Fragment #30: Marcia Landy on The Ministry of Silly Walks

The impetus toward comedy, as the Pythons acknowledged, came from such silent cinema figures as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, whose comedy relied heavily on facial and physical gestures. In the Flying Circus, even when the focus is on the stationary character of conventional “talk” television, the Pythons’ strategy of calling attention to its static qualities is through the introduction of gesture – contrasting background images, facial grimaces, body movement, and repetition of familiar, but in this context inappropriate, gesticulation. […] One of the most famous of the Python gestures is the “silly walk”. […] The choreographed and exaggerated and exaggerated movements ridicule the conformity that trickles down from the various government ministries, producing a generation of silly walkers. But the “silly walk” also visualises the Python concern with the captive body. The “silly walk” emphasises the rigidity of the back, the spastic character of each leg, one raised after the other, … suggestive of a loss of freedom of movement. The deserved popularity of this sketch relies in part on its spoofing of bureaucracy, but, more fundamentally, it evokes a world of madness through gestures that are similar to photos of patients in mental hospitals and indicative of the discipline and control of the gesture. The “silly walk” exaggerates the body’s imprisonment in gesture.

Marcia Landy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Wayne State University Press, 2005.


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