Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Favorite Movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

montyholygrail_poster.jpgOriginally, I'd planned this installment to be on Planet of the Apes, but then I realized I'd just written about it as a Geek Memory installment, so I'll save that for later!

So... Monty Python and the Holy Grail! My fandom of Python took a bit of time to get started. Growing up, my dad would watch a few British comedy shows that were aired on PBS, but I had a difficult time penetrating the accent to really understand what the heck the actors were saying! I'm sure that I saw at least one episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus before I saw Holy Grail, but my memory was that even then, I couldn't quite make out what the Pythons were saying at that point.

I suppose it was further exposure to the Beatles as well as other British shows (such as The Avengers and The Prisoner) that helped my brain to finally click in to the accent and suddenly, I could understand them! So one day, when KCTS (channel 9, the local PBS station) was airing Holy Grail (which I'm certain I'd been alerted about from my contacts with the science fiction club), I was finally ready to watch it.

At least, I thought I was ready. As I said, I hadn't been a regular Python viewer yet, so I didn't quite have a feel for their style, which was of course multiple styles mixed together in such a way that it made a glorious whole that one never knew quite what to expect from! (wow, what a torturous sentence) So it caught me entirely by surprise as I watched the opening credits, and suddenly these references to moose kept creeping in... as well as the announcement that the original credits people were being sacked, with new credits people being hired to finish, but the moose references kept up then, and those people were sacked... until finally we got rinky-dink credits.

But even that wasn't enough to prepare me for the sight of King Arthur (played delightfully straight for the most part by Graham Chapman -- I still can't decide if Arthur or Brian was his greatest role), trotting through the forests of ancient Britain with Patsy, his stableboy, trotting behind him, using two half coconut shells together to mimic the sound of horse hooves, as they didn't have horses to ride! Something was seriously up with this movie, and it would bear closer attention!

I don't want to go through the entire plot of the movie here, because if you've been unfortunate enough to have never seen it, I want you to be fortunate enough to watch it fresh, without a lot of spoilers.

It's an amazing movie, and I was even more amazed when I bought the DVD of it some years later, and saw some of the special features, where it was revealed that all of the castle interiors were shot in the same castle -- often in the same room, just with a change of camera position and some new draperies put up to change the look! Certainly, the Pythons were extremely creative with their budgetary restrictions, and made a movie that looks more expensive than it had to have really cost!

There are so many great elements to this movie... the Knights Who Say "Ni," the French Knight who taunted the British ka....niggits, the Black Knight who wouldn't give up, Robin the Moderately Brave... so many of the characters and sequences from this film have been immortalized in various forms, including (at least, in the last 20 years or so) a variety of toys! I used to have a few of them, sadly they were sold years ago.

holygrail_still1.jpgWhat Holy Grail really did for me was to get me interested in going back and catching up on Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as to check out their previous movie, And Now for Something Completely Different (not a "real" film per se, but a compilation of bits from their TV series redone with a slightly bigger budget, with some changes made here and there to try to link things a little more together), as well as other movies, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life (the previous one probably being one of my top ten movies, so you know I'll get to that here sooner or later... the latter movie, not so much).

Watching Python led me to checking out other British comedy series, such as the various Blackadder series, Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers (naturally) and more. None of them were like Python at all (well, there were shows that were precursors to Python, which I was finally able to watch a few years ago, thanks to the library system, including And Now, the 1941 Show).

But back to the movie... As with all Python episodes and movies, the Pythons played multiple roles throughout the film, sometimes more than one might've realized! One would think Chapman had enough to do playing Arthur, but he also provided the voice of God, the middle head of the Nights Who Say Ni, and a Hiccoughing Guard; John Cleese played the Second Swallow-Savvy Guard (you need to watch the movie to know why a guard needed to be savvy about swallows -- the birds), the Black Knight, Peasant 3, Sir Lancelot, Taunting French Guard, and Tim the Enchanter... even co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones did mutiple on-screen roles! You can also look for Connie Booth (Cleese's wife) as the Witch, and Carol Cleveland (the "female Python," as she's often called) in two roles, as well as Neal Innes (sort of the Python's musical muse, he later teamed up with Eric Idle in the creation of The Rutles) playing a number of roles, too!

This movie was apparently a favorite of the individual Beatles, from what I've read... especially George Harrison, who stepped in when Life of Brian was in need of financial help, forming HandMade Films and exec producing that movie, even making an uncredited appearance in it!

The movie has had a long-lasting influence... there are video games that have played homage to it (1997's Shadow Warrior, and 1998's Duke Nukem: Time to Kill for starters), it was referenced in a sequence in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Doomsday World, there's a reference to it in Shrek the Third, and probably many others that would require extensive research to track down.

But as I've said, it's one of my favorite movies, I think it's absolutely hilarious, and I only wish I'd been able to see it in the theaters my first time, instead of on a tiny black and white TV! If you have never had the pleasure of seeing this film, by all means, rectify this mistake as soon as you can, or I may have to say "Ni!" or otherwise taunt you some more!

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