Monty Python alum reimagine classic tales in The Meaning of Life
With the winter holidays nearly over, let’s look back more irreverently at Noel through a widescreen lens. Forget Canada’s Black Christmas (1974), slashing through the snow with its sorority-house murders. For Yuletide yuks—not horror-film yucks—that skewer the (retail) spirit of the holly-jolly season, the black-Christmas-comedy of Monty Python’s penultimate scene in their final film, The Meaning of Life (1983), can’t be beat.
It’s a nastily catchy sing-a-long send-up of how American-led, super-white commercialism has been cheerily, emptily ching-ching-chinging in the season. It devilishly merges the child’s anticipation of that special morning of gift-getting with adults’ hope for a life given to us after this one.
Some bourgeois Brits and Americans—reaped by his grimness after botulism (it was the canned salmon mousse) at a dinner-party—arrive at the afterlife. They’re informed by the front-desk receptionist of the merry ritual/torment: “everyday” is December 25. They enter a Vegas-style show-palace where characters from the film’s sketches are assembled, happily awaiting yet another performance.
The pit orchestra swells; the spotlight falls, at the top of bright-white steps, on a super-tanned Tony Bennett (Graham Chapman). Descending this stairway in heaven and smiling away, showing off his pearly-whites as whiter than white, he intones, “It’s truly a real honourable experience to be here this evening, a very wonderful and warm and emotional moment for all of us, and I’d like to sing a song for all [looking into the camera] of you”.
After that burst of fake genuine-ness, he starts crooning. Topless showgirls in angel-outfits, sporting cartoon-Snow White haircuts, do the dancing (one Snowgirl is Jane Leeves, later Frasier’s Daphne Moon). As this jingle tinkles on, we enter one TV set after another for the next verses, this tacky Disneyfied spectacle swallowing its own super-televised tail. Christmastime is TV-time (“There’s great films on TV: The Sound of Music twice an hour, and Jaws 1, 2, and 3”) and cool new gadgets-buying-time (three wise men sing, “There’s Sony Walkman headphone sets, and the latest video games”).
And so, the joke’s on the audience—on us, still lapping all this up. The extravaganza’s so generic, yet the tune’s ear-wormingly peppy, this ode to the mass-consumption of the season proving as vacuous and addictive as yet another, and another, and another big blow-out Christmas. So, everybody now: “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas in Heaven! / Hip hip hip hip hip hooray! / Every single day / Is Christmas Day!”