Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Starring: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam
By Alan Bacchus
After watching this film countless times in my youth, I'll admit my once boisterous laughs have turned to much quieter chuckles. Thus I envy those young people who will be seeing this for the first time. The fact is, in my life, there are only a handful of films that produced as much riotous, gut-wrenching laughter as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The legendary comic troupe needs no introduction, featuring six men― John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam ― each with their own brand of comedy, working in complete harmony. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was their first original feature film, after the highly successful television series in the '60s/'70s and their first equally riotous sketch compilation feature, And Now For Something Completely Different.
The narrative is sketchy at best, inspired by the Arthurian tales, but it's just an excuse to string a bunch of new sketches together to lampoon the treasured medieval myth, dress up in period costumes and even mock their attempt to tell a legitimate story. Back then, the idea of breaking the fourth wall and self-referencing one's movie was ahead of its time. In the packaging of this new Blu-Ray edition and the previous DVD special edition, they've kept that theme going strong. Their cast commentaries are referred to as "Enlightening Commentaries by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, Plus General Complaints and Back-Biting by John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin." It's these throwaway gags that have kept the troupe relevant and fresh all these years.
The sketch-like plotting of the film means fresh new characters and gags constantly bombard us every minute. Leading the gang and playing Arthur is Graham Chapman, the most erudite of the bunch, who, as in The Life of Brian, often played the straight man to the more audacious antics of the others, thus underrating his contribution to the troupe's best bits. Some the more famous scenes include the "flesh wound" soldier, played by John Cleese; Eric Idle calling the townspeople to "bring out your dead"; the killer rabbit of Caerbannog; and the supremely silly failed Trojan Rabbit plan.
Not everything lands with a laugh. For what it's worth, I've never liked "the Knights who say, 'Ne'" gag, nor the three-headed knight. Much discussed in the Blu-Ray commentary is the arduous shoot, hampered by its low but ambitious budget. Gillam and Jones, however, executed some smart cinematic tricks to fool us, including some fine forced perspective work with the castles in the background, and for comedic purposes, using squires banging coconuts together instead of horses, resulting in one of the film's best gags. All of this information is conveyed to us in the mondo special features, with a mixture of informative reflection and irreverent silliness.
This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca