With the simplest of linking threads, ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ was mostly shot at Elstree Studios. Terry Jones, who directed the film, confirms that: “unlike the previous two films we could actually go home after each day’s filming. It was like being back at the BBC. Only with much more money and more control”. Of course, this also meant that the camaraderie of a location shoot was fragmented to some extent.
However, in the recording studio the opposite was true. Andre Jacquemin remembers that: “it was Mike and Terry Gilliam who produced the soundtrack album”. As with the ‘Life of Brian’ album, the Pythons on production duty were naturally the Pythons who recorded the linking material. Michael Palin recorded the lion’s share of links, including a curtailed piece on Martin Luther, the sketch of which was cut from the film. Indeed, some dialogue missing from the final cut actually makes it onto the album. Terry G.’s contribution was limited by the explanation that, by its very nature, his stuff is mainly visual. He also plugged his accompanying short film of “pirate clerks”, ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’, as an introduction to Accountancy Shanty.
The spirit of Python had never looked more lavish than in ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’. It was clear that the musical numbers were going to be key to the soundtrack album. From the smallest salute to every euphemism for the penis to a three-minute ditty tackling the sheer vastness of all known space and time, it really was a case of the history of everything…put to music.
Terry J. reflects: “when I think of the very best bits of Python, most of it comes from ‘The Meaning of Life’. I was pleased with how Christmas in Heaven worked. I’d written that song and I thought Graham was wonderful”. Even better is Every Sperm is Sacred, one of the most ambitious and sustained pieces of Python comedy and every bit as grand and impressive as the Oscar scooping musicals in whose footsteps it so faithfully followed. Says Terry J. ” We just took the recognised framework of the ‘Oliver!’ production numbers, with hundreds of extras, and put it into the context of Python.”
Every Sperm is Sacred was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Original Song in a Film. There is a real case for seeing ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ as the team’s first musical.
The demo version and Jazz Club version of the proposed title song, written and sung by Terry Jones, is a knowing comment on the film industry. A delight but certainly less powerful than the song that was ultimately used. The very brief Fat Song was written as an introduction for Mr. Creosote but was dropped from the film, while the alternative Fishmas in Heaven version of Christmas in Heaven features unused Terry J. lyrics. Classics like: “and all the clips on ‘Disney Time’ have never been seen before…” are sung in a more Big Band, Frank Sinatra style than the familiar take. A bumper collection of radio adverts include the always welcome resurrection of Graham’s “Stop that, it’s silly!” Colonel, although far from being absent since 1973 he had been a stock character in the Python live shows, and had most recently been seen in ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’, released just the previous Summer!
“Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” – Feature Film
By Robert Ross, 2014