, Research Paper
General Writing: Film
Prof. Anustup Basu
A Monty Python Version of Camelot
As a film that has become so popular that it has grown to be considered a cult favorite, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam and Jones, USA, 1991) is an entertaining retelling of the story of King Arthur and his knights and their search for the Holy Grail. Although it is stylized in medieval times, it is far from your traditional castles and chivalry sort of story. It has undergone the Monty Python transformation into a silly and satirical yarn that includes coconuts, African swallows and holy hand grenades. An English band known for their own particular type of humor, they leave their undeniable mark on this classic story. They are masters of twisting any situation toward the absurd. In this film we are constantly confronted with the story of King Arthur that we believe to be real and the absurd version that they are presenting us with. If the account that we all know is to be considered to be the real story, and therefore true logically speaking, then Python?s portrayal would amount to a direct attack on this and on realism itself. They have created a self-conscious film that lets you know that it knows it is just that ? a film. Because of this they are able to grant themselves a much more powerful creative license in producing the film. It is constantly breaking its own illusion of reality, helping to add to the mounting ridiculousness. In comparing the realities and absurdities in the film we can see how each underscores the other and hence gain a greater understanding of the benefits they give, both theatrically and comically.
The film begins with King Arthur and his squire ?riding? through the countryside looking to assemble the greatest knights in the land to form his round table. The term riding itself is the first example of the oncoming nonsense as he is merely skipping along as his squire bangs two coconuts together to mimic the noise created from a galloping horse. Upon arriving at a castle the guard points this fact out to him also inquiring from where he has obtained coconuts in England since they are a tropical product. This sparks the first of many Pythonesque dialogues as they argue whether a swallow could have carried the coconut all the way to England. They finally decide that an African swallow is large enough to perform such a flight, but that it is not a migratory bird. As Arthur leaves the scene the guards continue to belabor the point. It is immediately following this that he meets the Black Night. He stumbles upon him fighting another knight whom he vanquishes in gory fashion. Arthur asks the night to join his roundtable but the Black Knight does not answer him. It is only as he tries to pass that he speaks to tell him, ?none shall pass?. The two then begin a deadly battle that ultimately leaves the Black Knight without an arm. He refuses to admit defeat though and King Arthur then proceeds to take his other arm followed his left leg and then his right. Arthur leaves the ludicrous looking knight as he threatens to gnaw Arthur?s ankles off. After a series of such absurd situations Arthur is finally able to assemble a group of knights to make up his round table. It is upon such time that God visits them. After a few snide remarks from God telling them to stop all the quivering and kissing up that he tells them their quest: the search for the Holy Grail. King Arthur and the knights decide that it would be better for them to split up and search for the grail on their own. At this point the story splits into the different quests of the individual knights and their adventures while searching for the grail. The first is the Brave Sir Robin who travels with his minstrels that sing his praise as they ?ride?. During his quest he stumbles across a giant three-headed knight. The knight begins to argue with itself about whether they should kill the Brave Sir Robin. After much debate they finally agree to kill him and then have tea afterward. Upon looking back at Robin though they see that he has fled. His minstrels then remind of this fact constantly, no longer singing his praises but making fun of him and calling him a coward. This leads us to our next adventure, set in the castle Anthrax. It is filled with damsels? ages 16 to 20 that would do anything for a good spanking. The adventure is ended before it even has a chance to get started though as two of the knights of the round table come to the ?rescue?, and save one of Arthur?s nearly very heroic knights. Finally we are presented with the tale of Sir Lancelot. Always on the lookout for an adventure or a damsel in distress his squire is shot in the chest with an arrow with a letter shot from the tallest tower in the nearby castle. After some debate with his squire about the severity of his wound he enters the castle waving his sword and killing everyone in his wake. Upon reaching the tower he discovers that it was not actually a damsel in distress but a very feminine prince instead. After discovering his mistake he makes a hasty exit from the king who wants to marry him off to his new daughter in law. Some time shortly after this King Arthur and his knights are reunited and met by Tim the Enchanter. He tells them the location of the grail is written on the wall inside a cave that is guarded by a hideous and bloodthirsty beast. The Knights embark and discover that the ?beast? is actually a bunny rabbit. After a hearty laugh Arthur sends one of his knights to kill the rodent. The rabbit viscously attacks the knight and bites off his head, much to the surprise of the King. After a failed frontal assault they call for the holy hand grenade of Antioch which promptly blows up the rodent. After entering the cave they find that they must cross the enchanted bridge and that they will find the grail at the Castle of Aaaaaaagh. While trying to leave the cave they are attacked by a huge monster that chases them throughout the cave until it finally disappears because its animator has a heart attack. After this narrow escape they come upon the bridge to find that they must answer an old man, ?these questions three?, or be cast into the pit of despair. It is here that King Arthur is able to cash in on his knowledge of African and European swallows and the old man is himself thrown in the pit of despair. Finally they come to the castle Aaaaagh. Upon reaching it they find that the snotty Frenchmen have taken it and refuse to let them in. King Arthur retreats and summons the bulk of his forces, calling for a full attack on the castle. During mid charge the assault is interrupted by sirens and police cars arriving on the scene. The whole round table is arrested and charged for the murder of a historian earlier in the woods who was telling the story of Arthur and his knights.
Throughout this film we come face to face numerous times with ideas that are in and of themselves absurd. It is through these ideas that the film gains its main comical attributes. One of the ways in which the film accomplishes this is through its own self-consciousness as a film. It deviates from most films in that it constantly reminds you that it isn?t real. One example is when they are being chased through the cave by the monster and surely doomed. The day is saved as the monster disappears suddenly. It seams that the animator of the cartoon suffers a sudden heart attack, which they go as far as to break from the movie to show you. In the movie the idea up to that point that a monster could be living in the cave is not totally out of the realm of possibility. Especially considering some of the more insane prior action. The film breaks its own realistic expectations though when it has the knights escape the monster in this way. Another example of the films self-consciousness would be in the scene with the prince locked in the tower by his father. It seems the prince has a tendency toward song, which the father hates. Every time he begins to sing, music starts to follow the prince?s words. His father promptly puts an end to this though, but not by making him stop singing, rather by yelling into the camera and having them stop the background music. By talking directly into the camera view it lets the viewer know that he knows he is being filmed and that it is not real. This is just one device the film uses to create absurdity, but also a very effective one.
Another device that the film employs is that of anachronism. Anachronism is a method employed by introducing something from a different time period into the one being presented. In this way it is able to create comical situations by having the ideas in opposition to each other. For example, this film is set in the Middle Ages long before the invention of weapons such as dynamite and hand grenades. While referring to the bloodthirsty beast that guard the cave King Arthur says, ?that rabbits dynamite?. Dynamite obviously hasn?t been invented yet so it is wrong to use the term to describe the rabbit. Also in order to kill the beast they summon the ?Holy hand grenade of Antioch?. Obviously hand grenades have not been invented yet, but in the film not only do they have such a thing, but also a religious text on how to use it. It goes as far as describing how to pull the pin and to count to three, not four, before throwing it. Another example would be when the film suddenly cuts to the historian in the woods. This idea would not be so inconceivable if the movie were to take on a historical aspect with the historian narrating. This notion is subsequently shattered, though, when a knight rides by and kills the historian by cutting him with his sword. This idea is then continued throughout the film as police arrive on the scene to investigate the murder and go so far as to arrest King Arthur and his knights in the final scene of the movie. Obviously the idea that the Knights of the Round Table are seen in the same context as the English police is totally absurd and therefore adds to the ludicrousness of the film. It is with methods such as this that the Monty Python group helps to attain their goal of transforming the legend of King Arthur into a satirical farce.
The film Monty Python and the Holy Grail contains so many jokes, puns and skits that by stopping to laugh at one you could miss the next three. This is the style that has made Monty Python and his group so popular. They are able to blend their own brand of comedy with King Arthur?s legend to create a classic film that is far approaching legendary. With this type of humor they do not present a different version of reality but rather directly attack it our own. They challenge almost every aspect of the film industry that has come to be accepted as normal practice. Whether it by is their own portrayals as actors or with the absurd ideas that they employ. While watching the film one cannot help but acknowledge this obvious fact, but the way they present it almost makes it seem natural. Instead of getting tired of their type of humor you find yourself wondering what they are going to do next. It is for these reasons that the film has gained such a cult status, with its own card game and countless fanatics. By breaking away from realistic expectations and presenting their own kind of comedy, Monty Python?s group has created a classic comedy.