No 381 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Director - Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
So, a few days ago I braved the lights and gridlocked traffic and wandered into London's glittering west end (oooh!) Where I went to see Spamalot. It is ending in January so I thought I should probably catch it before it ran off cackling into the night time. As I sat there, joyously singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and whistling along (yes... Wrong film for the song but as its Monty Python's only musical I forgive them. They also have the Spam and Finland songs there) I thought to myself that I would really quite like to see the Holy Grail.
Flashback to probably a decade ago.A youthful me sat at my dad's house watching the Holy Grail for the first time. It had been recorded off the telly and I had won the Sunday afternoon TV battle so was sat there (cup of tea in hand) having a good old chuckle. There is a scene near the end where the knights and Arthur collapse on a stony beach, just outside of Castle Aaaargh! As this scene is being shown, my sister comes into the room.
"Oh" she nonchalantly points to the TV "They found it then"
"No they haven't" I was quick to reply
And with all the considered timing of a true comedian she delivers her immortal line "but isn't that the Holy Gravel?"
Now, please allow me to explain that my sister is not the puntastic comedy genius that that brief anecdote might suppose. She is, however, a fooooooooool.
And she had also never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So, as I packed for my family Christmas, I slipped the DVD into my bag and made my merry way.
As the film began, I realised what a massive part Monty Python plays in our English heritage and how over 30 years later the Python sense of humour can still baffle foreigners (my French mother getting increasingly confused by (and blaming me for) the film starting with the wrong film and the Swedish subtitles in the title credits).
I also realised how clever and subtle the comedy of the Python's can be. As well as the crude brash bonkersness that we know.
Because... This film IS bonkers. And nonsense. From little moments like King Arthur's inability to count to 3 and The King of Swamp Castle and Herbert constantly calling the other by the wrong gender. Because these moments are so small and flippant and passing, they just add to the inexplicable weirdness.Then there are the big moments. The moments that are so insane that they reach the point of surreal genius. Camelot and the French Knights are just so... Well, odd that there is a strong chance the joke could just fall flat on its face. But thankfully the Pythons know how to pull off weirdness and they do so with great aplomb.
The film is very much a collection of sketches with a central theme. Not to the same degree as Meaning of Life but certainly more than Life of Brian which is more of a unified whole. This is by no mean a bad thing and allows the film to mix and leap from themes without any fear of tone or connectivity. The sketch format also allows Terry Gilliam to include some of his wonderful animation as segues and linking passages. Oh, and to create amazing monsters (the animation also probably helped on the more ambitious ideas as the film was only made on a budget of 78p. And whilst that was a lot in the 70s it still wouldn't finance a film.)
And finally.... I just wanted to mention the post modern aspects. From actors talking to the audience directly, scenes being criticised by actors from other scenes and a police subplot which allows the film to end in the most surprisingly offbeat and abrupt manner. I will not spoil it for those that haven't seen it yet, but it is a doozy.
So let me end with this little lego moment and wish you a merry Christmas.
I should talk about a Christmas film, where's Its a Wonderful Life?