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Live with John Cleese in Santa Barbara (a memory from May 2008)

My previous post reminded me of That Time I saw John Cleese live in person, which I wrote up on LiveJournal soon after the fact. Here it is again:

Went back down to Santa Barbara on Thursday night to catch a special event on the UCSB campus: Mr. John Cleese introducing a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, followed by a question and answer session with Cleese. It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, though worth the trip, and it was delightful to experience such a hearty dose of British wit that I’ve been missing. Cleese himself was on fine form despite being in a wheelchair due to a recent muscle injury. In fact, his wit was so sharp and very funny that I decided to write down what he was saying. Here are some soundbites.

“This movie was filmed in Scotland, a tiny area north of England.”

(On his in-process divorce): “I gave her $155,000 – can she live on that?”

“It is extremely good for people in their 20’s to be very uncomfortable.”

(Before the film started) “I’m off to a banquet. We’re eating far better than you.”

Audience Member: “Uhhh….”
Cleese: “Do you speak English?”

(On SPAMALOT) “The play was directed by Mike Nichols. He’s been around for 400 years! The late 50’s was just after the Second World War.”

“I get $5000 a year for being God.”

“I will possibly get married again. I’ll find someone I don’t like and buy her a house”

(On his wife’s spending habits) “I have an idea for a new show. Lifestyles of the Seriously Demented.”

Audience Member, about to ask a question: “John?!”
Cleese: “Who said you could call me John? It’s fucking Professor Cleese. It makes me feel so smart.”
(Laughter, then:)
Audience Member: “Fucking Professor Cleese?”
(More laughter.)

(On a moment while making the film) “There was a silence, as though someone had said let’s all go fuck Queen Elizabeth.”

“That’s a very good question, and I don’t think I can tell you the answer.”

“I love those kind of flattering words.”

“Would a drugstore have any cheese? It would be medical cheese. You would need a prescription.”

“Most of the really interesting people are here in America, where you can make things better.”

“What a fucking marvelous man.”

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Visual comfort food

I really ought to write a detailed post about my longtime relationship with The Avengers (no, not that movie) – the 1960’s era British television show. I’ve been fortunate to see several of the leading stars of the series (Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman, Joanna Lumley) live onstage.

In the present day, the show continues to have timeless appeal for me as a sort of visual comfort food, meaning that I keep the DVDs close at hand, but don’t always turn them on. But when I do, I can sit back, and enjoy, and even look at the individual episodes with refreshed eyes, since I have been watching some of them semi – regularly for 24 years. The show remains popular thanks to its blend of wit, style and unique storytelling. 

And so tonight I was oddly drawn to the series’ most polarizing episode, with its most ridiculous title: Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) but there were these two fellers.

fellers1b

This story is one of the early episodes of the series’ final season, filmed in 1968, and finds John Steed and Tara King on the trail of a series of bizarre murders of businessmen across London. Various clues point towards culprits in the comedy industry, and the two agents are hot on their trail to see where it all connects. Along the way, they meet a handful of British comedy stars known and unknown at the time, including a pre-Monty Python John Cleese, and Bernard Cribbins.

The villains’ actions are accompanied by a distinctive piece of music that I recall often imitating when i first saw the episode as an impressionable six year old during the series’ rebroadcast on A&E in 1990. In a dramatic sense, the musical accompaniment of the episode doesn’t seem to register until close to the end, when composer Laurie Johnson chooses to insert music originally seen in an earlier season episode into this particular story. (Prior to that, there’s much repetition of a somber, grey theme broken up by the jaunty villain music.)

I could write for quite a while on the art of periodically revisiting these TV episodes. I think it’s interesting that the “lesser known” (to the popular opinion) stories are more appealing to me as time goes on – as in preferring the Linda Thorson season to the Diana Rigg episodes. And, with a more refined artistic sensibility, i notice various acting and story choices that I would not have caught at all in my younger years.

For instance, this episode is bogged down with a lengthy sequence about two-thirds of the way through the story. Tara King is assigned to protect a businessman in danger, and long story short, she doesn’t succeed. Their banter is awkwardly protracted and the story seems to forget about the more interesting villain characters. The Tara King character is also at her most naive here, while later episodes in this long season, which was filmed over a 15 month period between late 1967 and early 1969, show Tara as more confident and experienced.

For The Avengers at its most endearingly self – referential, see here: