Friday, October 2, 2009

British Actor(s) of the Month: Completely Different Edition

In 1969 the writing teams of John Cleese and Graham Chapman and Terry Jones and Michael Palin teamed up with Eric Idle and American animator Terry Gilliam to write and perform in their own sketch show, which premiered on the BBC forty years ago this month. Love it, hate it, or just plain don't get it, Monty Python's Flying Circus would change television--and comedy--forever. So, this month we pay tribute to

Monty Python

Back l-r: Chapman, Idle, Gilliam; front l-r: Jones, Cleese, Palin

Graham Chapman. A fully-qualified doctor, Chapman was best known for playing the lead roles--King Arthur, Brian--in the Python films, and for being the colonel who would occasionally break up a sketch when it got "too silly." Chapman's post-Python career was cut short when he died of cancer in 1989.

John Cleese. Cleese appears as the begrudged purchaser of a Norwegian blue in the famous "Dead Parrot Sketch," which he helped write, but his most iconic role on the show was as the BBC announcer who would occasionally say, "And now for something completely different." Of all the Pythons, Cleese's career has probably been the most high profile since leaving the group. He wrote and starred in the acclaimed sitcom Fawlty Towers as well as the films A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. Cleese's most recent Hollywood role has been in the James Bond franchise as Q.

Eric Idle. Perhaps best remembered as "Mr. Nudge" (wink, wink say-no-more), Idle also wrote the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from The Life of Brian. His career has, in a way, continued on in a musical bent. Idle created The Rutles--the pre-fab four whose music would last "a lunchtime" and whose career and music seemed suspiciously similar to a certain other Liverpool pop group. He was also behind bringing Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the stage as the Broadway musical Spamalot.

Terry Jones. Jones was the Python most frequently in drag, appearing as a middle-aged Pepperpot and Brian's mother. But the role Jones is best known for is that of Meaning of Life's disgusting Mr. Creosote. (Trust me, if you don't know, you don't want to.) He went on to become a director, working on the Python films, as well as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, in which he starred alongside Idle and Palin.

Michael Palin. As a Python, Palin played either uber-wimps like Arthur Putney or sleazy gangster types. But Palin has become better known for making several travel shows for the BBC, which he parodied in A&E Biography's episode about Monty Python. In addition, he has performed in many films written or directed by his former cohorts, and wrote a rather good novel called Hemmingway's Chair.

And, finally, last but not least, honorable mention goes to...

Terry Gilliam, who isn't really an actor and definitely isn't British. Minnesota-born Gilliam animated Flying Circus's surreal cartoons, and occasionally played parts that required excessive makeup, like the Old Man from Scene 23. Gilliam, though, has received much critical praise as the edgy and always studio embattled director of films like Brazil, The Fisher King, and Twelve Monkeys.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." --Oscar Wilde, 1891

It's Banned Books Week again. Banning books--restricting access to knowledge, ideas, and imagination, in other words--is one of the worst things I can imagine. It is a political act--and one we can easily overlook. "It's only a book." But in banning books, we attempt to shape minds to our way of thinking by getting rid of other potential modes of doing so. It is oppression at its most insidious.

I'm posting the American Library Association's list of the 100 most challenged books from 1990-1999. (The stats from this decade are still being complied.) I've bolded the ones I've read (or started to read). If you'd like to spread awareness you might consider doing the same on your own blog/journal/MySpace/Facebook/whatever.

Scary Stories (Series), by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate
, by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
, by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War
, by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men
, by John Steinbeck
r, by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia
, by Katherine Paterson
Heather Has Two Mommies
, by Leslea Newman
The Catcher in the Rye
, by J.D. Salinger
The Giver
, by Lois Lowry
My Brother Sam is Dead
, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
It’s Perfectly Normal
, by Robie Harris
(Series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(Series), by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die
, by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple
, by Alice Walker
, by Madonna
Earth’s Children
(Series), by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins
, by Katherine Paterson
In the Night Kitchen
, by Maurice Sendak
The Witches
, by Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time
, by Madeleine L’Engle
The New Joy of Gay Sex
, by Charles Silverstein
Go Ask Alice
, by Anonymous
The Goats
, by Brock Cole
The Stupids
(Series), by Harry Allard
Anastasia Krupnik
(Series), by Lois Lowry
Final Exit
, by Derek Humphry
, by Judy Blume
Halloween ABC
, by Eve Merriam
Julie of the Wolves
, by Jean Craighead George
Kaffir Boy
, by Mark Mathabane
The Bluest Eye
, by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters
, by Lynda Madaras
Fallen Angels
, by Walter Dean Myers
The Handmaid’s Tale
, by Margaret Atwood
The Outsiders
, by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman
, by Paul Zindel
To Kill a Mockingbird
, by Harper Lee
We All Fall Down
, by Robert Cormier
, by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon
, by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind
, by Nancy Garden
, by Toni Morrison
The Boy Who Lost His Face
, by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat
, by Alvin Schwartz
Harry Potter (Series)
, by J.K. Rowling
, by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach
, by Roald Dahl
A Light in the Attic
, by Shel Silverstein
Ordinary People
, by Judith Guest
American Psycho
, by Bret Easton Ellis
Brave New World
, by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy
, by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Bumps in the Night
, by Harry Allard
Asking About Sex and Growing Up
, by Joanna Cole
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons
, by Lynda Madaras
The Anarchist Cookbook
, by William Powell
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
, by Judy Blume
Boys and Sex
, by Wardell Pomeroy
Crazy Lady
, by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts
, by Chris Crutcher
Killing Mr. Griffin
, by Lois Duncan
, by Robert Cormier
Guess What?
, by Mem Fox
, by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies
, by William Golding
Native Son
by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies
, by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells
, by Daniel Cohen
On My Honor
, by Marion Dane Bauer
The House of Spirits
, by Isabel Allende
, by A.M. Homes
Arizona Kid
, by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets
, by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg
, by Babette Cole
Bless Me, Ultima
, by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From?
, by Peter Mayle
The Face on the Milk Carton
, by Caroline Cooney
, by Stephen King
The Dead Zone
, by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
, by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon
, by Toni Morrison
Always Running
, by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts
, by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo?
, by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier
, by Bette Greene
Tiger Eyes
, by Judy Blume
Little Black Sambo
, by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth
, by Ken Follett
Running Loose
, by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education
, by Jenny Davis
, by Steven Gould
, by Stephen King
The Drowning of Stephen Jones
, by Bette Greene
That Was Then, This is Now
, by S.E. Hinton
Girls and Sex
, by Wardell Pomeroy
The Wish Giver
, by Bill Brittain
Jump Ship to Freedom, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier