The Miracle of Flight, the Classic Early Animation by Terry Gilliam

As Michael Palin once put it, “there’s no get­ting away from the wit, won­der and wiz­ardry of the man Cahiers du Ciné­ma once described as Ter­ry Gilliam.”

Those qual­i­ties are clear­ly vis­i­ble in this very fun­ny ear­ly film by Gilliam called The Mir­a­cle of Flight. The film was made in 1971 for the Amer­i­can-British TV show The Mar­ty Feld­man Com­e­dy Machine. Mon­ty Python was on hia­tus that year, so Gilliam went to work for the short-lived Com­e­dy Machine, cre­at­ing the open­ing cred­it sequence and var­i­ous ani­mat­ed fea­tures using his trade­mark air­brush and paper cutout tech­niques. (Watch his primer on doing your own cutout ani­ma­tion here.) The mate­r­i­al for The Mir­a­cle of Flight was appar­ent­ly pack­aged as a stand-alone film in 1974, right after Gilliam’s first film, Sto­ry­time.  It was lat­er used as a bonus fea­ture before the­atri­cal screen­ings of Gilliam movies, and dur­ing live Python per­for­mances. The film ver­sion is slight­ly dif­fer­ent from the one aired on the Com­e­dy Machine. Accord­ing to Smarter Than The Aver­age, “for the the­atri­cal ver­sion it lost a griz­zly punch­line where a man who had failed at his attempt to fly by emu­lat­ing the ergonom­ics of a bird takes his revenge by rip­ping the bird to pieces.” The writer then goes on to describe details only a Python fanat­ic could notice:

The Mir­a­cle of Flight in par­tic­u­lar is a cor­nu­copia of odd­i­ties for the Python con­nois­seur, con­tain­ing as it does one line record­ed by Ter­ry Jones, the tarred-and-feath­ered char­ac­ter who appears in Ani­ma­tions of Mor­tal­i­ty, the moun­tain in the finale of the Mean­ing of Life com­put­er game and the ani­mat­ed woman from Python who says “Turn that tele­vi­sion off–you know it’s bad for your eyes”. Most baf­fling of all is the muzak in the air­port ter­mi­nal, which is the same as used in the Den­tal sequence of the Mean­ing of Life CD-Rom near­ly thir­ty years lat­er. For sheer num­bers of Python iconog­ra­phy appear­ing in a non-Python pro­duc­tion, The Mir­a­cle of Flight’s only rival is Eric Idle’s music video for George Har­rison’s Cracker­box Palace. But I digress.

Indeed. But we enjoyed it. And you’ll enjoy The Mir­a­cle of Flight, which might more accu­rate­ly be called The Tri­umph of Grav­i­ty.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.