British comedy troupe Monty Python may be known for its catchphrase “and now for something completely different,” but fans, old and new, keep laughing at the tried and true.
As the 1975 cult film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” rings in its big 4-0, celebrations worthy of King Arthur land in our general direction. A special 40th anniversary edition Blu-ray hits retailers in late October, and Atlanta gets a plethora of Python throughout the next couple of months.
Python member Terry Jones not only appears at Dragon Con, Atlanta’s behemoth pop culture convention, but will be a special guest at a “Holy Grail” screening Tuesday night at the Fox Theatre.
Among the long list of Python projects, from the acclaimed TV series to feature films, “Holy Grail” arguably remains the most popular. The midnight movie staple, with a 97 percent critics rating on rottentomatoes.com, even spawned the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” a phenomenon in its own right.
Skewering the dark aspects of the Middle Ages through the comedic lens of King Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail, the film serves up a buffet of unforgettable moments that have helped cement the film’s status. Among them: a three-headed giant, a castle of vestal virgins and a tenacious, limb-losing Black Knight.
When talking “Holy Grail,” Jones, who co-directed the feature with Terry Gilliam and directed two more Python pics (“Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life”), prefers looking at the bright side of life. The Black Knight and bring-out-the-dead scenes, he said, still tickle him to this day.
When shooting “Holy Grail,” however, things weren’t so rosy. Jones and his fellow filmmakers faced a dwindling budget, rough conditions and a myriad of other obstacles more terrifying than a blood-thirsty bunny.
“We started by filming the Bridge of Death scene,” Jones said, “and we got behind in a sensational way. Way behind.”
According to Python historian Kim “Howard” Johnson, who will appear alongside Jones at the Fox, that first day of filming cast a dark shadow. The camera broke during the first shot, and the cast and crew found themselves stuck on a chilly, wet Scottish mountainside. Graham Chapman, who played King Arthur, performed in the midst of alcohol withdrawal, as Jones and Gilliam argued over shots.
“They ran more than two hours over schedule the first day,” Johnson said, “and by the end of the first week, they had used up all of the overtime budget.”
“Holy Grail” obviously wrapped with a happy ending, however, and continues to bask in its iconic status. Python member Michael Palin, who played Sir Galahad and other roles in the picture, has his theories.
“‘Holy Grail’ survives because it isn’t specifically topical,” Palin said. “The story of King Arthur’s knights is timeless and familiar. The humor is mainly that of the absurdity of life and making the very serious seem very silly. The humor is childlike but not childish. That’s what gives it its lasting strength, to be able to play across all age groups.”
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