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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Python Typewriters and the Oz Theatre

"You can expect a little comedy, a lot of pathos, a lot of music
and a tiny bit of ancient sex … and maybe some cross dressing."
And so it was Australia's turn ... for something completely different.
Last night Monty Python Live (mostly)One Down Five To Go had its screening in cinemas across this vast continent, home of the legendary Bruces and their Philosophy Department of the University of Woolloomooloo.
Lyrics and music by Eric Idle,
 from the Monty Python's Flying Circus
 album Matching Tie and Handkerchief
The Bruces are, as all would know well by now, great admirers of  Martin Heidegger, who, they say, was a "boozy beggar" but "could think you under the table". Naturally, as I watched this segment last night, my thoughts wandered many thousands of miles away, to Typospherian Richard Polt, another Heidegger devotee (though not a graduate of the University of Woolloomooloo's Philosophy Department) as he made his way from Cincinnati to Milwaukee through Dayton, Toledo and the outskirts of Chicago.
'Think you under the table'
My misfortune at not being with Richard on this journey was eased somewhat by me being able to watch the Python reunion in London.
I was among the audiences which attended five almost simultaneous sold-out evening screenings in the Dendy Theatre Complex in Canberra (limited encore screenings will follow). That at least one in every 75 people in the entire population of the Australian Capital Territory went to the one complex at more or less the same time on the same night to watch the same show is rather staggering, I think. It says a great deal about the enduring appeal of the Pythons.
Of course, Jasper wore his scarf to the screening.
Bearing this in mind, I suppose I shouldn't have been at all surprised - especially given this bright young chap's excellent tastes in life - to see fellow Canberra Typospherian Jasper Lindell walk into the same session that I attended.
I am delighted to be able to reveal that at least two manual portable typewriters appear in Monty Python Live (mostly) - in a modern setting reprising of the famous "Argument Clinic" sketch, featuring Michael Palin* and John Cleese. One, I think, is an Oliver Courier, the other I couldn't quite pick - maybe a Facit 1620?
*Marty Rice Alert: Palin is the guy who coined the phrase: "Hemingway seems to have had as many typewriters as he had cats"
The show we saw in Australia was from the last night (July 20) of the Python reunion series of concerts at London’s 02 arena. At the start of the screening, someone referred to it as the "Oz theatre", something which, given the Python's renowned fondness for typewriters (and a Blickensderfer 5 in particular), I thought quite apt.
This rusty Blickensderfer 5 (with two keytops and a spacebar missing) is, despite its deficiencies, proudly owned by Python team member, comedian Terry Jonesdirector of Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Jones said he"picked [it] up in a secondhand shop. It’s very elegant and sits on the windowsill in my study. It was patented in 1893 and features a rotating typewheel. It’s not very practical because it has a pad that you have to keep inking, but I bought it because my comedy hero, Buster Keaton, used to work on one [which Terry probably found from Richard Polt's Classic Typewriter Page]. He made beautiful silent comedy and that’s what I’ve tried to do in film. When Michael Palin and I started out, we wrote silent films for the TV sketch show Twice a Fortnight; much of our humour was inspired by Keaton."
But Buster's secretary used an Oliver, which will please Marty:
There was a huge demand for tickets for the first of the live performances at the O2, on July 1, with the 15,000 tickets selling out in 43.5 seconds. The Pythons hadn’t performed live since September 26-29, 1980, at the Hollywood Bowl. Their London performances were also the first since the premature death, at age 48, of Graham Chapman in 1989. It was shown in 570 venues in Britain and Ireland and in another 1800 around the world, quickly becoming the third biggest live cinema event of all time in Britain.
The absence of Chapman (he does appear in clips from past shows) gives the concert the subtitle One Down Five To Go. In his opening eulogy at Chapman's funeral service, Cleese said: "Heaven knows what the next hour will bring in Graham’s name. Trousers dropping, blasphemers on pogo sticks, spectacular displays of high-speed farting, synchronised incest. One of the four [other Pythons] is planning to stuff a dead ocelot and a 1922 Remington typewriter up his own arse to the sound of the second movement of Elgar’s cello concerto. And that’s in the first half."
My all-time favourite Python photo: Cleese and Chapman.
Surely choreographed by the Pythons?
One of the more treasured Python skits featured a typewriter being used as if it was a railway train by an author called Neville Shunt (as in Australia-based Neville Shute, author of On the Beach and A Town Like Alice):
Shunt is said to have written a "West End hit" called It All Happened on the 11.20 from Hainault to Redhill via Horsham and Reigate, calling at Carshalton Beeches, Malmesbury, Tooting Bec and Croydon West. An "art critic" remarks, "Some people have made the mistake of seeing Shunt's work as a load of rubbish about railway timetables, but clever people like me, who talk loudly in restaurants, see this as a deliberate ambiguity, a plea for understanding in a mechanised world."
Cleese in the funniest TV show ever made, bar none: Fawlty Towers.
So let's all doff our cloth caps to the Pythons and sing, so loud Richard Polt can hear it in far-off Milwaukee:
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist.
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away -
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
'I drink, therefore I am.'
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed,
A lovely little thinker,
But a bugger when he's pissed.


Jasper Lindell said...

As soon as I saw those typewriters in the Argument Clinic sketch, I thought, "I reckon Robert'll be right on to this!"

Richard P said...

You've brought smiles to me in my insomnia. Now let's see if I can catch a few winks before hitting the road to Wisconsin!

shordzi said...


Steve Snow said...

Pure genius those guys. Only their humour remains so relevant and so funny across so many generations

notagain said...

I still have several Python albuns on vinyl and a couple of books, all bought as a youthful fan.