Certainly in the UK if you have a good sense of humour, you will have been brought up with Monty Python. If it were my way it would be a requirement to find them funny to get citizenship. Everyone in the comic has something to thank Monty Python for, whether it be downright silly surreal sketches, or in this case, some hilarious films. Everyone has a different opinion on the Python films and trying to figure out which is the best is going to result in a lot of arguments, maybe too many. While I myself do believe that Life of Brian is probably the superior option in terms of flexing its quotable comedy, and while I might do a separate post of why I love it (wink, wink). I’ve often found that the most quotable, silliest and most pythonesque is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
A parodical reflection on the King Arthur legend, the film follows King Arthur (Graham Chapman) with his servant Patsy (Terry Gilliam) in search of men to join the Knights of the Round Table. Whilst having encounters with crazy characters, he manages to recruit Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Gallahad (Michael Palin), Sir Robin (Eric Idle), and of course who could forget the unforgettable Sir Not Appearing in this Film. On their travels together God appears before Arthur and give him the task of finding the Holy Grail. On their journey they encounter many silly obstacles such as the intimidating Knights who say Ni, the Rabbit of Caerbannog and an old man who appears in scene 24, which to me personally is a cracking scene with some incredible acting. I mean, you know, not Oscar worthy, not when compared to the acting talent we have today, but nevertheless leads to some great plot development and tone… GET ON WITH IT!
Oh, anyway, this film much like the Pythons are a culture and genre icon. But more importantly, this film along with the other demonstrated just how remarkably talented each Python was in their own rights. Before this film, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones had never directed a film in their lives, but Gilliam would go on to become one of the most imaginative filmmakers of his time. Eric Idle would use the basis of this film to create the musical Spamalot, John Cleese would go on to make another comedic icon in Fawlty Towers as well as star in countless comedy films, and so on. Monty Python’s Flying Circus showed you how brilliant these men are as a group, but it is The Holy Grail that makes you realise how brilliant they are as individuals.
The humour in this film simply does not relinquish its grasp on you, it is non-stop absurdity that knows how absurd it’s being and will seek to tear itself apart at every opportunity before defying you and logic once again for measure. A perfect example of this is in witch burning scene in which Sir Bedevere is seen as the smartest person in the scene but arrives at the ludicrous logic that if someone weights the same as a duck they are made of wood and therefore a witch. When we see this logic in action, we draw on out own reality to predict the outcome, but when the film defies our reality, we are left as the fools. The witch herself solidifies this by remarking “It’s a fair cop”. We fall for this every time. It’s clear from here, we have to just go along with the ride and learn the rules of this film as we go. These subverted expectations have also created some memorable characters and creatures that are ingrained into pop culture.
However, even when reality does slip into the film and collides with the bizarre, it’s remarkably funny. Throughout the film there is another story that begins with the murder of a TV Historian narrating the main story. Every now and then, this seemingly insignificant part of the film crops up now and again until it ultimately stops a seemingly epic ending to put an end to the film altogether.
Something has to be said about the animated moments in this film, oh yes, as if this Python world wasn’t bizarre enough. Once again done by Terry Gilliam, the animated sequences of The Holy Grail are straight out of Flying Circus in the form of very short stories or narrated moments in the film. Some could conclude that maybe the animated sequences are done in places where they didn’t have the budget and that may be true, but I also think familiarity has its hand in this. Whatever the reason, they still as humorous as the live action scenes and functionally, both are similar.
Case in point, the 4th wall breaking (of course there is). In the case of live action, you can turn to the vestal virgin Dingo as she turns to the camera to question the necessity of the scene she is in, being answered back by past and future characters. As for animated sequences, the best animated 4th wall breaking is a scene which our heroes are being chased by an animated monstrosity who is about to kill them before the animator of the whole scene has a heart attack.
I’ve seen this film dozens upon dozens of times, like Weird Al I could recite the entire film right now. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I know deep down that this isn’t the best Monty Python film, but it is definitely the most memorable. Something doesn’t become special because it the best made, it becomes special because of the fondness you have with it, and that’s how I feel about Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s a reminder of how we all need a bit of silliness in our lives, but it is also an inspiring film for low budget filmmakers. The special møøse effects, the comedic møøse writing, møøse costume design, møøse…
(We apologise for the fault in the writing of this blog, the person responsible has been banished to the Gorge of Eternal Peril)