1975: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Written by Monty Python
It feels like I heard Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety before I actually saw it. Even back in the dark ages of the sixth grade, before the internet and home video, quoting the film was still a geek rite of passage. My indoctrination was at a sleepover where a friend diligently assigned parts and had us run through the Bridge of Death sequence, taking great pains to make sure we got the lines exactly right. Of course, he had only his memory on which to rely, so I’m pretty sure we got it wrong anyway. But there was a dizzying lunacy to the whole thing that appealed to the burgeoning geek that I was. The only problem was I couldn’t just pop down to the video store and rent the movie.
And that’s when PBS became my best friend. Seemingly running on a direct channel to my brain, our local affiliate aired Holy Grail during a pledge drive not long after that slumber party. Aside from confirming that we had indeed botched the Bridge of Death scene, and despite frequent and annoying breaks to ask me for money I didn’t have, those ninety minutes gave birth to a budding Anglophile who would soon be devouring episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy anytime PBS trotted them out.
Initially, it was the silliness of Holy Grail that appealed to me. As I got older, I came to appreciate the underlying intelligence in much of Python’s humor. You don’t really have to understand Dennis’ conversation about anarcho-syndicalist communes and self-perpetuating autocracies to know that he’s talking away above the level a medieval peasant should be, or to find Arthur’s rising frustration with it funny. But if you do understand it, then there’s a whole other layer of humor to that scene. And once I got into college and started reading a lot of the Arthurian romance that inspired the film, I had another angle into the funny. That was the great balancing act that Python pulled off so effortlessly. They could be smart and still be smart asses.
These days, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is really the ultimate geek shibboleth. I mean, anybody can likely rattle off a few lines from Star Wars or Star Trek and give off the appearance of being one of us. But when someone walks up and says, “It’s the old man from Scene 24,” you know they’re in the club. Yes, it can sometimes get annoying hearing this film constantly quoted, even in situations that are completely unsuited to the application of said quotes. And if you’re a gamer, oh good lord, it practically has the weight of holy writ. But I’m not going to blame Python for writing a script that engenders such fanatical devotion. If it wasn’t worth repeating, people wouldn’t be repeating it. It’s mandate from the masses. And if that makes me a bloody peasant, so be it.