Sunday, March 17, 2013

And There Was Much Rejoicing (yay)

Well, there’s no going back now.  We have introduced our children to the genius of Monty Python.

We are the best parents in the world, I know.  Thank you for pointing that out.

This has been a long time coming.  Tabitha is long past the age where she might find the Python sense of humor to her taste, and Lauren is generally game for anything when it comes to movies.  And since we spent a good chunk of last summer either in England or climbing around castles or both, it was clear that the first Python movie they should see should be Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I didn’t actually see this film until I was in college.

Oh, I had been introduced to Monty Python in a number of different formats in high school, like most American teenagers in the 1980s.  The local PBS station ran the television show, so I knew most of the skits.  I had seen several of their other movies before going to college, including an opening night screening of The Meaning of Life with my friend Julia – who at that time lived in Connecticut, so several of us had to take the train up to visit her.  As I recall, we were most impressed by the skit about “the machine that goes BING!”  After the movie we all went out to the local Denny’s.  Eventually a waitress came over and asked us what we wanted, and as one we all turned to her and said, “BING!”

About half an hour later a different waitress came by to see if we wanted anything, and thus we learned a valuable lesson about not annoying the waitstaff.

As for Holy Grail, well.  I hadn’t seen it in high school, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know every single line in it by then.  I had several friends who spent much of my junior and senior years quoting it at me in almost any circumstance where it might conceivably be relevant and more than a few where it couldn’t.  In this I believe I was not alone.  I used to be surprised at how many of the friends I developed later in life either had similar friends or were those similar friends, but no longer.  It’s a kind of badge of nerd honor, I guess.

Indeed, the hardest part of Friday's screening was not reciting the script alongside the actors.  It is a relentlessly quotable film.

My freshman year of college I took an English seminar entitled, “Arthurian Romance,” or as I liked to think about it, “Books David Would Read Anyway, For Credit.”  We read Mallory.  We read Zelazny.  We read The Mabinogion.  We read a treasure trove of all sorts of great books.  It was a fun class.

The TA who was in charge of all this was one of those guys destined to do nothing else but teach English literature.  He was pleasant and articulate.  He had a bushy mop of blondish hair, an equally bushy mustache, and habitually came to class wearing round spectacles, a bow tie, and suspenders.  His name was Graham Drake.  What else could this man possibly have done but what he was doing?

I sometimes wonder whatever became of him.  I hope he went on to have a long and fruitful career teaching university-level literature courses.  It would be something of a travesty if he became a banker.

There was no final exam in that class, but he made us come to the final exam period anyway.  He got up in front of us and spent spent several minutes telling us a long shaggy dog story about how he had been in contact with a group of scholars of Arthurian literature and had hoped to have them present their research to us during the semester but time had run out and they had been gracious enough to record their thoughts on film and send us a VHS copy (this was the 80s, after all) for us instead of our final exam.  Whereupon he dimmed the lights and we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I’m not sure Lauren was all that impressed with the movie.  She liked the Killer Rabbit scene and the Trojan Rabbit scene – as you would expect from someone deeply involved in the rabbit events for the 4H Fair – but the rest of it seemed to leave her a bit cold.  Tabitha seemed to like it more – she got more of the jokes, I think – but the last several minutes of organ music over a black screen annoyed her.  Unless you understand what is being satirized, satire often fails that way. 

But now they’ve been initiated into the great cult of Monty Python – of literate satire, humor that seems slapped together and merely silly but in fact has multiple levels and makes fairly steep demands of its audience.  I once read a book jointly written by the Pythons, one of those coffee-table retrospectives that come out on round anniversaries, and the deepest impression the book made on me was just how much thought and effort went into those silly skits.

Once you know how that works, the rest of the world makes much more sense.


Unknown said...

Love the closing bit with the fake video at exam time. I tried googling him - is this him at SUNY? Looks like his fashion sense has changed...

Hmmm, I had completely forgotten the Denny's story. Good times! I certainly hadn't forgotten the machine that goes Bing! And in hospital I commented on being kept awake by machines going Bing all night, and the nurse nodded sagely and replied "we have many machines that go Bing!"

David said...

That's him! I'm happy to see he landed well. :)

Good for your nurse, too. A sense of humor will get you through a lot.

vince said...

The humor and satire of Monty Python is still relevant in oh so many ways.

I also believe that the current iteration of the Republican Party learned all they know about having an intelligent disagreement over policy from the Argument Sketch.

John the Scientist said...

Oh, I quote the "violence inherent in the system" and the "I got better" skits to my kids all the time. (I seem to spend an inordinant amount of time talking about why politics is effed up and why people behave stupid things to an 8 and a 10 year old, but then I don't think it's ever too early to begin assembling your BS meter).

John the Scientist said...

Believe, not behave. Stupid Apple autocorrect.

David said...

Vince - honestly, the leadership of the modern Republican Party would have to stretch to reach that level. And it is amazing to me how many people just open their mouths and suck it down.

John - when the girls were little I introduced them to the "Castle Aaaaargh" routine, so that went over well. Myself, I have always had a fondness for the castle in the swamp as a metaphor for so many things.