Saturday, January 12, 2008

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

1975, UK, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

The first "real" film by the Monty Python team, Holy Grail remains a hilarious showcase for their flights of verbal exuberance and energetic absurdism. Given that the film is still a series of sketches inside a larger framework - their next film, Life of Brian, feels more fully conceived as a single storyline - the team resist the temptation to pad the length beyond what the material will bear, though they play with the timing of several jokes, perhaps most notably the very first gag. The gag is much more than a quick visual joke, extending over a minute, more than long enough for an audience member to become uncomfortable and wonder what's going on.

While the film remains most memorable for the verbal duels between King Arthur and his recalcitrant subjects, as well as the various challengers he encounters, as the film progresses it also reveals a surprising visual flair; perhaps Terry Gilliam was finding a visual style as the shoot progressed, with several carefully composed landscapes giving the gags a properly cinematic underpinning. Gilliam makes intelligent use of his limited resources throughout, playing sleight of hand with angles and smoke to craft a suitably expansive medieval landscape.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States