Monday, 27 March 2017

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Fig 1 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail Poster
Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, Monty Python and the Holy Grail takes place in Medieval Britain and follows King Arthur (Graham Chapman) along with a band of knights including Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) and Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) in their pursuit of the Holy Grail. Along the way, we are introduced to a plethora of bizarre characters who are vehemently unhelpful in their quest, often leading to the perils and deaths of the central party. 

What to say about Monty Python and the Holy Grail... I can't say I've ever been a fan of this 70's comedy troupe, although I can appreciate that their comedic approach was a heavily influential one which paved the way for countless others to produce "completely different" material. However, I do recognise Terry Gilliam to be a perfectly capable director with the right material, having seen and enjoyed other works of his including Brazil (1985) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). In the case of Holy Grail, I was very wary of it's pop culture grandeur going in and found that I'd had quite a few of the jokes already spoiled for me throughout the years. I did chuckle here and there, but for the most part I found myself imagining its many over-quoted lines being bellowed by world-weary middle aged men down the pub.

Fig 2 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail - King Arthur and his Squire
As is the custom of the troupe, I found the animated segments to be an enjoyable interlude between the bouts of nonsensical sparsity that made up the central plot. The fourth-wall breaking elements made the film feel disjointed and overly long which, other than the investigation of the death of the historian, felt not all that necessary. It felt particularly ironic that these interludes included characters telling 'the film' to "get on with it". There wasn't a lot of female presence on-screen either, other than those who played witches or were part of the strange sexual cult Sir Galahad stumbles upon, tinged with misogyny as bawdy 70's comedies often were.

I really wanted to like the film, but overall I didn't have a great time with it. I'm not particularly sentimental to the pathos of all-things-British, so nothing within the back-and-forth delivery of some scenes appealed to my sense of humour. I do realise that this is a much beloved film for some, and I can see why, but I feel as though comedy has changed somewhat in the past 40 years that makes a lot of the 'kooky encounters' feel a bit try-hard and irreverent to the plot. It just didn't feel as dangerous and meta as I'd been lead to believe. I don't think the state of the comedy genre is in a particularly great place at present, but I expected more from a film with such a legacy behind it. Perhaps I am just a cynical millennial, but rather than a film it felt like a guerrilla cut of a bunch of men playing dress-up around some rented-out castles.


Fig. 1 Monty Python and the Holy Grail Poster (1975) From: Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Directed by: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

Fig. 2 Monty Python and the Holy Grail Screenshot (1975) From: Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Directed by: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

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