Wednesday, 10 June 2009

276: Monty Python - camping it up

1965 was the breakout year for “camping it up” and “camping about”. Camp, as both an aesthetic and a particular word, had existed prior to 1965, but it was not a readily identifiable part of the public’s frame of reference. 1964 had seen the publication of Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” which was gradually disseminated through all the trendier magazines, intellectual journals and upmarket rags. 1965 saw the appearance of several mass-market entertainments which allowed critics the opportunity to throw around their new-found familiarity with camp, at ease that the general public would know what they meant, and which also meant they didn’t have to use words which directly referenced homosexuality. In England, there was the success of “Julian and Sandy”, and, in America, there was the film of “The Loved One”. It’s worth noting that in all three cases, homosexuals are complicit in these products, are already part of the in-crowd offering camp to the heterosexual audience. Sontag was a lesbian. The two actors of Julian and Sandy, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick were gay. “The Loved One”’s director Tony Richardson was bisexual, the co-writer was Christopher Isherwood, and half the cast (Gielgud, Liberace, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowell) were gay, before you even figure in the main writer, Terry Southern’s fascination with homosexuals as a font of funny.

Anway, the point is that it is soon assumed that camp is gay and gay is camp. And that there is a certain sort of behaviour that sticks out like a sore thumb. Camp men are fashion designers, interior decorators, antique dealers, and vice versa indivisibly.

Monty Python takes a different path. Their use of camp mannerisms is always surprising. Monty Python’s camp men can be and do anything. Surprise is part of the comedy. Unusual variations, such as the camp judges. Eventually camp men in unexpected professions will also become a cliché, as Alan Coren will offer us camp policemen, camp undertakers, camp Biggles. But Monty Python usually does with without the innuendo which others make such a large part of camp comedy.

7 December 1969
Starts at 0.50

16 November 1972
Here you do get camp hairdressers, but performances as part of the larger comic contrast about Mount Everest. A bathetic drop into effete trivial fashionability after the sketch’s misleading opening pretence of rugged manliness. Admittedly as hairdressers, it’s not much more than saying “bitch” a lot

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” 1975
Compare this eruption of campness in mediaeval times with Hugh Paddick’s turn in “Up the Chastity Belt”

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