Friday, June 24, 2011

The 2011 Summer Re-Watch: Monty Python's Flying Circus "Owl-Stretching Time"

Sometimes, a Monty Python Flying Circus is just about teeth and poking fun at the British army's slogan. Not every episode will launch me into thinking about the allusions to Nietzsche and Marx and their respective philosophies. More often than not, I usually just enjoy Monty Python for the laughs and entertainment the troupe readily delivers in every episode. "Owl-Stretching Time" is quite literally about teeth and the no-nonsense British army. Roland Barthes argued that the author is dead but I have no interest in arguing that the episode's about much larger issues beyond teeth and poking fun at an army slogan.

"Owl-Stretching Time" has two of my all-time favorite sketches in the entire series. The troupe never stopped experimenting with genres or styles. The trees episode had three sketches completely different from the other with various uses of an actual punch line. The owl episode has an actual beginning, middle and end. The last two sketches put the button on the episode, so to speak. The episode opens with a title card that reads: "Episode Arthur--Part 7" and then cuts to Eric Idle--he's playing a guitar and singing. Another title card appears, reading, "It's a Man's Life in the Cardiff Rooms, Libya."

The colonel I wrote about last week makes his debut in the episode as he warns the producers to not make fun of the "It's a Man Life" slogan again or he'll be forced to stop the show pre-maturely. The colonel's one of a few characters who commentates directly on the show as it's happening. The episode features two other characters with one line each who then whine about only having one line when another character makes fun of said one line. The colonel holds episodes together because he constantly reminds the actors and the audience how silly the show is. His issues with silliness have zero influence because silliness follows his interjections almost always. His last scene in episode four is followed by the infamous fresh fruit sketch, which is notable because the colonel blatantly ordered the producers to cease making fun of the army. Incredulously, he wonders why the episode's not about teeth as originally advertised.

And, really, "Owl-Stretching Time" isn't about teeth. The episode ends after a sketch about rival dentists in search for certain fillings. Why? It doesn't matter because it's awesome. The sight of Terry Jones carrying a bazooka on his shoulder in his pursuit to find fillings makes the entire premise worth. The troupe doesn't have much to say about the army either besides their overt accusations that the army bans laughter and jocularity. The BDA sketch combines elements from James Bond and other spy/espionage movies with trademark double-crosses complete with the reveal of the evil mastermind and his white cat all while set within the safe confines of a book store. Adjectives fly at the screen before the sketch, highlighting what readers will find within the pages of the book. The troupe, though, shows that conspiratorial intrigue between rival dentists doesn't happen in pulp novels or other books BUT WITHIN THE BOOKSTORE ITSELF.

The joy in Flying Circus isn't the meaning behind the sketches, of course. The joy, entertainment and fun one finds in the series comes from the acting, the clever wordplay and ridiculous sketches the Pythons brainstormed and executed. The fresh fruit sketch's so great because of its nonsensical silliness. John Cleese goes nuts for the entire five minutes, only varying his degree of insanity when another character in the sketch drops the name of a fruit and Cleese FREAKS OUT. The sketch is utterly absurd and fantastic because of its absurdity. Cleese's character teaches his students how to defend themselves against fresh fruit. The student play the role of the aggressor and Cleese shows how to defend oneself: either shoot the person, drop a 16 ton on him or unleash a tiger.

Subsequently, the BDA sketch shines because of the concept and the acting. I love the casual double-crosses, the innocent and inquisitive Arthur (played by Eric Idle), the pauses in action so Cleese can confirm or deny something to Arthur, the reveal of Graham Chapman's villain as he strokes Flubsy, his white cat, then shoots the cat because it doesn't respond to a question (one of my all-time favorite deliveries is delivered by Chapman in this sequence--"that'll teach you to play hard to get. There, poor Flubsy's dead. And never called me mother"). The sketch ends just as The Big Cheese releases the gas that will kill the dentists because it's 1 in the afternoon and time for lunch. See, the episode's about teeth.

One last thing before I end the post--I love the first sketches with the edible art, especially Michael Palin's art critic character. Rather than describe it, I'll embed the clip for all to enjoy.

No comments:

About The Foot

My photo
Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.