Today’s special DOUBLE IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Cameron of Cameron’s Pit Of Terror. He also reviewed Pan’s Labyrinth HERE. Thanks for the reviews, Cameron! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Monty Python classics Monty Python And The Holy Grail, IMDB rank 84 out of 250 and Life Of Brian, IMDB rank 162 out of 250…
There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.
Simply utter the words ‘Monty Python’ to anyone and they’ll either spend the next hour reciting phrases about dead parrots and the Spanish Inquisition in a faux-English accent (even if they’re English themselves), or they’ll groan and shake their head. There is no inbetween. Yet none of them will say “Who?”. Monty Python have created for themselves the definition of a cult following, all around the world. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, first screened on BBC in 1969, was a sketch show made by and starring the 6 middle-class young men with a razor-sharp sense of humour that was anarchic, satirical, self-referential, often completely stupid, and most of the time a combination of all of these. The naïve BBC didn’t know what they’d signed off on, but audiences loved it. Running for four series, the troupe found themselves making a big-screen outing, based on the legends of King Arthur; Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
I wasn’t alive until many years after this film was released so I can only imagine the reaction in cinemas as it opens with the ‘wrong’ film; Dentist on the Job starts before a projectionist is heard muttering about playing the wrong film. The ‘correct’ film starts now, but the opening credits have been tampered with by, for some reason, Swedish pranksters. If anyone sitting in the cinema had any preconception that they were going to be watching a straight-forward, linear movie with a few funny jokes they would by that point have stood (or sat) corrected. This subversive, completely barmy tone is carried throughout the film with constant wordplay and downright stupidity, but there is such a devoted commitment to the silliness that makes it far funnier than most other comedies, even today. The plot is rather bare – if dissected it’s perhaps a collection of sketches set around a vague storyline, but in practice it manages to feel somewhat coherent, even if you have no idea why what’s happening is happening. Most fans of this film (myself included) could recite the movie from beginning to end, but somehow on repeat viewings it still manages to be eye-wateringly hilarious. This provides a welcome contrast to The Flying Circus – as anyone who has sat through whole episodes or indeed whole series, if they’re completely honest, will attest to it can be hit and miss at least; often the humor is derived directly from the fact that a sketch is not working, that they simply ran out of ideas, or jokes that aren’t particularly funny the first time are dragged out. Such is the case with such a unique brand of surreal humour spread out across 45 episodes. In this film, however, there isn’t a single joke that misfires, the timing and delivery from the crew (who play almost every part) is just perfect. Despite the film being consistently silly, there are a number of surprisingly clever jokes at the expense of the social systems of the era and of other similarly-set historical films. There are moments where the society of the film’s setting is explored and the Pythons’ keen eyes for finding the absurd in everyday life & people makes it feel like it could actually be one of the most authentic depictions of medieval Britain on film. Made on a ridiculously low budget, the stories from behind the scenes tell tales of stress and despair but on screen it appears to embrace the limitation, most notably with the now ubiquitous coconut hooves providing two long-running gags, special effects being provided by Terry Gilliam’s paper-cutout animations, and an ending that takes the previously mentioned subversion to an extreme. Looking at it critically, it could be argued that it looks like a group of friends wrote a script and threw together a movie with whatever limited resources they had available. But I think that the long-lasting, timeless appeal is that that’s precisely what it is.
With The Holy Grail proving a huge success, the Pythons were unable to give an interview without being asked what their next film would be about. Legend has it that Eric Idle became tired of saying, truthfully, that they didn’t have one planned and told them their working title was “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory” to shut them up. Soon however, it occurred to the group that they should make their own brand of Biblical Epic, and thus was conceived Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
With a budget more than 10 times greater than The Holy Grail and the group now having experience in making a feature film, this is a very different film. With a much more linear, fleshed-out plot, on paper it is a ‘proper’ film, having the confidence to be funny through the script rather than with bizarre fourth wall breaking, such as with The Holy Grail’s opening sequence. Despite county councils around the UK, America and beyond sharpening their pitchforks regarding the blasphemy of this movie, it isn’t at all blasphemous in the sense of mocking the teachings of Christianity, actually depicting Jesus a handful of times in a manner nothing short of respectful. It is, however, a scathing depiction of those who follow religion blindly. Perhaps it was this troubling mirror image that was the root of such outrage. At any rate it was banned in a long list of places, including all of Ireland and Norway, prompting the Swedish publicity to read “So funny it was banned in Norway!”.
Picking up from a sequence in The Holy Grail where a left-wing peasant chastises King Arthur, a massive portion of this film features ‘The People’s Front of Judea’; a pitch-perfect lampoon of far-left political groups with their infighting (I did have to double-check that I didn’t accidentally mix them up with The Judean People’s Front), unawareness of their own contradictions, and aimlessly taking offence on behalf of other men. “Or women”.
All this talk of how terribly clever it is doesn’t do it the justice of acknowledging how funny it is as well. While the above politically charged moments are in themselves hilarious – and not in a high-and-mighty, sneering sense – for every one of these there is at least one ridiculous character or event in keeping with the classic “Pythonesque” humour of The Flying Circus’ high points and The Holy Grail. The budget allows them to transfer the screenplay to the screen without noticeably cutting corners and giving a production value to the final product that could stand aside certain Biblical Epics, yet the sense of fun from The Holy Grail isn’t lost. The 6 pythons still play a vast number of characters, Terry Gilliam provides one or two surreal animated sequences and there’s a feeling here, even more prevalent than in The Holy Grail, that they’re having a great time making it. One scene in particular features Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate growing more and more angry as his prisoners and guards laugh at his friend Biggus Dickus’ name (see, it’s not all high-brow humour); as he taunts the guards, Palin himself is visibly an inch away from cracking up. It doesn’t even feel like it needs excused as a campy, old-school charm, the hilarity is truly infectious. Every bit as quotable as The Holy Grail, the film ends on what must be the most recognisable image from all of Monty Python’s work: the crucifixion of a number of characters singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. It encapsulates the whole movie; it comes completely out of nowhere, it is absolutely hilarious at face value but has a very cynical undercurrent to it that once or twice boils to the surface, cheekily poking at certain feelings within many of us without being so harsh that it stops us from laughing, rather forcing us to laugh at ourselves. It is this carefully balanced humour that prevents the more politically charged moments from being cruel.
The Pythons produced two other films in the form of sketches tied together, making these two their only ‘proper’ films. The big question for many fans of these films is often “Which one’s your favourite?” and I couldn’t pick. Individually they are fantastic, but taken together they provide three hours of non-stop laughter, such a wide variety of humour with a number of ideas and a general tone linking them. I wouldn’t hesitate to say both of them are amongst the funniest films ever made, so to pick a ‘favourite’ would be an injustice to the other.
But it’s probably Life of Brian. No, The Holy Gra- *thrown into a ravine*