John Cleese + Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton is an American free-jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist. He has been very busy over the past decades (releasing over 100 records) and if you’re not into free jazz you would probably describe most of his compositions as “very busy” as well. His music is defined by irregularity and by formal experimentation. It is riddled with sudden eruptions and defiantly flaunts its lack of a conventional melody. Anthony Braxton’s music is, to say it with a cliché, not for everyone.
John Cleese is a British actor and multi-talented comedian. He has been very busy over the past decades (writing and starring in movies, sketch comedies and television sitcoms) and if you’re not into his kind of comedy, you would probably describe his acting style as “very busy” as well. His on-screen performances are characterized by erratic body movements and by sudden emotional outbursts. He proudly revels in grotesque portrayals. John Cleese’s acting style, even though he is considered a titan of comedy, is not for everyone.
This video essay by Olivier Godin for the Canadian website Zoom Out matches up the work of these two performers. Fawlty Towers, Cleese’s legendary sitcom, is rescored using Braxton’s composition For Alto. Godin sets Cleese’s signature performance as Basil Fawlty to the experimental tones of Braxton’s landmark recording.
As the dialogue and the laughter track are drowned out by the experimental jazz, we are free to focus on the capricious energy of Cleese’s physical comedy. Similarly, this seemingly strange combination prompts the viewer to regard Cleese’s dialogue delivery as a musical improvisation – one with the same unpredictable dynamism as free jazz has. Godin’s inspired combination is the perfect example of how one field of study (film / performance studies) can benefit from borrowing methods of, or from being compared with, a completely different field (music).