Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Can't Buy Me Lunch, or: And Now For Something Exactly The Same

With Monty Python's Spamalot being awarded 3 Tonys last night (out of 14 nominations), I thought it might be a good time to talk about this current trend of beating a dead horse until it coughs up some money.

In the case of Spamalot, which I haven't seen, it seems a sad capstone to an admirable legacy. If the number I saw last night was any indication, there wasn't much of a point to doing it except for picking the pockets of its potential wealthy boomer audience.

If you're looking for the hands to blame, it seems like the Devil has made plenty of work for Eric Idle's.

Idle’s the Python who’s responsible for Spamalot, the one who’s touring with Python songs and then writing a book about the tour, etc., etc. And he’s got an enormously successful Broadway show to back him up, though, right? So what’s the problem?

Well, the dark side of Spamalot is currently on view on a DVD called Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch, a useless sequel to another project of Idle’s that was tremendously funny and which he now can’t bear to leave alone. It’s also led to a rather amusing feud between Idle and the man who wrote all of that project’s incredibly dead-on Beatle parodies, Neil Innes, best known to music fans as one of the members of the classic British group, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

There’s a great article about all of this that appeared about a month ago that you can read here, including some remarkably snide comments from Idle about Innes, including "Neil is a clever and gifted singer and songwriter who's determined to be a failure, and his determination succeeds." Now think for a moment just how much you would have enjoyed the original Rutles film if it didn’t have any of Innes’s songs, but all of Idle’s shtick, and you’ll get an idea of just how ungrateful this is.

Innes, who appeared in the original Holy Grail film and wrote some of the music for its songs, offered to provide some new songs for Spamalot, in fact. "Last year, about April, I said, 'Eric, do you want any more songs for Spamalot? But he said, 'No, it's all done, and Mike Nichols loves it.' So I said, 'Oh, hell.'" He continues, "Someone changed the monks' chant, which I thought was a little petty, because it must have been all of 50 cents [in royalties] to use it."

In Idle’s eyes, Innes’s great sin appears to be that he isn’t running every original concept he ever had into the ground. In fact, I saw Innes perform last October and he proved to still be a fantastic entertainer who was loathe to rest on those crowd-pleasing numbers that made his name. Which was fine, as his new songs were every bit as good.

Can’t Buy Me Lunch, however, seems to have been a vanity project for Idle, who didn’t ask for any help from any former Rutles and merely repeated old bits from the original along with sewing in new celebrity interview segments. The result is a sad and tatty looking thing that ultimately depresses the viewer and leaves him or her wondering what on Earth would motivate Idle to make it.

But he should worry. He’s got a huge Broadway hit on his Idle hands, and I imagine there’s still plenty of cash waiting to be squeezed from the carcass of his old career. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?


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