Monday, April 5, 2010

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: LOL!!!

Did everyone have a nice Easter weekend?  My weekend brain was still stuck on Monty Python, so I figured I would discuss my favorite Python film today - "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  My love for this film can be attributed to one person, my big brother.  I remember as a kid listening to my brother Stephen saying "We are the knights that say Ni" and getting such a kick out of it.  "Holy Grail" is one of those movies that brought my brother and me close together.  Not that we were ever really bickering siblings (except maybe when I was really little and annoying), but watching this movie with him was always so much fun.  (Hey, Stephen, we should do it again sometime soon!)

Released in 1975, "Holy Grail" was the second film from the Python boys - Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin - but the first of their films to consist of original material.  ("And Now for Something Completely Different" was a compellation of some of their sketches from their BBC show "Monty Python's Flying Circus.")  Written during the break between the third and fourth seasons of their show, it pokes fun at the Middle Ages and the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  All six played the 40-odd major roles in the film, with Chapman mainly playing Arthur.  (Palin actually had the most roles of all - 12 characters.)

The film had an extremely tiny budget, only £150,000 (about $350,000). Most of that money was financed by Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, for all three bands were huge fans of the Python's TV show.  However, with such a tiny budget, they had to make some cuts.  Most noticeably is the use of cocoanuts instead of real horses.  Originally, all the knights were to ride real horses, but when the troupe realized how expensive they would be, they turned to the cocoanuts instead.  The Python boys played the joke up beautifully though, making it one of the funniest bits in the film.  They even used it in some of the foreign titles for "Holy Grail."  (The German title translates to "The Knights of the Cocoanuts.")

The film was mainly shot on location in Scotland at two privately-owned castles.  They were to shot at more places in Scotland, but just a couple of weeks before shooting began, the Scottish Department of the Environment withdrew their permission to shoot in some of the government-owned castles, saying the script diminished the respect and history of the sites themselves.  Therefore, most of the castle shots are one castle from different angles.  They did manage to build a couple of 10-foot, flat plywood models of castles for background shots, most notably for Camelot, hence the joke "It's only a model."  However, the models had a tendency to blow over during scenes, so the boys used it as an inside joke in the trailer.
All the members of Monty Python agree that this was the worst shooting experience.  Not only did they have to deal with the cold, damp Scottish weather, the hotel that they were all staying at had a very limited supply of hot water and only one bathroom.  So at the end of each shooting day, the guys would race each other back to the hotel to try and get the warmer cleaning.  Also at the time, Graham Chapman was suffering greatly from his alcoholism and having delirium tremens.  It was so bad that when they were shooting the Bridge of Death scene, the first assistant director had to double for Chapman crossing the bridge.  Another hard part was first-time director Terry Gilliam.  Though the troupe all thought Gilliam was great at the visual matters, he was not at all great at the practical, budget, or acting matters.  He finally got so frustrated with the other troupe members that he just gave up one day and laid down under a tree.  Terry Jones then had to step up and finish directing the film.  The troupe liked him directing much more, and therefore Jones ended up directing all the rest of the Python films.
John Cleese recently stated that he finds it interesting that "Holy Grail" is usually considered the best Monty Python film in the US, whereas the UK favors "Life of Brian" more.  He remarked on that because he feels "Holy Grail" is the less mature of the two.  Well then, I'm proud to be a less mature American.  And if you're in for some good, fun belly laughs this week too, check out "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
(Post-tidbit:  There were several scripted scenes that were never shot for the film, such as more Knights who say Nii and detective scenes.  One bit left out - Arthur and his knights finally finding the grail in Harrod's, a huge department store in London.)

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