Monty Python Flying Circus - 1972
Once upon a time ...
The shooting of the sketch Happy Valley or The Princess With The Wooden Teeth was as hilarious as the final outcome. Wasserburg, Germany 1972. I don't forget my way to the local Catholic administration office begging for access to a small 700 year old chapel being used staging the important wedding. I guess it was the last time a movie crew was allowed in.
The production value of this "mini feature film" was higher than anything Monty Python did with the BBC and the acting of all the members showed that they were more than sketch comedians and can sustain acting roles.
For Wasserburg it was an important event. Our plan was to engage the local downtown population in their old costumes. We went from house to house, from apartment to apartment to help to decorate all front windows toward the cobblestone main street. The Prince on his big white stallion would pass by.
But back to the wedding. Why would this good looking charming Prince face Wooden Teeth for the rest of his life? Power plays, commercial interests. Sure, the population understood the deal but would shut up and say nothing. Chicken, the witch saw it right and converted the wedding guests with her little magic stick into just that, chicken.
A case for special effects. Here, in the non-digital world of 1972 started a small problem for us. The local farmer arrived in his little Toyota truck delivering cages stuck full with 80 chicken, loud and alive. How do we affix them on top of 700 year old hardened oak pews. We tried nails and a string connected to one chicken leg and they just fell over. After some budget negotiations we had to organize 40 extras.
The railing up front was covered with linen. One or two chicken were calm enough to be placed there, close to the camera. You can imagine how much fun the rest of the chicken produced being held up by left and right hands of 40 extras hiding behind benches and pews.
I can remember not ringing the door bell and dropping the key to the chapel in a letter box of the Catholic administration office when we left ....
About the two German productions
The way this all came about was with the help of a German Producer, Thomas Woitkewitsch who liked the Monty Python shows very much but felt they would never really work in Germany as they were. It was his opinion if they would produce some of it in German they would get access to the German market.
The first of the two programs, entirely on film (unlike the BBC series) in 1971 was shot in German and has English sub-titles. The plan was to screen it opposite an English/German soccer match. The film was well received by both audiences and critcs, which led to the Python's being invited back to record a second film in English in 1972.
The productions have become known as the "lost films" since they have had so little exposure. While some sketches are reworked from the BBC series such as the Lumberjack Song it has the added twist of being sung by the Austrian Border Police. Michael Palin had to learn the Lumberjack Song in German. It took him a whole week.
The second program filmed in Germany has another note, as it was John Cleese's last television Python venture. It was also a landmark for the director Ian MacNaughton. He produced/directed all the BBC TV programs and was a kind of 7th member of the team. While shooting Fliegender Zirkus he met his wife Ike, whose brother was the German set designer. He now lives and works in Germany.
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