Archive for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Sunday Intertitle: Monkey on Man on Wire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 20, 2015 by dcairns


Fiona definitely prefers Keaton to Chaplin, which is fine, except I don’t see the need to compare them at all. Do we need to decide that Fred Astaire is better than Gene Kelly? In certain respects, no doubt he is, but the comparison is of little help, obscuring rather than revealing the individual merits of each, or making Kelly’s merits seem somehow trivial.

Anyway, I was hoping to get Fiona to watch THE CIRCUS this week so I could write about it here, but we didn’t get to it. But we saw the opening when Paul Merton did his silent movie show in Edinburgh with Neil Brand on piano, and I subsequently showed her the bit with the lion and the bit with the monkeys, which are highlights in a feature usually considered less than totally successful. Read Walter Kerr’s The Silent Clowns for a cogent analysis of the story’s conceptual flaws.

The point is, Fiona laughed harder at the bit with the monkeys than she’s ever laughed at Keaton, I suspect. She likes monkeys. And also, everything about the scene is really brilliant. The cute monkeys become a deadly threat, since Chaplin is on a high wire. The trivial, degrading things they do to him — pulling his trousers down, biting his nose, climbing all over him and sticking a tail in his mouth — are all potentially fatal in this scenario.


(Exactly the same dynamic is at play when Chaplin finds himself trapped in a cage with a sleeping lion. A small dog outside starts yapping at him — apparently outraged that he should be in the cage where he doesn’t belong — and all his/our anxiety becomes focussed on the wee dog, which might waken the slumbering lion. Something small and cute becomes deadly — that’s always funny, like the Beast of Aargh in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, a cute bunny that can bite your head off, or like Mr. Stay-Puft in GHOSTBUSTERS if you want to lower the tone.)

Anyhow, the monkey-tightrope scene got Fiona genuinely hysterical, which I always enjoy seeing. Losing control of her faculties, she started narrating the action like a Benshi on nitrous oxide — “It’s biting his nose! Its tail is in his mouth!” She couldn’t breathe for laughing, and so couldn’t speak for not being able to breath, and for laughing at the same time, but couldn’t stop herself doing it. It was as if she could stop the scene being so life-threateningly funny if she could just describe it accurately. The critical impulse at work!

All this and the best banana-peel joke ever.

I guess hardcore Chaplin-haters MIGHT be able to sit through this scene without laughing, which I think would be proof of rigor mortis, or they might argue that it’s only funny because monkeys are funny. But it’s not just cute funny animal time — the USE of monkeys in a scenario with an underlying threat of death is extremely clever, the work of a master of comedy. And Chaplin’s convincing terror in the scene enhances it greatly — he knows when it’s funniest to play it serious.


“Comedy is a man in trouble.” Yeah. With a monkey in his mouth.

The Unexpected #1

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by dcairns

Peter Cushing spanks Miou Miou, under the watchful eyes of Alida Valli (not pictured).


Number One in an occasional series of things you never thought you’d have to see. I’d apologise for the crummy quality of the images, but it kind of suits the film, which doesn’t work as a horror movie, comedy, musical or porno, but rather as a documentary about Cushing’s disaffected attitude to horror movies, his career, and life in general. I mean, there had to be better offers on the table than this. The Great Man’s decline into apathy would later cause him to accept a role in STAR WARS — from which his career didn’t seem to receive any kind of fillip. Actually, STAR WARS didn’t really do anything for any of its cast, somehow. For giving the thing conviction they deserved a lot of credit.

TENDER DRAC has lots of dialogue about how horror movies are dead, and how Cushing’s character, a horror movie star called MacGregor who lives in a castle (I *think* it’s Eileen Donan Castle in Scotland, seen in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, Zeferelli’s HAMLET, and many others) has discovered romance instead. It’s like Cushing’s version of TARGETS, as made by sex-mad European idiots.

The News at Ten

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on February 28, 2008 by dcairns

Tonight’s headlines:


Dickie nicked

Richard Attenborough arrested on roller-coaster!


Theresa's right

Theresa Russell dons moustache to attend opera!


Amazing Mr X

Cathy O’Donnell finds loudspeaker in chimney!


Walls have Lips

Semi-clad stunt-woman kisses wall!

Believe it or not, non-British Shadowplayers, the ITV News At Ten really does begin like this, with dramatic news and an anchor barking out headlines in between the strokes of Big Ben. The stories might not be quite as enticing as those outlined above, but the effect is similar: everything is at once dramatized and trivialised.

The News at Tentheme is very famous here, which is why it was hilarious to us as kids when we saw a matinee at the late-lamented Odeon Clerk Street of what I think was Eddie Romero’s no-budget Dr Moreau rip-off re-imagining, THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE, and the news theme struck up as background score to a man-versus-monster fight scene. You do run this risk when you score your film with stock music: somebody might come along and make one of those themes famous.

Early Cronenberg films, their music tracks assembled by Ivan Reitman, of all people, seem to have escaped this fate — the music just sounds cheap and drippy. It was so great when Howard Shore and Michael Kamen came along to write proper scores — really good ones.

The best stock score I can think of is probably the stuff by “DeWolfe” for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, which succeeds in raising the production values whenever it comes on, which is the exact opposite of the effect stock music usually has. For ages I wondered who this great unknown film composer was. Actually, I still don’t know. I’ve stumbled across some DeWolfe company CDs in the past, but never found the HOLY GRAIL score on any of them…

It never seems possible to get stock music to fit as nicely as a well-composed score — the solution would be to select the music in advance and shoot to it and cut to it, like Leone did with Morricone’s score for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and Powell did with BLACK NARCISSUS, and musicals directors routinely do. As our piece The Chills #1 hopefully demonstrated, moving the camera in time with a score is a powerful thing…


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