Monty Python Double Bill

“Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”

‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones in 1975, and ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, directed by Terry Jones in 1979, are two British comedy movies written and performed by the BBC television sketch show comedy group.  The former film, an episodic and loose adaptation of the King Arthur cycles, is a fantastical and surreal celebration of medieval imagery and preconceptions, whilst the latter film, in which a man born at the same time as Jesus Christ is mistaken for the messiah, is a parody of the sword-and-sandal Hollywood religious epics.  Of the two, I found ‘Holy Grail’ to be the funniest film, but only in parts. ‘Life of Brian’, by contrast, is consistently amusing, with a few rip-snorters, but is far more consistent and coherent. Really, this is an unfair assessment, as one of the qualities of ‘Holy Grail’ is the films lack of coherence: the characters randomly stumble from one abstracted or strange encounter to the next, whilst the guiding principal of ‘Life of Brian’ is more acerbic satirical, to the point that the film was accused of blasphemy. Watched together, however, as a manifesto of the Monty Python team’s intelligence and range, they are undoubtedly one of the funniest three hours in British cinema. What struck me, aside from the humour, was how cine-literate they were. There are multiple moments in ‘Holy Grail’ that recall both Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky, (see Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ for example), whilst Terry Jones clearly watched Pier Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’ as well as the Hollywood epics in his preparation for ‘Life of Brian’. They are also incredibly insightful commentaries on history and behind the riotous and pitch perfect gags in both movies is a keen and informed dissections of religion and religious hypocrisy, medieval history and politics and the way the past is warped through the prism of movie genres.

Would I recommend them? I’m guessing you’ve already seen them, but if not then yes, of course. They already serve as a double bill, but taken individually I’d recommend ‘Andrei Rublev’ and ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’ as excellent companion pieces.

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