Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Birthday John Cleese!

Yes, today is the birthday of former Monty Python member, John Cleese. Just like I had said about Bob Newhart in a previous post, John Cleese is also one of a handful of performers who can break me up just by my looking at them. With his long frame, high forehead and immense, jutting chin, Mr. Cleese is a walking caricature. Or should I say, a "Silly-walking" caricature. When I was looking for the ideal source material on which to base my caricature, I watched several classic Python routines before finally settling on his famous "Ministry of Silly Walks". (Though his portrayal of the hapless customer in the "Dead Parrot Sketch" was awfully tempting too.)

Of course, Cleese has had some success in his years after Python, most notably in his own series, "Fawlty Towers". However, aside from his Monty Python films, his movie career has been spotty. His biggest starring role is undoubtedly in the excellent "A Fish Called Wanda" (which he also wrote), but another film I really liked him in is the lesser known "Clockwise". In this very British film, Cleese plays the no-nonsense headmaster of a boys' school who prides himself on his strict adherence to punctuality. Every aspect of his life is planned out to the second and he can't abide those who can't do things on time. He's delighted to find that he's been named "Headmaster of the Year", but when he sets out on his journey out of town to give his acceptance speech, one small delay leads to a constant string of other things going wrong until his life seems to be a complete disaster. Cleese's character is similar in some ways to his Basil Fawlty in his intolerance of others' foibles, though as he loses more and more hope in getting to the conference on time he seems to grow more calmly resigned to his fate, whereas Basil would probably still be yelling and lying all the way in sheer desperation. Anyway, it is certainly a film I highly recommend that shows off what John Cleese does so well.

Here now is the "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch from the Monty Python show that I had used as reference for my caricature of John Cleese: