Chapman was the blonde, more athletic-looking (thanks to rugby and mountaineering) troupe player who also had lead roles in their Life of Brian and Yellowbeard films. Born in Great Britain during the outbreak of World War II, Chapman’s eventual comic sensibility was seemingly impacted by the war-time violence he witnessed as a youngster (which may have been the case with all of MP’s members). He was also MP’s sole gay member, and A Liar’s Autobiography explores Chapman’s sexual coming of age in fairly graphic cartoon detail (see clip below). Sadly, Chapman died of throat cancer when he was only 48 years old.
The film is animated in a variety of styles and with numerous amusing touches to illustrate the stages of Chapman’s life. These styles of animation include traditional hand-drawn, both crude and more sophisticated forms of CGI, stop motion (notably during a Sigmund Freud segment which features the voice of “gratuitous special guest star” Cameron Diaz as Freud), charcoal sketches and watercolor paintings. Some live-action archival footage of Chapman and Monty Python is also utilized. All of the vignettes are framed by a theatrical sketch that has Chapman playing Oscar Wilde.
For gay audiences at least, the film’s primary point of interest will be the substantial amount of time devoted to Chapman’s homosexuality. While initially stating “my sexual life consisted of sleeping with women while dreaming about men,” Chapman later determined himself to be 70% gay on the famous Kinsey Scale. He fell in love with the man who would become his longtime partner, David Sherlock, during a trip to Ibiza. Prior to his death, Chapman came out publicly and also admitted to his longtime alcoholism on British talk shows.
As suggested by its subtitle, The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, A Liar’s Autobiography is hardly dedicated to painting a completely accurate portrait of the late comedian. However, directors Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett draw primarily from Chapman’s own reading of his book, so any discrepancies between the subject and the telling are likely the result of liberties taken by Chapman himself. Both the storytelling and the imagery are often beautiful, sometimes baffling, but captivating throughout. To MP devotees, this film will serve as a great companion piece to Holy Flying Circus, a clever exposé of the controversy surrounding Life of Brian that was just released on DVDlast month.
Reverend's Rating: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.