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Weekend Watch: Monty Python

September 16, 2005 19:17 IST

What are you doing now?' asks God. 'Averting our eyes, oh Lord,' replies King Arthur. 'Well, don't.' God retorts. 'It's just like those miserable psalms, always so depressing.'

It's this brand of lunacy that defines Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the 90-minute masterpiece from British funny men Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones that first evoked hilarity in 1975. The Special Edition DVD is, well, special, simply because it gives you a second disc full of more idiocy than you can possibly get your head around in one afternoon.

Written by Graham Chapman and John Cleese, Holy Grail has long been a cult favourite. And even for those completely in the dark about the Python phenomenon -- cretins, I tell you, absolute cretins -- it is a standalone piece of work that has inspired comics worldwide for just over three decades.

Which movie would you recommend?

First, for the uninitiated, a quick introduction to The Pythons. These guys were the creators of a TV comedy series that appeared in 1969. After 45 episodes aired over five years, it took on a life of its own, generating live tours, audio recordings, four films, and even computer games. As for the name, 'Monty' was a tribute to a renowned British WWII general called Lord Bernard Montgomery. The team also wanted a name that sounded 'slippery'. Hence, 'Python'.

In terms of the group's importance, critics have often compared the effect of the Pythons on comedy to that of The Beatles on popular music. In a poll to find The Comedian's Comedian -- conducted as recently as this year -- three of the six members were voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever, by fellow comedians.

Lesson over, back to the Holy Grail.

The gist of the plot -- if you must call it that -- is this: King Arthur wants to round up the most famous knights in the land to help him find the Grail. The setting is medieval; the dialogue, drop-dead hilarious. The film is constructed as a series of sketches, each designed to bring the principal characters closer to the Grail. And, as a typical Python parody, nothing is sacred.

King Arthur actually has to use something called the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to take out a killer rabbit (!), for instance, while Gallahad the Pure has to be rescued, somewhat against his wishes, from nymphomaniacs.

Now, the easiest tendency for most viewers is to dismiss this semblance of a plot as unforgivably stupid. If you stop and think about it for a minute though, it takes a great deal of thought to pull off something silly. It explains why the Pythons have enjoyed the kind of longevity they have. For proof, try the scene involving The Knights who say NI. If it doesn't make you crack a smile, little else will.

In time-honoured, low-budget-comedy tradition, the lead actors take on an astonishing number of roles. Graham Chapman plays King Arthur, the Voice of God, and even a Hiccoughing Guard. John Cleese plays The Black Knight, Sir Lancelot the Brave and Taunting French Guard. Eric Idle is Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir Lancelot, while Terry Gilliam takes on the parts of an old man and the Green Knight. There's also Terry Jones and Michael Palin, with the latter playing Sir Galahad the Pure and Leader of The Knights who say NI.

Now for the best part: This is one of those rarities -- a DVD with extras that equal the original disc in terms of substance. Features include subtitles in a number of languages (for your Czech cousins, perhaps), subtitles for 'People Who Don't Like the Film', an 'Exciting Follow The Killer Rabbit feature', a version for the Hard of Hearing, an 18-minute report on location that was first broadcast in 1974, Terry Gilliam's famous original sketches, some behind-the-scenes photographs, and also 'A Load of Old Rubbish' -- supposedly a surprise package 'specially included for the mentally challenged.'

As if that weren't enough, you get three mindless sing-alongs, 'a glorious extra 24 seconds absolutely free,' other assorted bits and pieces of cinema that may or may not make sense depending on your state of sobriety, and, finally, an 'educational film' titled How To Use Your Coconuts.

Bizarre, it might be. But, God, so bloody funny.

Which movie would you recommend?

Lindsay Pereira