King Arthur looks for a sacred relic while a peasant claps coconuts behind him.
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman
Review by Jon Kissel
The Holy Grail is the second Monty Python film, after Life of Brian, that I’ve seen within a year, and two failures is a trend. There’s a quality to their style that this man approaching middle age rejects. If I had seen either film in its entirety when I was younger, it might’ve worked better. Now, the desperation comes off the screen. These guys self-consciously want their audience to know how smart they are. In spite of all the absurdity and the comical gore in their loose retelling of Arthurian legend, the most important thing for Monty Python is that the member of the audience who went to the same exclusive colleges they did knows that they know what anarcho-syndicalism is. If that stuff goes over the heads of the hoi polloi, who cares, look at this limbless man who thinks everything’s fine. The approving chuckles of their fellow elite are what these guys are after. Monty Python might have been the first subject of a college deconstruction course, of which there are now many, where students watch an episode and write five-paragraph essays about what John Cleese et al were really trying to say here. All that is in the episode, but it doesn’t make the show better as much as it makes it crowded and arrogant.
Monty Python’s mix of high and low sits alongside their meta approach to filmmaking. This is happening at the same time as Mel Brooks, and he is blowing Monty Python out of the wate, and the meta aspects of Brooks’ films are my least favorite part. The Holy Grail throws the viewer into the meta deep end with interminable opening credits that get taken over by an overzealous Norwegian who’s obsessed with moose, before briefly turning into a confrontational strobe show that someone like audience-hater Nicolas Winding-Refn would do. From this immediate sour taste comes more fourth wall breaks, as characters speak directly to camera about editing choices and the film ultimately comes down to a murder of a present-day historian. There’s a part of me that admires The Holy Grail anticipating my reaction to it, where I’m in the crowd of peasants screaming at the camera to get on with it. That admiration evaporates as I become so impatient with this film that I’m actually yelling at my TV to get on with it. Haha, the film acknowledges that it’s a huge waste of time, so it’s okay that it’s a huge waste of time.
These guys are just not for me. The humor of silly words, of slobs versus snobs, of men acting as women, all of it lands with a thud. When a well-regarded older film doesn’t land, I try to give it the benefit of the doubt. What I’m watching in the present has spent decades being imitated and iterated and spoofed and paid homage to, such that it’s impossible to experience the thing as people did when it was first released. Here, I’m so averse to it that I don’t care if this was influential or inventive in its time. As a comedy, I laughed in a few places, even knowing what was going to happen. Those laughs notwithstanding, I had to break up a 92-minute movie into three sessions because it annoyed me so much. Monty Python and the Holy Grail needs to get thrown on the cart with the other dead/dying bodies. D+