Saturday, February 6, 2010

Monty Python and The Holy Grail

During my birthday party I watched two movies. The first was that inhumane abuse of celluloid I reviewed last week known as The Room. After suffering through that it was very refreshing to watch a film of quality. That film is Monty Python and The Holy Grail which just so happens to be the funniest movie ever made.

Unlike certain other comedies (ie Borat) which lose some or most of their humour upon repeated viewings The Holy Grail never gets old. This is my third time watching it and everythime there's always a few jokes or scenes that I forgot or missed (the ridiculous names of the ladies in Castle Anthrax, the bizarre actions of some of the peasants, the french pronunciation of the word "knights" just to name a few), and even those that I do remember are just as funny as they were before, perhaps more so because I know they are funny and I look forward to them. Monty Python has a lot to offer and, like any great film, in order to get everything out of it you have to watch it more than once.

It begins with the most hilarious opening credits sequence of any movie I have ever seen. Once you reach the llamas portion of the credits you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what's in store. The film begins proper with a sound of hooves which turns out to just be a man clapping coconut halves together while King Arthur mimes riding a horse. At this point you'll know whether or not this movie is for you. Most people are under the impression that this movie is for geeks only, or more specifically, male geeks, but I don't think this is the case. I know a large number of women who find this movie just as hilarious as I do, and when I went to see the musical stage play version, Spammalot, even I was surprised to see how many ladies were in the audience. I also don't really buy in to the whole "geeks only" mentality, but since pretty much all of my friends are geeks I can't say for sure that non-geeks would enjoy this movie.

One thing I particularly admire in Monty Python is how they seamlessly mix together whip-smart intellligent humour with slapstick. An early scene features King Arthur arguing with a peasant named Dennis over how government should work and the class system. This scene is immediately followed by one where King Arthur duels the Black Knight and proceeds to dismember him in a comical fashion. It's hard to believe that both 0f these can be in the same movie, but somehow it works.

Another thing I enjoy is their close attention to deatil. Not only does the movie look and feel like it takes place in a gonzo version of Medieval England, but throughout the film there are all thse subtle little jokes going on in the background. When we first see Sir Bedivere, he releases a swallow carrying a coconut into the air, a reference to an earlier scene. When Lancelot crashes the wedding and murders many of the guests, the dancers continue to dance despite the slaughter. And as mentionned earlier peasants can always be seen doing crazy things such as stabbing the ground, building mud piles, hitting water with a stick, or beating a cat against a post. The closer you pay attention, the more you'll enjoy.

The basic plot of the film is that King Arthur and his knights must track down the Holy Grail (as you can probably gather from the title), but in the longt run the plot doesn't really matter and is just a vehicle for a string of loosely connected sketches and gags. Though keep in mind that this does not detract from the film, but in fact serves its purpose well and is in keeping with the Monty Python traditon (which is of course sketch comedy). By not worrying to much about the plot it allows them to focus on jokes and they will sometimes even bend the plot to serve these jokes (such as when Lancelot inexplicably shows up to save Galahad from almost certain temptation). In a way this style also reflects the layout of the epic stories The Holy Grail lampoons. If you read into Arthurian legend and Greek mythology then you 'll see how they are composed of smaller stories that are connnected together by a larger metanarrative.

On a related note I really get a kick out of they make a complete mockery out of the history and heroic ideal that we tend to romaticize. This is perhaps best exemplified by Dennis when he thoroughly debunks the Lady of the Lake legend with the line, "strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government," which is funny because it's true, but we all buy into it anyway. The Holy Grail does similar things with other common conceptions such as Lancelot's bravery (the wedding scene), Galahad's purity (Castle Anthrax), and heroic battles (the Black Knight and the Killer Bunny).

I find this movie to be an absolute riot from beggining to end, though some would probably debate with me on the merit of the ending which is very sudden and provides no resolution. But to me this is also in keeping with the Monty Python tradition of sketches that they just didn't know how to end and were generally quite absurd. I can't think of a more Monty Pythonish ending than having it look as though an epic battle is about to occur and then have the cops appear thus breaking the timeline (and the audience's suspension of disbelief) and have everybody get arrested followed by a cut to black (and if you're like me then you waited a while after expecting something else to happen). It shatters your conception of what an ending is supposed to be, craps all over the heroic ideal, and doesn't pay any attention at all "the natural order of things," and despite what you may think at first, you have to admit it is pretty funny.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail has more memorable scenes and quotable lines than any movie I can think of (including Casablanca AND The Godfather) half of which I can probably reenact or cite off of the top of my head. It beats out Airplane!, Blazing Saddles, and This is Spinal Tap in terms of hilarity. If you were expecting me to make jokes or crack wise about this movie then too bad for you, because this movie is awesome.

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