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JOHN CLEESE'S PERSONAL BEST

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: A&E
Features: See Review
Length: 55 Minutes
Release Date: February 28, 2006

"I hereby sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you cheer up!"

Film ***1/2

So, who's your favorite Python? I guess that's about as meaningful as asking who your favorite Beatle is. Just about everybody has one, but it's pointless to take one individual out of a group that did so much together to elevate and further their art form. That pompous observation aside, my favorite Python has always been John Cleese.

In their continuing Personal Best series, A&E offers this disc to the tall one, as Mr. Cleese peruses the history of Monty Python and selects his favorite moments to share with us. The moments are intercut with new interview footage, as the 96 year old (?!?) Cleese chats with the beautiful Dayna Devon, offering ornery and outrageous thoughts as the memories unfold.

This disc, like the one for Eric Idle, is a true treasure trove. Some wonderful Flying Circus bits are here, and many of my own favorites. I howled once again watching some truly inept individuals vying for the coveted title of Upper Class Twit of the Year, or the Gumby brain surgeons.

There were two television announcers duking it out for control of a microphone in the beautiful England woodlands, and even more shocking and hilarious was the debate between secularist and humanist professors, who forgo philosophy to have it out in the wrestling wring!

There are "documentaries" on the greatest deaths of all time, the violence of nature (it has to be seen to be believed), and even the legendary Pablo Picasso, painting his new masterpiece while riding a bicycle. One of the all time great Python bits has Cleese as a martial arts instructor teaching his hapless students how to defend themselves against fresh fruit ("Come at me with the banana!").

The Cheese Sketch was, for me, a low point in Python lore, as it dragged on and on and on. But here, we get a truncated version: it skips right to the punchline. Great stuff! There's also the Fish-Slapping Dance, and the Happy Valley film, which opens the program. It's the hilarious saga of a kingdom where everyone is happy all day long...or else!!

And how can you not love the zaniness of Confuse-A-Cat, Ltd., or the old ladies' reenactment of Pearl Harbor? All classics. And the new footage is funny as well. Mr. Cleese is nothing if not a good sport.

Dollar for dollar, you can't get much better than the complete Monty Python 16 Ton Megaset, but if you lack the funds or the patience to peruse the entire breadth of the Flying Circus, these Personal Best discs are both friendly to the budget and the funny bone. Sharing these memories and moments with the legendary John Cleese was great fun.

Video ***

A mixed bag by nature, but pretty good overall. The original Flying Circus material encompassed both video and film, and some parts look better than others. But overall, for an old television program, it's held up well, and A&E did a nice overall job with the transfer.

Audio **

The stereo mix is perfectly adequate...mostly dialogue, of course, so not a lot of need for dynamic range. But it all sounds perfectly clean and clear...no complaints.

Features **

The disc includes a short behind-the-scenes of the making of this DVD, which is about as serious as anything else on it. There's also a 15 question trivia quiz (I got 13), and a bio for John Cleese.

Summary:

Though I loved the whole group, I always liked John just a little more than George, Paul, Ringo and...um, whoever. John Cleese's Personal Best is a delightful selection of prize moments from Monty Python, and delivers a solid hour of laughter and entertainment, whether you're a Gumby, a Twit, or something in between.

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