAM CHAPMAN as a man who reacts to a break-up with his wife by paying a stranger to kill him (as he can’t quite manage on his own). His wife comes back the next day, but the hired man refuses to quit…
IFC will air Monty Python: Almost the Truth (Lawyer’s Cut) in six parts beginning October 18 at 9pm. The NYC premiere event will also be streamed live online on October 15 at 9pm.