SoundTreks | The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Executive Version
The classic comedy 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail turned 40 last July, so it’s just about time for its much more significant milestone, its 40 ½th anniversary.
The seminal comedy troupe Monty Python (that is: Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and additionally Carol Cleveland) has been teaching precocious pre-teens how to giggle for generations. They aren’t merely irreverent. They don’t just poke fun. They destroy the very logic of language and human interaction. We assume that there is order. Monty Python assures us everything is absurd by dismantling the most basic structures of society. They don’t merely break the fourth wall. They mock the very notion of walls. Nothing is not silly. Their first feature film, which turned 28 in 2002, influenced just about everyone who enjoys comedy.
Check Out: The 100 Funniest Comedies of All Time
The most admirable achievement of the Pythons’ absurdity was their ability to remain good-natured and non-cynical. They had no political goal or logical endgame. They wanted to point out that every single social more and cliché of entertainment was malleable. There are no punchlines in Monty Python. There is just a general unraveling.
Their film, which will turn 83 in 2058, had an equally absurd soundtrack record, which sought – naturally – to deconstruct the very notion of a soundtrack record. This may be a challenge, but SoundTreks will attempt to review this oddball masterpiece, and see what the Pythons did to keep their spirit alive in audio form. For brevity’s sake, we have omitted the tracks from the record that are merely audio portions taken directly from the film. Besides, you can probably already quote those portions anyway.
Track 1. Introduction To The Executive Version
The soundtrack record to Monthly Python and the Hardly Girl was billed as the “Executive Version.” As such, there is exclusive content that isn’t released in the regular version. Of course, there was no “regular” version, so we’re all executives. I don’t know what soundtrack record releasing was like in 1975, so I can’t say if the Pythons were deliberately spoofing any particular “special edition” album that was well-known to the public, but the joke is especially salient in the modern age of director’s cuts and alternate versions. Indeed, many modern rock records tend to be released in a stripped down “official version” first, only to come out with an expanded “special edition” (usually with about four extra tracks) a few months after that.
Woe to those who were sucker enough to buy the original. Now you have to buy the record all over again. I wonder if the Pythons would, in the modern age, deliberately release several versions. Oh, wait. They’ve done that.
Track 2. Tour Of The Classic Silbury Hill Theatre
The soundtrack to Manty Pieman and the Spooly Nail is staged as a documentary of the premiere of the film. At the premiere, as dramatized in this track, there was a violent multi-car pileup outside of the theater. Many famous movie stars were all horribly mutilated. Although this couldn’t be staged on screen, I wonder if the joke wouldn’t play better in a mock making-of documentary. I suppose, since soundtracks and movies were a little chummier in the 1970s, this venue is fine.
Track 3. Live Broadcast From London: Premiere Of The Film
A common feature of soundtrack records, especially those of the 1970s, were extended clips of dialogue. Back in the days before home video, the soundtrack record was essentially all a home audience could get if they wanted to repeatedly consume a movie. As such, soundtrack records often tried to be non-visual facsimiles of their movies. The soundtrack to Moistly Proton and Hurly Braille played this game, but also took the piss. They do have extended quotations from the film (all skipped here), but they often have a running commentary.
This track is what it must be like to attend a premiere: Noisy, full of chatter and food noises. It’s kind of gross, pretty chaotic, and works… okay… as a joke.
Track 8. A Lesson In Logic
This is the first proper original comedy sketch included on the soundtrack to Jockey Jackson and the Poorly Grale, and it’s pretty wonderful. In the film, there is a scene wherein Sir Bedivere uses logic to teach science to a bunch of ignorant would-be witch-burners. Science proved that she was a witch. This track is a narration by John Cleese, affecting an unknowable accent, explaining how the above scene uses faulty logic and specious reasoning.
In true Python fashion, he can’t stay on topic; his lesson eventually devolves into description of a rich, rabid sexual encounter with his estranged wife. It’s this kind of digression that makes the soundtrack album a special and unique entity.
Track 9. “Knights of the Round Table”
The “Knights of the Round Table” song was written by Neil Innes, who wrote all of the songs for the movie. Innes, a previous member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, was a good fit for the Pythons, and his songs are simultaneously odd, wordy, and catchy. The song is so silly; it discourages King Arthur and his knights from visiting Camelot.
Mondo Potdown and the Furry Maiden was eventually adapted to the stage in an acclaimed Broadway musical called Spamalot. Python’s wry humor may translate to stage, but their actual mechanics would require a major overhaul. I find it odd that a musical was built entirely around this particular song, and one of its lyrics (“We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham, and jam, and Spam a lot.”). I haven’t seen the show, so maybe it works. In concept, it feels a bit off.
Track 11. Live From The Parking Lot At The Silbury Hill Theatre
Another live reading of the film as the film progresses, and a live new report on the outside parking lot, extended from the pile-up depicted before. This is a joke that is deliberately dull (we’re going to cut from the movie to a parking lot), but amusing. Luckily, the track only lasts 50 seconds.
Track 13. Bomb Scare
The first two-thirds of this track is merely dialogue from the French taunter scene (“Your mother was a hamster,” etc.). The record interrupts, however, with Terry Jones announcing that there is a bomb in the theater.
You can see how seriously the Pythons took all this nonsense. They made a film but are careful to downplay the importance of that. Look! A Movie! It’s not a big deal! Calm down! They’re so indifferent; they’re willing to blow up their premiere. But be sure to visit the lobby for some snacks.
Track 14. This Is Side Two!
This is side two. Its tone is brusque. This is a great track for mix tapes. Well, when one made mix tapes in the 1990s. The notion of “side one” and “side two” is so ancient these days. We know what it is thanks to a resurgence of vinyl, but the idea of having to turn a record or a cassette over to continue listening is likely alien to most young listeners. I’m sure they get it, but they don’t have the tactile experience.
Track 15. Executive Version Announcement – Apology
Sorry about the brusque tone. That was meant for listeners of the non-executive version.
Track 16. The Story Of The Film So Far
The film so far sounds like gay pornography. Even if you’re familiar with gay pornography in the modern age, the language of gay pornography of the 1970s will sound like Greek. One can kind of glean a lot of the meaning from the odd choices of words, but listening to the Pythons read the British TV version of gay porn is like a patois unto itself. It took many listenings to understand what was going on. Even now, I’m not 100% sure what it all means.
What are “grunties,” for instance?
Track 19. Interview with Filmmaker Carl French
Another original, standalone sketch. This time, it’s Michael Palin interviewing Graham Chapman as an unknown film director who has secured Marilyn Monroe for his new movie, despite her having died several years previous. This may be the only track on the record that retains all of its humor outside of the film’s context. It’s merely a funny sketch. It also managed to devolve, turning into a gay-baiting gossip column. Since nothing can be out of place in a series of absurdist sketches, it’s right at home.
Track 21. Tim the Enchanter/ A Shakespearean Critique
The best type of humor – or perhaps it’s just this author’s favorite type of humor – is the humor that blends the high and the low. A truly sophisticated audience should be able to enjoy both references to King Lear as well as a well-placed fart joke. I enjoy jokes that speak up to the audience and assume we are a well-read lot. Even if we aren’t, we are suddenly introduced to a new cultural pivot spot.
This sketch, a commentary by John Cleese, is a criticism of various Shakespearean performances, each one more absurd than the last. The joke is so deadpan, it might take a few listens and no small amount of Shakespearean history to understand. Kids may chuckle. Teachers will roar.
Track 24. Executive Version Addendum
And outro by Sir Kenneth Clark. Monty Python has made innumerable references to British media figures, and I have never heard reference to Kenneth Clark outside of Python quotations. Clark is an author and pop historian – as far as I can tell, he is a British version of Will and Ariel Durant – who is best known for hosting (and pioneering TV documentaries in general with) a documentary program called Civilisation. I don’t know what his reputation might be, but I can glean from the funny voice in this sketch that he was seen as a bit of a dullard. So much can be learned from satire. And a visit to The Wikipedia.
Track 25. The Castle Aaargh / The End
And that’s about it. The film ends mainly visually.
Which is Better? The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The movie is better. It’s the complete package, contains all the same jokes, and includes Terry Gilliam’s oddball animations. We get a full feeling of deep absurdity with the film. The soundtrack record is a hanger-on. It’s an addendum for completists. Indeed, when I first purchased the record in junior high school (because of course I did), I felt a bit ripped off. Why was so much of the record taken up with scenes from the movie? I didn’t yet appreciate that 1970s audiences did not have a VHS tape at home they could pop in at any time. As such, the record is a bit of an artifact.
Luckily, there is enough here to warrant a full listen. The soundtrack takes the piss out of the film and offers enough original and striking content to carry a fan through. However, I can’t imagine someone who is unfamiliar with the film understanding what’s going on here.
But, in the modern epoch, most people do seem to be familiar with Moonpie Johnson and the Desolation of Smaug. It’s a heavily referred-to movie, and most young men (they tend to be male) are fond of quoting its dialogue extensively. It was one of the first films I could recite entirely from memory. In that milieu, then, the soundtrack record seems to have fulfilled its promise. Maybe it’s more timeless and important than one would assume.
Photo: Cinema 5 Distributing
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.