How it must have surprised longtime Monty Python adherents when Terry Gilliam, the group’s only American and the creator of its always cheap, usually garish, and often goofy and lewd animated sequences, went on to direct such darkly elaborate cinematic visions as Brazil and 12 Monkeys. Conversely, how it must surprise Gilliam the filmmaker’s younger fans — you can always count on his work to tap straight into the youthful imagination — to discover that, at the beginning of his career, he made all of these cheap, usually garish, and often goofy and lewd animated sequences. But like many of the silliest live-action Monty Python sketches, Gilliam’s animations (“cartoon” doesn’t seem quite the word) have a hidden intelligence all their own, and you can examine it by watching all of them, compiled into four videos: one (above), two (middle), three (bottom), four.
Gilliam began his professional life working on print comic strips, and in that form mastered his signature technique of manipulating photographic images to his much less realistic ends. The Python connections formed quickly: he used a photo of John Cleese for one of the strips he put together for Help! magazine, and when he moved to England soon after, he found work putting together animations for the Eric Idle-, Terry Jones-, and Michael Palin-featuring children’s program Do Not Adjust Your Set. This placed him well to hook up with the group at its very formation, and consequently his signature style, seemingly slapdash yet all but inimitable, became the look of Monty Python. Just imagine, watching all of Gilliam’s Python pieces strung together, what iron dedication to silliness it must have taken to complete them with the technology he would have had at hand in the seventies. To see what went into making his animated productions, simply watch this: Terry Gilliam Shows You How to Make Your Own Cutout Animation
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.