Searching for the Grail, again

Cara Spoto

Rejoice dear subjects, for it has finally come to pass that our dear noblemen of Monty Python have brought their brilliant dissection of Arthurian legend Monty Python and the Holy Grail back to our great cineplexes and houses of moving pictures, so that we may be blessed by their timeless wisdom … (“oh get on with it!”).

Well, if I must. Yes, you heard me right; The Holy Grail, that most seminal of all cult classic films, a movie usually viewed in one’s underwear beneath a makeshift blanket of stale microwave popcorn and bottle caps, is to open this very Friday with much rejoicing for one week at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis.

The 2001 theatrical re-release, a marketing stunt to promote the recently released DVD “director’s cut” version of the film, includes a new print, stereo sound and approximately 23 seconds of never-before-seen footage (the only footage from the five-week shoot that was not used in the original release). This missing footage, according to what appears to be an overly devout Swedish fan-site for the film (bau2.uik.ac.at/sg/python/Scripts/HolyGrail/grail.htm#goodies), was taken from the Castle Anthrax scene, where some of the “ladies-in-wanting” got a little, shall we say, wicked, eh – wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more. (Incidentally, if you want to know what I’m talking about you’ll just have to watch the bloody film.)

Shortly after the release of 1972’s And Now For Something Completely Different, the five-year-old troupe of highly educated comedy writers and actors (John Cleese, law student; Graham Chapman, doctor; Eric Idle and Michael Palin, history students; Terry Jones, English literature student) and Terry Gilliam, an animator for the BBC set out for the Scottish country-side to shoot a film mocking King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Shooting on a shoe-string budget of 229,000 pounds (roughly 500,000 dollars) donated by British rock stars (among them Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd), the troupe couldn’t have imagined that, out of such a long, grueling, yet equally inspiring shoot, would come a film that has made them the most universal odd-men-out ever to appear on screen.

The true charm of the film is in the inventiveness brought on by such a low budget. In the scene where King Arthur (Chapman) and his knights first approach Camelot, saying “Camelot” poetically and manservant Patsy (Gilliam) sneers, “It’s only a model” – it’s true. Half the castle backdrops and foregrounds used in the film were just plywood cutouts. In fact, budget constraints forced the film-making process, like the film, to get very silly. For instance, a photo from a wall calendar was actually filmed as a forest shot, and the cows that were thrown up in the air in the catapult scene were actually toy cows from a railroad set. As Terry Gilliam told Time Out: New York, “We wanted to do a proper Medieval Epic, but we were saved from that kind of mediocrity by a lack of money. It’s always been our salvation.”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail may very well be the most popular British humor film ever made, boasting audiences throughout the world. The catch phrases that seem so exclusive when uttered to pals at bars show up in Tokyo, where a Japanese Web site features a Lego version of the film, just as often as they do Chicago. In Budapest there is a marionette version of the film as well. And if that isn’t odd enough for you, a clip from the film is used by the FBI as a part of its training program.

Monty Python’s peculiar brand of humor, may not be loved by all – even the writers admit to it can get too silly – but if the Mir station owns a copy of the film, which they do, it’s certainly worth a look-see.