I am giving the new show The Bastard Executioner a try. It’s a show that focuses on Wales in the 14th Century. I haven’t seen enough of the show one way or another yet to give an opinion. However, Monty Python has made it slightly hard to watch any historical drama, especially one like The Bastard Executioner (which also has a witch!), without realizing the absurdity of human behavior. Even watching the Oscar winning The King’s Speech, which focuses on the lead-up and onset of World War II, I couldn’t help feel that the characters were, “emotional mutants.” It’s not that you can’t enjoy historical pieces, as I still very much do. It’s only that you realize the absurdity in the horrible behavior of our ancestors while doing so. You begin to notice the comedy of human behavior and error. Perhaps this is what happens when you are raised on Monty Python. If you haven’t seen any of their movies, do so. You may never again see the world the same way.
“As sure as the sun rises and falls, witches will burn.” – Black Death*
Tonight I had a couple good laughs watching the medieval horror/thrill Black Death. The movie was not an intended comedy, nor do I mean to make light of the film or to say that it was intentionally funny. But once you have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is hard not to remember it when there is anything to do with the Black Plague or witch burning. This is not the fault of the filmmakers. The movie itself is unique, interesting, and gritty. Although it pulls from other films like The Wicker Man, it puts things together in an original combination.
The film stars Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne plays a young monk during the bubonic plague in the 1300’s. His monastery is wracked with the dead. He has a secret love of a girl in the local village. Due to this he secretly wants to leave the monastery and the death that surrounds him. When Sean Bean, who is a knight in service for the church, says that he needs a guide, circumstances drive Osmund, Redmayne’s character, to lead Ulrich, Bean’s character, on a journey. They are searching for a village that has not been touched by the plague. They believe it has made it untouched by the plague due to a necromancer and black magic.
The movie treats the situation as realistic, from the viewpoint of the people that are living in that time and place. The viewer does not know until late in the movie if there is any supernatural element to the movie, or it is just the superstition of a backwards religious people. This is a dark film, with gritty violence and all manner of barbarism carried out in the name of religion. It is suspenseful and bleak. Torturing and many forms of dismembering take place throughout the film.
However, Hannah Arendt once said, “that the horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.” As Monty Python demonstrated, through the clarity of hindsight, the beliefs of those times are completely absurd and ridiculous. Although the characters may or may not be dealing with the supernatural, I don’t want to spoil anything, you know that they are largely on a fools errand. When local villagers want to burn a woman at the stake for supposedly putting a curse on the local water supply, one can’t help but feel, knowing such things happened, as being a complete folly. The actions of many of the people in the movie are so absurd, yet realistic, that is somehow passes through the looking glass and becomes somewhat of a comedy of human behavior. I don’t want to portray the movie as a farce. I’m not even saying that the movie depicts the actions of these people with anything other than serious. However, it is because it is so straight that you realize just how absurd this behavior is. When a character is drawn and quartered it is completely horrific. Yet once upon a time our ancestors did that kind of thing.
Watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder why this time period is depicted in more movies. It is strange and horrifying enough to be almost fantastic, yet interesting because it is not fantasy. This movie takes liberties with the time period, and the story itself is fiction, but many of the things that people do to one another, many of the beliefs, are real. I found this movie to be entertaining, gripping, interesting, and yes funny at times. It is also batshit insane. When they are venturing out to find the possibly supernatural village they come across men walking down a stream whipping themselves and carrying a large cross. These people are punishing themselves to make penance with God. They warn the main group not to go any further. If these are the people warning them, what kind of further insanity waits down the road?
Although this movie is first and foremost a horror movie or thriller, it does ask questions about the nature of evil, religious belief, and human nature. One can’t help thinking about what is going on in the world currently due to religious strife while watching it. It is entertainment with intelligence. It looks and feels differently than the typical Hollywood movie and that is because it was filmed in Germany, even if it has several stars in it. The camera work and art direction is gritty and realistic, though gothic in fitting with the time period.
Tragedy plus time equals comedy. While I watched this film I couldn’t help but wonder what actions of modern times will look completely ridiculous to those hundreds of years in the future.
The famous witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
* This quote may be slightly paraphrased. It was late, we were already watching something else, and my internet searches came up empty. If not exact it gets close enough to the original’s intent.
Watching a nature show about Ireland. There is a section about bats on it. The show is talking about how good bats are not only for the ecosystem, but also how much they help people because of all of the pests they eat. The show also talked about how people have this fear of bats from all the years they have been associated with vampires and other horror stories dating back a longtime.
Because humans didn’t have a true understanding of nature for so long, until science started explaining things, all of these superstitious stories were allowed to infiltrate our cultures. Some of these superstitions, or fallacies about the natural world, still persist. We often look upon human behavior in the past with a kind of comic detachment. Monty Python and the Holy Grail made great fun of the condemning of witches. What exists today that people in the future will laugh at in disbelief?
The other night I watched Oliver Stone’s W. for the first time since it was in theaters, his film about George W. Bush. There is that old saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. The farther we drift from those years the more they seem like some kind of strange absurd comedy. (And yes I am fully aware of the real tragedies that were part of those times.) Like when you study the horrors of medieval times they almost appear like a Monty Python comedy. I think people will look back on that point in our history with disbelief. How did we knowingly choose to put a man like that in charge for two terms? Why did we invade a country that posed no threat to us? It was baffling then to many and even more so now.
If you lived through those years the movie might seem too light for what actually went on. However, if you view it in a detached way, as someone looking back who didn’t live through them would, I think it emotionally reflects how those times will be viewed.
I’ve also, as stated, been watching House of Cards lately. Given some of the problems with the third season, I still think it possesses interesting ideas. Combined with watching W. is the idea that our leaders our just people, no different from us. They may have better luck, family ties, or ambition, but at the end of the day they are humans. It is only ritual and stage craft that gives them their power. We are all part of a play. The power they possess is only in direct accordance with how much power we believe that they have. In the show Deadwood there is the idea that history is, “a lie agreed upon.” There are rules and traditions that create the perception of order and therefore create order itself. It is the belief in these fictitious sets of principles that holds it all together.
To close, I quote Twin Peaks: “We live inside a dream.”
I often mention the films of Terry Gilliam. He is one of my favorite directors. The above link is to a retrospective of his work. For those of you that are not overtly aware of his films, this is an excellent place to get an overview. I agree with the retrospective that The Brother’s Grimm, while having some things to recommend it, is his weakest film. Visually the film still has many Gilliam hallmarks, but the script is the most generic of his movies. Tideland is one of my favorite of his films, but it is also one of the most challenging, and it is best if you become accustomed to his style before watching that. I believe the themes of that film are easier to understand once you have some insight into the way Gilliam sees the world. Jabberwocky, his first movie outside of Monty Python, while worth checking out, feels to me as if Gilliam was still finding his voice, as later films are more substantial. So if you haven’t seen any of Gilliam’s films, I would check those three out later for the reasons stated above. Otherwise read the captions and dive in where you please. Gilliam is one of the true visionaries of the medium.
“Monty Python” Stars Bid an Emotional Farewell in…: http://youtu.be/KaDGc2LWzGo
I grew up on Monty Python with my Dad showing us The Meaning of Life and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as kids. I didn’t realize how unique this was, as my Dad would have us laughing at religion, business, and every other sacred cow of society. Monty Python will remain a source of joy for me as long as I live. They were truth tellers, bullshit detectors, and often very, very silly. The above video is a clip of their final performance as they sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Their final run of performances, as Graham Chapman is deceased, were subtitled One Down, Five to Go.
When I opened the New York Times this morning I saw the completely insane picture of Shiite men marching in Iraq wearing matching camo pants, black t-shirts, ski masks, all with bombs strapped to their chest which at least resembles bundles of TNT. I’m sure if you were to stumble upon this on the street it would be completely horrifying. Viewed from the safety of the morning paper there was something strangely comical about it. I always think the Greeks got an aspect of the gods right. I imagine superior beings atop Mount Olympus laughing at the folly of man. These men are coordinating, even down to the color, outfits of death all in the name of an invisible figure that they cannot see. Life when viewed up close is often a tragedy. When it is viewed with a certain degree of remove it is almost always a comedy.
One of my recent entertainment pleasures has been the discovery of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced TV series An Idiot Abroad. In this show the two creators of The Office send their friend, and idiot of the title, Karl Pilkington to various foreign countries. Pilkington is the friend that we all have that never wishes to leave their hometown and can’t help but literally say what is on hisher mind because there simply doesn’t exist the guile to do otherwise. The comedy from the show often comes from someone being confronted with the wonder of the world at large and simply being indifferent to it, or quite often being annoyed by it. They do sometimes send him to certain places to purposely torture him, however even in places like The Great Wall of China Pilkington seems unimpressed to comical effect.
However, sometimes Pilkington stumbles onto strange truths without even realizing it. When he is in Jerusalem he finds it extremely bizarre that around every corner some different religion is approaching with a different bizarre outfit on. He compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man as to him it reminds him of a place where, much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, something is popping out at you from around every corner. Somehow this “idiot” has stumbled upon the absurdity of religious believers in this area. They are all from the same region, they all wear ridiculous clothing, the all believe they have a lock on the truth, and all while having absolutely no proof to support their claims. It is like a Monty Python skit come to life.
This Sunday morning I will leave you with quotes from the great George Carlin:
What is this religious fascination with head gear? Every religion’s got a different fucking hat. Did you ever notice that? The Hindus have a turban, the sheiks have a tall white turban, the Jews have a yarmulke, Muslims have the keffiyah, the Bishop has a pointy hat one day and a round hat on another day, Cardinal has a red hate, Pope has a white hat, everybody’s got a fucking hat! One group takes them off, another group puts them on. Personally I would not want to be a member of any group where you either have to wear a hat or you can’t wear a hat. I think all religions should have one rule, and one rule only: hat’s optional!
You ever notice that? Any time you see two groups of people who really hate each other chances are good they’re wearing different kinds of hats. Keep an eye on that, it might be important.
You can keep
Your peasant wages
Your false idols
Your dogs on the bridges
I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well
Who’s mad now?
I don’t need your morals
And I don’t need you laws now
They’re just another way
To keep the poor down
I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well
Who’s mad now?
Gonna carve myself in marble
Describe myself in verse
I’ll be here long after
You have done your worst
Who’s mad now?
When we were kids and first discovering the wonders of booze, we used to talk about how something was a good pool shooting song. I don’t know exactly what we were on about. We never shot that much pool. Nor did this description necessarily mean that something was a good song in the sense that a critic would say something is good. I think that we meant it had a certain swagger and a good Friday night attitude to it. It meant something was a good song for drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and possibly getting into a scuffle.
On our new album, A Manual for Defeat, Bronson (Who’s Mad Now?) is our pool shooting song. I wouldn’t probably even put it in the top five songs on the record, but every time that I hear it I find myself with a prideful smile. And yes, I know pride cometh before the fall. It’s got a Thin Lizzy shuffle which never hurts anything. However, the real musical magic in the song is my Brother Ben’s exuberant guitar playing, which I can champion till the cows come home as I did not play it.
The lyrics are in part a tribute to Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Bronson, hence the title. Refn is one of our favorite directors. If you are a film fan and can stomach the violent and the strange, then you will certainly enjoy his films. He is one of those rare directors that have an eye for visual poetry.
In the movie, which is loosely based on a real person by the same name, the title character gets a short prison sentence only to become Britain’s most feared prisoner because of his violent behavior during his time in the clink. Even though he was only supposed to serve several months, other than a brief release, he ends up spending his life there. Without hopefully spoiling the ending, at some point he begins to view his life as a living work of art. Nicholas Winding Refn paints his own portrait of the real Bronson, and we are taking it a step further drawing up our own version of the character.
The lyrics are simple and are some of the least poetic on the record. Much like Morrissey’s You are the Quarry album, where the Mozzer ditches his typically poetic approach for something more direct, for a moment I wanted to dispense with any wordplay and say something in plain language. I also always liked that Monty Python tackled the big three cornerstones of Western culture; as they addressed bureaucracy (jail), religion (hell), and economic issues (money), through comedy. I suppose they were on the mind as well.
Anyway, as a writer I would be lying if I said that this song is at the top of my list for exemplary writing. But hopefully some Friday night I can convince you to drink a beer to it. It will all come together then.
I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel, and incompetent comes naturally to me.
Quote by John Cleese
I apologize about being off the grid yesterday. When you do this thing yourself you are going to miss days, even if you dread it. Yesterday passed like one of those time lapse shots before I realized I hadn’t gotten any posts up.
Anyway, I am back to reading Monty Python Speaks after finishing Morrissey’s Autobiography. For those of you that might be interested in Autobiography, I will have further comments on it, but I need a few days to think about it. Anyway, I was reading section of the Python book that dealt with Life of Brian this morning. Apparently the title that they originally came up with was Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory! I about spit out my coffee. I have watched Brian several times and all the special features that come with the DVD, so I had probably heard this fact before, but I didn’t remember it upon reading it today.
Eric Idle came up with the title while drinking. He and Terry Gilliam, while continuing to drink heavily, started to think of ways you could make the story of Christ funny. What if the maker of Christ’s cross was a carpenter of poor craftsmanship? Once bringing the story to all of the Pythons they all reread the Bible. They decided what Christ actually said was good, so they didn’t want to belittle him. However, they felt that there was tons of room to make fun of the people around him.
They spoke of how anyone that would interpret Christ’s words and tell you how to believe it was performing a political act. Interpretation is a political act. They thought the people that did such a thing were worthy of making fun of. Fair targets. So anytime someone gets in a furor over something they say is blasphemous, ask yourself what it is degrading. Does it lessen the meaning of something, or does it lessen the power of someone who wants to control the way others see the world?
Anyway I love the Pythons and thought Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory was a great title. A good laugh to start Friday morning, at least I hope so.