Believe it or not, those potheads who sat around all day back in the seventies, listening to Led Zeppelin IV or Dark Side of the Moon, actually contributed something worthwhile to Western Civilization
Members of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd used some of the profits from their albums to help finance a little gem of cinematic anarchy known as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The British comedy troupe were still relatively obscure cult figures in the U.S., popular mostly among college students and other pseudo-intellectuals, when this film appeared in the cinema. It’s not unreasonable to think that without the success of Grail, Monty Python would not have become the Beatles of absurdist English sketch comedy.
Summarizing the plot of this movie is a little like writing a book report about your last acid trip. Suffice it to say, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and the Knights of the Round Table are tasked by an animated God to find the Holy Grail. Over the next ninety or so minutes, the not-exactly-intrepid band ambles around a low-budget English countryside, encountering a wide variety of odd characters also played by members of the group.
Much like their BBC television series, Grail moves through its story with a loose stream of consciousness connecting the various scenes, yet the film manages to hold together, its own lack of cohesion somehow being the glue that keeps the whole endeavor from flying to pieces. The end result is probably the funniest, most quotable movies of the seventies, with Blazing Saddles being a close second.
The film adroitly skewers not only the English class system that was the Pythons’ favorite target, but also every hokey costume epic that gave us our modern medieval iconography, shifting effortlessly from high-falutin’ knight-speak to contemporary slang (contemporary for 1970s Britain, at least). The humor runs the gamut from high-brow to the lowest possible slapstick (how else would you describe Arthur’s dismemberment of the oblivious Black Knight? “Right! I’ll do you for that!”).
Of course, Python humor is not for everybody, but I find that this is a reasonably accurate and helpful social barometer. If someone doesn’t find all this business amusing, I probably don’t want to socialize with them anyway. The inability to “get” Python often indicates other, more unpleasant social deficiencies. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good people, as some of my best friends are “Python-challenged,” but you probably don’t want to go out drinking with them. I’m just saying.
Speaking of drinking, my less-than-scientific data indicates that alcohol doesn’t really affect your appreciation or understanding of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, sober or shit-faced, the experience is remarkably similar. I have no information on the effects of other substances, however. You’ll have to do your own research there.
Whatever your philosophical or political opinion (and regardless of your blood-alcohol level), Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of a handful of truly great comedies from a decade that produced Blazing Saddles, Disco music, Watergate and Three Mile Island, and that is some stiff competition.
Yes, Monty Python is the perfect social barometer. My family also uses “Young Frankenstein” as the ‘pass or fail’ marker. You laugh, you’re in.