There were a lot of different elements that went into what made Monty Python so staggeringly and timelessly brilliant, from the hyper-intelligent writing and work ethic of John Cleese, the unique voice and comic acting talents of Michael Palin in fact that second one can practically go for all of them. But when it comes to original artistic vision, a great amount of credit needs to be given to Terry Gilliam, a man who practically invented his own style of animation and psychedelic art from his London apartment for use in the now incredibly famous opening sequences of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
There could be no more suiting opening sequence for a sketch troupe that believed in the ethos (and eventual film title) of ‘and now for something completely different’. Not only in the content of the show it seems, but also in the world of animation and art. For a show that is constantly subverting expectation and introducing the unexpected, this sequence captures that essence perfectly in a sequence that is less stream of consciousness and more stream of insanity. And for me personally, (which is a way of saying that I haven’t researched this enough to know if it is true) he marked the started of non-seamless low budget animation. A style of stop motion that didn’t try to look real like Harryhausen effects, its not trying to trick the mind or the eye. The jarring, strange and uncanny nature of the animation itself adds to the charm of the whole sequence. Well, so the same could be said of Jason and the Argonauts to be fair, but in that the animation added to the other-wordly element of the creatures.
–Interesting side note, as animation and effects have improved, have we lost the unnaturalistic movements that stop motion and other predecessors brought us in the genre of horror and the supernatural? May have to follow this up with a separate post at a later date –
However, in the Python sequences that movement doesn’t make us think of another world, but just the whole disjointed nature of the sequence. Additionally the animation style itself i think is representative of the show because it shows a great level of care and time devoted to something that at the end of it all is just silliness. Monty Python is a gloriously and unashamedly silly show.
Perhaps it isn’t right to break down a show as ridiculous as this into its minute parts or to over analyse it. After all, I suspect that if you stopped the opening sequence at any point and asked why they had done something like replace an aristocrat’s body with a chicken body, the answer would probably come back, ‘because it’s stupid’.
Which, it’s relevant to note, is now and will always be the perfect answer. But what I did want to show you was something that inspired me a lot when I was first looking into animation as a serious hobby, goal, creative outlet and that is this fascinating interview I found with Terry Gilliam in which he explains how he created those iconic opening sequences.
What I found particularly interesting about these was the gripping motion that he manages with the hand. Looking at it in motion it is hard to tell that it is only 3 separate photos of hands. Worth particular mention as well (there is plenty in this video) is the way that the sound adds so hugely to the animation itself in the way that it fits perfectly. As another idea for a later post, I will try to write about the use of sound both effective and ineffective in different animations.