Two major collector’s editions of cult British television comedy sketch shows, precursors of Monty Python

Two major collector’s editions of cult British television comedy sketch shows, precursors of Monty Python

Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs

At Last The 1948 Show (BFI) Tom Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Marty Feldman and the lovely Aimi MacDonald are still verbally and physically very funny. The scripts, aired in 1967, are wonderfully silly: a wound-up mechanical visitor visits a patient in a hospital; art expert smashing priceless antique; neurotic doctors and psychiatrists; plainclothes policemen in drag; four Yorkshire farmers discussing which of them had the worst childhood; a thief in a library being chased by police and nobody allowed to make any noise; a secret service interview; an accident prone man destroys everything in an insurance manager’s office; a one-man wrestler; a guided tour interrupts a live TV drama; rowdy football fans watching a ballet performance boo and cheer; old men dying in a club; news and newscasters; a meek bouncer is bounced; a visit to a bookshop; a train driver apologises for driving a train into a cathedral’s nave.


Do Not Adjust Your Set (BFI). Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, David Jason and Denise Coffey plus the bizarre art school Jazz anarchists Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Ban are more childish Aired in 1967-69 the freewheeling series, surreal, totally whacky, very physical, and very silly, was in fact aimed at children but grown-ups watched it too. The targets include bank managers, civil servants, doctors, psychiatrists, TV chefs, newscasters, city gents and secret servicemen. There is a traffic warden awarding honours to a row of pay machines, a lesson on how to eat in a restaurant, an interview with an invisible man, an orchestra who orchestrate their sneezes and coughs, and a sedan chair treated as if it were a car. High spots include Terry Gilliam’s brilliant graphics and the long running series, Captain Fantastic, a spoof silent film with Jason as a detective pursuing Coffey as a villain. The disc includes interviews with Cleese, Palin and Humphrey Barclay.


We the Animals (Eureka). Jeremiah Zagar, in his narrative feature debut, draws on his documentary experience to direct a sensitive and impressionistic portrait of childhood and brotherhood, as seen through a child’s eyes, full of idyllic poetry and magic realism Three brothers, half-white, half-Puerto-Rican, on the cusp of puberty, observe and react to their impoverished dysfunctional parents who when they are not making love are always fighting. The youngest (Evan Rosado) keeps a diary which is animated and one of this impressive and dream-like film’s most striking features. The boys, non-professional actors, often on their own, are amazing, remarkably authentic and intimate. They have been well coached and clearly have a professional future.


Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) (Picture House) is an Icelandic film about global warming and climate change. A middle-aged choir director, who is also a Green activist (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), blows up an electricity pylon. It’s an act of economical sabotage against the multinational companies and a government in league with China and bent on destroying the environment. She is pursued by planes and drones as she flees across a desolate forbidding landscape. A striking feature of Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is that she is accompanied everywhere she goes by a 3-piece band and 3 Ukrainian singers in traditional costume. They represent her inner demons. She is torn between activism and motherhood. She wants to adopt a 4-year-old Ukrainian orphan girl.


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