#8 Monty Python & The Holy Grail
(1975, Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam)
“This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who!”
In the late 60s and early 70s, an anarchic band of comedians collectively called themselves Monty Python and produced a sketch show for the BBC entitled Flying Circus. It broke all the rules of a BBC comedy programme, presenting a surrealist brand of humour that rarely if ever produced actual punchlines to its jokes. It was refreshing, and the British public loved it, to the point of it becoming a cultural institution.
Inevitably, this success led the Pythons to the world of film. After producing a compilation film called And Now For Something Completely Different, they tackled a full feature film made entirely of original material. Holy Grail was the result. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it took the legend of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail completely on its head, and was, by its own admission, very silly indeed.
On a technical level, Monty Python And The Holy Grail fails quite often. Its low budget is evident, as the special effects leave a lot to be desired, and the Pythons clearly hadn’t got out of the sketch show mentality while writing it, as the plot isn’t entirely coherent, acting more as a series of medieval themed skits rather than an intricate storyline. It’s also fairly poorly paced as times as a result, with scenes leaping around in tone all the time, and events happening with no real rhyme or reason, just to elicit a few laughs.
Does any of this actually matter to the casual viewer though? Not even remotely. While the movie does have the feel of a 90 minute sketch show, this in itself is no bad thing, as the comedy is spectacular, retaining the unique brand of humour that made Flying Circus such a success, so while the plot may not be brilliantly put together, the jokes certainly are.
In addition, the low budget nature of the film is played with. Rather than try and cover up the fact the movie is practically falling apart at the seams, Holy Grail revels in it, making jokes out of its cheap nature. The running gag of the knights of the Round Table travelling round pretending to ride horses while their assistants bang coconut shells together is a fantastic visual gag, albeit one that was born entirely from the lack of budget for actual horses. A character sneers that a castle is “only a model” (it is). Also, almost all of the “special effects” are Terry Gilliam’s uniquely styled hand-drawn cartoons, the same cut out animation that was used to link sketches together in Flying Circus. It’s flimsy, and yet it’s charming and uniquely Monty Python.
In summary, Holy Grail may be a sketch show masquerading as a feature film, but when it’s a sketch show written by comedians as masterful as this, it’s hard to complain, and the technical issues disappear into the background. It’s unlikely to win over those who haven’t been charmed by the Python brand of humour, but for everyone else, it’s a silly, fun parody movie that’s well worth seeing.
Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin
Produced by Mark Forstater
Music by Neil Innes
Edited by John Hackney
Favourite Scene: The witch trials. So hilarious there are times when even the Monty Python crew themselves could barely hold it together, and it shows
Scene That Bugged Me: The introduction of Tim The Enchanter. I always feel this particular scene, with Tim blowing up mountains, goes on a little too long for some reason.
Watch it if: You’re a knight of the round table and you dance whenever you’re able
Avoid it if: You’re bothered by debates concerning the migratory natures of African and European swallows
Originally posted on Blogspot Tuesday 25 October 2011