Film - Monty Python & The Holy Grail

Monty Python & The Holy Grail

Monty Python & The Holy Grail celebrates its 40th anniversary today! The film is looked back upon by our own steven harris as he farts in your general direction...

Monty Python's Flying Circus began to air when I was a tiny, tiny boy. I doubt I saw or heard a thing. But a few years later I did hear things, strange voices coming from my older brother's bedroom. He had bought, or been given, Matching Tie and Handkerchief, a record containing the voices of the Pythons, performing variations on some of their television sketches as well as brand new material which would only have worked as audio anyway. I was entranced. I was in hysterics, I barely understood a word when it came to the social comment and satire but what I did take in I memorised and spouted back to school friends the following day. They fell about laughing too.

I should explain. I have a decent ear and tongue for mimicry and a habit for echolalia which ensured my regurgitated Pythonisms were pretty accurate and definitely inspired some of my mates to ransack their older siblings record collections too.

And then the BBC benevolently began to repeat the television shows from the beginning, all the way through to the final series, the one in which John Cleese did not appear but, if memory serves, sketches about eating beans and farting, and the Spam song did. You might imagine there could be no higher level to reach for an eight or nine year old Pythonist than to be able to watch them do silly walks and fail to sell a scrap of cheese on TV as well as listening to them on record any time I chose (Matching Tie and Handkerchief was swiftly followed in our household by several other Python records including the hilarious and slightly swearier Live At Drury Lane). But you'd be wrong.

Because in 1975, in a rare fit of decent parenting, my father took my brother and I to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the cinema!

Whichever Beatles album I listen is my favourite while I am listening to it. Whichever pre-Parenthood Steve Martin film I watch is my favourite while I am watching it. I have no favourite amongst the five different men who have captained Liverpool football club to five separate victories in the European Champion's Cup. I have some preferences when it comes to who plays Doctor Who but basically love them all and love the show forever and ever. But when it comes to Python movies, no matter how brilliant I know the others are, Holy Grail is...well it's the Holy Grail of films by Monty Python.

A word of warning. If you like Python but loathe those who sit there watching their movies reciting every line simultaneously with the cast onscreen, do not ever watch Holy Grail with me. You'll hate me, I'll tell you to go and do something physically painful to your rectum and we may never mend our friendship again. Best if you go and watch something else on the iPlayer. Or set fire to an effigy of me. I can't help it. Remember what I said about mimicry and echolalia? It's quite possibly medical so play nice and stop hitting me.

Knock, knock, knock. Penny! Knock, knock, knock. Penny! Oh wait, that's something else.

The Holy Grail is quite simply the silliest, funniest, Grailiest, Pythoniest film there has ever been. Or will ever be again. Apart from their other films but minus the Grail bits. Much of what I now call my own political perspective can be blamed on the movie too:

"Autonomous dictatorship comes from a mandate from the people, not some farcical aquatic ceremony."

"How do you know he's a king?" "Because he hasn't got shit all over him."

The movie is quite possibly also responsible for me knowing what the term 'oral sex' meant by that age. And for teaching me that to some people being spanked is not a torment but a sexual pleasure (not for me, thanks, I'm a Quaker). It is most certainly fully responsible for the fact that when people are arguing loudly and pointlessly I feel an impulse to shout "She turned me into a newt." After which I would obviously wait for a stunned silence to ensue and eventually add "I got better."

I might not have learnt much genuine Arthurian mythology from this film but I did learn something far more valuable; all mythology is open to ridicule. Myth, even if it is based on a tiny percentage of fact, becomes quite risible to succeeding generations who fail to recognise their own cultural risibility because clothing, fashions, languages and social behaviours ebb and flow like excreta spiralling along an open medieval sewer.

Most people don't come to Python for the cultural education. They come for the silly voices, the maniacal set-pieces, the slapstick and the references to bodily functions. And why not? But to overlook the way even an historical piece like Holy Grail says as much about the early 1970s as it says about the Dark Ages, is to overlook the fact that as well as being hilarious and suspiciously fond of cross-dressing for a role, the Pythons were/are highly intelligent people with a great deal of social awareness.

What's that you say? You don't agree with me? Then I fart in your general direction! I wave my private parts at your aunty. Your mother was a hamster and...(it may be best if you sod off now, I can keep this up all night).

Image - IMDb.

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