Friday, March 15, 2019

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Shatters The Fourth-Wall And Tickles One's Funny Bonne

Because I'm a bad movie fan, I hadn't seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail until two weeks ago. Even without seeing it, though, I was well aware of how influential this movie had become in the broader scheme in the forty-four years since it got released. Or at least, I thought I did. While watching the movie for the first time, I was shocked at how Monty Python and the Holy Grail was in fact even more influential than I had previously imagined. Practically every line of dialogue has been referenced in some fashion in pop culture, every sight gag has been put on a T-Shirt, it's all soaked itself into the very fabric of cinematic comedy to such a profound point that it's impressive that the movie can still work as a standalone entity.

But work it does as Monty Python and the Holy Grail certainly delivers so many laughs in its runtime that there was no question from me on how it managed to become so widespread and influential. The loose premise used here as a vehicle for all sorts of wacky gags is that Arthur (Graham Chapman), King of the Britons, has been sent on a quest by God himself to procure the Holy Grail. He and a band of other noble knights, played by fellow Monty Python members John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, now scour the globe for years on end searching for this mystical item, encountering all sorts of comedic adventures along the way.

The premise is structured in a manner that allows for a series of stand-alone escapades for the various characters to get into, particularly in the middle portion of the film when the main characters split up and go on their own individual comedic adventures. This sometimes gives the production the feeling of being comprised of assorted sketches that couldn't be accomplished on the Monty Python television program Flying Circus but luckily the various jokes are humorous enough to ensure the proceedings avoid feeling episodic. Giving the characters a Holy Grail to constantly pursue also helps keeps a sense of propulsion to the narrative which puts gags first before all other storytelling elements.

And what funny gags they are, particularly a gigantic horde of meta jokes that don't just break the fourth wall but shatter it. From the get-go, in those opening credits that just keep making the on-screen text more and more zany, Monty Python and the Holy Grail shows a clear affinity for meta-humor and it's a type of comedy that it does well. In fact, it's this style of comedy that inspires one of the best gags in the entire film and concerns a character turning to the camera and remarking on how they think this is the best scene in the movie. Suddenly, we cut to a string of shots depicting various other characters in the movie, some of whom haven't even been introduced before this, rebuking this assessment. It's a joke that had me spinning my head for a second in confusion on what exactly was going on before laughing hysterically at what a brilliantly layered meta-joke the film had just pulled off. 

There's a wild sense of unpredictability in this particular piece of meta-humor as well as throughout the rest of the movie, which finds plenty of entertaining comedy even when it's not further smashing down the fourth wall. One key way the movie keeps generating laughs is the manner in which it has certain jokes recur throughout the film after working well as stand-alone gags. Most notably, an early joke involving the abrupt murder of a professor already had me giggling thanks to just how humorously the murder occurs, tranquility turns into the scene of a murder in the blink of an eye. But the film is not done with this gag, oh no, in fact, we keep cutting back to detectives investigating his murder throughout the story, a brilliantly funny running gag that shows how well Monty Python and the Holy Grail can get numerous hilarious gags out of one already humorous moment of comedy.

That running gag with the professors kicks of with a moment of abrupt gruesome violence that serves as an early example of the type of brutal violence that's played for effective laughs throughout the runtime. Juxtaposing these brief bursts of graphic bloody brutality from John Cleese's Lancelot with the same characters soft-spoken polite manner of speaking is just incredibly humorous, how can you not cackle at that? Cleese and his Monty Python cohorts (two of whom, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, also direct this project) are quite humorous in the numerous different roles they all play throughout this unorthodox approach to the King Arthur mythos. Though Lord knows there are countless movies whose widespread pop culture presence is more of a hindrance than a benefit to the actual film itself, Monty Python and the Holy Grail still works as a riotous comedy even when divorced from the massive amount of pop culture it's influenced.

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