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15 Facts about Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Ni! Ni! Ni! In honor of the 40th anniversary of Monty Python’s quest for the Holy Grail, here are a few facts you may not have known about the legendary comedy.

1. THE NAME “MONTY PYTHON” DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING.

The name of the highly influential comedy troupe made up of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin was made up by the group when they were commissioned to make their BBC comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Numerous non-sequitur names were considered before that, including “Owl Stretching Time,” “The Toad Elevating Moment,” “A Horse, a Spoon, and a Basin,” and “Bumwacket, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot.” “Flying Circus” only stuck because the BBC informed the group they had printed their programming schedules with the name already and it couldn’t be changed. When they wanted a name to go before that, John Cleese suggested something slithery like “Python,” while Eric Idle came up with the name “Monty” to suggest a sort of drunken British stereotype.

2. THE OPENING CREDITS WERE MEANT TO SPOOF INGMAR BERGMAN’S FILMS.

The group ran out of money for an opening title sequence, and could only afford simple white text title cards over black backgrounds. Wanting to take advantage of the space without having to pay any money, Palin suggested adding the joke of increasingly absurd fake Swedish subtitles about a moose over stoic music as a way to send up the snooty foreign films they loved.

3. THERE ARE MULTIPLE DIRECTORS.

According to the credits, the movie is directed by 40 Specially Trained Ecuadorian Mountain Llamas, 6 Venezuelan Red Llamas, 142 Mexican Whooping Llamas, 14 North Chilean Guanacos (Closely Related to the Llama), Reg Llama of Brixton, 76000 Battery Llamas From “Llama-Fresh” Farms Ltd. Near Paraguay, and Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones.

It marked the first time Gilliam and Jones directed a feature film, and the pair were given directing duties simply because they were the only ones out of the group who wanted to direct after the group decided not to hire their Flying Circus and And Now for Something Completely Different director, Ian MacNaughton. Gilliam in particular has gone on to have a highly successful career directing films like Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO TAKE PLACE IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN TIMES.

The film technically takes place in 932 A.D. but features modern characters anachronistically intruding on the hilarity. In the group’s original story idea there was going to be a more distinct setting with Arthur searching for the Holy Grail in both medieval and modern London, and in the end he and the Knights of the Round Table were to have found the Grail at a “Holy Grail Counter” at Harrod’s department store.

Gilliam and Jones suggested keeping the movie in the Middle Ages because Jones was interested in the time period (he would go on to write several books on the subject) and Gilliam was inspired by a trilogy of movies by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini that took place in medieval times.

5. THE COCONUT JOKE CAME OUT OF NECESSITY.

The running joke of the knights riding around on invisible horses with the sound of the horses’ hooves clopping coming from their squires’ clapping coconuts together came from the fact that the group didn’t have enough money in the budget to afford actual horses. The group came up with the coconut idea from an old BBC radio practice of using coconut halves as sound effects for horses.

6. ALL OF THE CASTLE INTERIORS ARE ACTUALLY ONE CASTLE.

During pre-production, Gilliam and Jones had scouted and secured a series of authentic medieval shooting locations throughout Scotland. But two weeks before production began the filmmakers found out that the National Trust had banned the comedy troupe from shooting in any national historical sites because, according to Gilliam, “we wouldn't respect ‘the dignity of the fabric of the building,’ where the most horrible tortures, disemboweling had gone on!”

Forced to scramble to find a place to shoot the movie, the two Terrys secured two privately owned castles to shoot all of castle interiors and most of the exteriors. Castle Aaargh is actually Castle Stalker, which is located on the west coast of Scotland. The rest of the castles are actually Doune Castle (located about 30 miles north of Glasgow) shot from different angles.

Funny enough, just as the character of Patsy says, Camelot is only a model. It was a 12-foot high cutout of a castle, and Gilliam and Jones used forced perspective as a quick cheat during wide-angle shots to make it seem like an actual location.

7. THEY HAD A ROUGH FIRST DAY OF SHOOTING.

Gilliam and Jones, the two rookie directors, had a rude awakening when they showed up to work on the movie. On the first take of the first shot during the very first day of filming in Glen Coe, Scotland for the Bridge of Death sequence over the Gorge of Eternal Peril, their camera broke. It was the only camera the production could afford. When they managed to get the camera working again, the sync sound wouldn’t work, so they could only shoot non-dialogue close-ups until they got the camera fixed.

8. THE BOOK OF THE FILM IS A FAMILY AFFAIR.

The insert shots of the Book of the Film were shot on Gilliam’s living room floor. The fingers turning the pages belong to Gilliam’s wife, Maggie Weston, a makeup artist who worked on Flying Circus and would go on to work on some of her husband’s films like Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (for which she earned an Oscar nomination in 1990).

Gilliam himself was the gorilla hand, which he bought at a local London joke shop. Sir Not Appearing in This Film is a baby photo of Michael Palin’s son, Thomas.

9. THE BLACK KNIGHT SEQUENCE CAME FROM AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STORY TOLD TO JOHN CLEESE.

Cleese was inspired to write the Black Knight scene from an elementary school story he remembered about two Roman wrestlers. During an extremely intense and scrappy match, one wrestler finally tapped out only to discover that his opponent had died during the struggle, meaning he had posthumously won the match.

The moral of the story was that if you don’t give up you couldn’t possibly lose, which was an idea Cleese hated, so he lampooned the quasi-sadistic tale in the movie with supposedly noble knights.

10. PINK FLOYD, LED ZEPPELIN, AND GENESIS INVESTED IN THE FILM.

The film’s initial budget of approximately £200,000 was raised by convincing 10 separate investors to pitch in £20,000 apiece. Three of those investors were the rock bands Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis, who were persuaded to help the Monty Python group after Tony Stratton-Smith, head of Charisma Records—the record label that released Monty Python’s early comedy albums—asked them to contribute.

11. THE FRENCH SOLDIERS WERE BASED ON REAL HISTORY.

Cleese had the idea for the taunting French soldiers after something he read in a history book about medieval troops whose sole purpose was to taunt opposing enemies before battle. He combined that with the Roman practice of catapulting dead or rotting animals into castles to draw enemies out as well as the practice of dropping feces on enemies who attempted to storm castles.

12. THE EXTRAS IN THE MOVIE WERE EITHER STUDENTS OR TOURISTS.

To get extras for the wedding scene between Prince Herbert and his bride, the producers simply asked tourists visiting Doune Castle if they’d like to appear in a movie. Anybody who agreed was given basic medieval clothes and told to join in the insanity.

Arthur’s army at the end of the movie was made up entirely of 175 students (shot from various angles to make it seem as if there was double that number) from Scotland’s University of Stirling. According to a casting call sent to the school by the production, each student was paid £2, and got free transportation, food, and “an abundance of crazy antics” for a single day’s work.

13. IT HAD A UNIQUE PREMIERE SCREENING AT THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL.

Someone called in a bomb threat to the theater playing Monty Python and the Holy Grail during its premiere at Cannes, which forced festival workers to evacuate the theater just after the opening credits. People were expecting hijinks from the Pythons, and some audience members even reportedly thought the evacuation was part of the movie.

14. MICHAEL PALIN PLAYS THE MOST ROLES, WHILE GRAHAM CHAPMAN PLAYS THE LEAST.

The Pythons originally wanted to play every role in the movie until they realized that wasn’t feasible. Still, every member of the group plays multiple roles, with Palin playing a grand total of 12 different characters: Sir Galahad, the soldier who argues about swallows in the opening scene; Dennis the repressed peasant; a mud villager; a singing Camelot knight; the right head of the Three-Headed Knight; the King of the Swamp Castle; a wedding guest at Swamp Castle; Brother Maynard’s assistant; the main Knight who says “Ni”; a French taunting knight; and the narrator.

Graham Chapman has the fewest number of characters, appearing as four different people: King Arthur, the voice of God, the hiccupping guard, and the middle head of the Three-Headed Knight.

15. THE IDEA FOR THEIR NEXT MOVIE CAME FROM HOLY GRAIL’S PROMOTIONAL TOUR.

According to the Pythons, the one question that was asked the most on the promo tour for Monty Python and the Holy Grail was what their next movie would be. When asked the question while screening Holy Grail in Paris, Eric Idle jokingly answered by saying, “Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.”

The other Pythons ended up actually liking the idea, and they eventually made their next movie in 1979 called Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was about a man named Brian who is mistaken for the Messiah because he was born on the same day in the manger next door to Jesus Christ.

Additional Sources:
Blu-ray special features
The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons

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10 Fabulous Facts About Absolutely Fabulous
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BBC

In the early 1990s, long before it was acceptable for women on TV to act in a juvenile manner, BBC scored a major hit with Absolutely Fabulous, a.k.a. Ab Fab, which featured two British women who behaved badly—chain-smoking and abusing drugs and alcohol. Jennifer Saunders played Edina, a publicist who said “sweetie darling” a lot and raised a mature-for-her-age daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha). Edina’s best friend was Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a model-turned-fashion magazine director who donned a beehive hairdo and came out as transgender (and also said “sweetie darling” a lot). She also enjoyed the booze, and asked important questions like, “Who dies in their own vomit these days? Nobody.” Edina’s nameless mother (June Whitfield) and Eddy’s personal assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), also added flavor to the show.

The story began in 1990 when Saunders and Dawn French were a part of sketch TV show French and Saunders. Saunders did an eight-minute skit as Edina and French played Saffy. A few years later, while on hiatus from the show, Saunders jotted down the idea for what would become the pilot for Ab Fab. “At the beginning it was all about Saffy and Edina, because when I first wrote it, Patsy was a sort of add-on character who supported Edina in her awfulness,” Saunders told Out Magazine. “But actually I just love working in a double act.” 

The series originally aired off and on between 1992 and 2003, with a total of eight specials sprinkled between 1996 and 2012 (including a 2012 Summer Olympics special). In 2016, Fox Searchlight distributed Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, written by Saunders. The film revived the debauched antics of the friends and included an opening sequence in which Edina accidently killed Kate Moss. Here are 10 fabulous facts about the series.

1. JENNIFER SAUNDERS BASED THE SHOW'S CHARACTERS ON REAL PEOPLE.

By the time Saunders created the sketch on French and Saunders, designer fashion was becoming more widespread, and she knew a fashion publicist. “I thought, ‘That’s a genius job for a sitcom character,’ so we did her as a sketch,” Saunders told Lena Dunham during an interview with Lenny. “We also had another friend who had an absolutely bonkers mother who was eccentric and wild, and me and Dawn just combined the two.” Patsy was originally a “low-life journalist,” but Lumley’s background as a model helped shaped the character into someone who was more polished.

2. IT DEVELOPED A DEVOTED FOLLOWING IN THE GAY COMMUNITY.


BBC

When discussing the series, Saunders told V Magazine that the reason the show was such a hit with the gay community is because "[gay people] refused to be offended—and I admire them for that. Thank God you’re hanging on in there.” Looking back on the series, Lumley said that all the gay references seemed normal to her. “It’s really normal that one of [Edina’s] ex-husbands now lives with his young boyfriend,” she said. “It’s completely normal that [Edina] wants Saffy to be a lesbian or that Serge [Edina’s long lost son] is gay and living in New York. It’s completely normal that Patsy is transgender.” Lumley also said she thinks Patsy makes a good drag queen, “because Patsy’s quite tall,” she said. “You just want to get your good yellow wig on.”

3. IT PROBABLY WOULDN’T FARE WELL IN TODAY’S CULTURALLY SENSITIVE CLIMATE.

When Vanity Fair asked Saunders if Ab Fab would air today with the same jokes intact, she said: “I think it’s a tricky time for comedy, because people are now so aware of not offending, and everyone is quite precious now about their identity. I don’t think we could make half the jokes we did then.”

In fact, Saunders admitted that she did run into some issues while working on the 2016 feature version of the series. “If you write a movie, you have raft of lawyers telling you who you can offend and who you can’t offend, and who’s going to sue you and who won’t,” she said. “So, it was quite an issue, I have to say.”

4. AMERICA (UNSUCCESSFULLY) TRIED TO ADAPT THE SHOW.

In 2009, James Burrows directed a U.S. version of the show, which was set in L.A. It starred Kathryn Hahn as Edina, Kristen Johnston as Patsy, and Zosia Mamet as Saffy. Fox jettisoned the pilot, and Jon Plowman, executive producer of British Ab Fab, knew why. “The trouble with doing Ab Fab in America is that it will have to end with Edina and Saffy hugging, Patsy giving up drink and drugs, and them all hugging mum,” he said. “It won’t work. It’ll be too nice.”

5. THE SHOW WAS INFLUENCED BY THE BAND BANANARAMA.

Lumley and Saunders were guests on The Graham Norton Show and Lumley said in the ’80s, she and Dawn French used to party with the group. “Bananarama were the hardest drinking girls I’d ever met in the ’80s,” Saunders said. “I never met girls who drunk so hard. They drunk so much vodka. I remember one of them opening a cab door and coming out ass first, and I thought it most brilliant thing I’d ever seen.”  

6. SAUNDERS SAID IT WAS "PAINFUL" TO PORTRAY EDINA.

Edina wears clothing that are two sizes too small because she refuses to wear anything that fits her. “Edina gets to wear some extraordinary costumes but they’re always so painful,” Saunders told Elle. “When I think of Edina, I think of painful shoes and painful clothes.”

7. IT’S A FEMINIST SHOW.

“It’s never been about them finding a relationship, or defining themselves by having to have a man,” Saunders told Vanity Fair. “They live life entirely on their own terms as women, and to be honest, men don’t really affect them much. I mean, occasionally they want sex, but who doesn’t? They’re not defined by normality. They create their own normality.”

8. JULIA SAWALHA’S FAVORITE SCENE TO FILM INVOLVED BOMBAY MIX.

BuzzFeed asked Sawalha, who played Edina’s daughter, what the funniest scene she had to shoot was. She said it was the moment when Edina asked her if she wanted to nibble on some Bombay mix. “It was my most painful scene moment,” she said. “It took about half an hour, because she had to come up behind me and say [puts on accent] ‘Bombay mix.’ And for a week she did it and for a week in rehearsals I couldn’t hold it together, and on the night it had that thing of I know it’s coming, and it just went on and on and on.”

9. A MENTION OF IVANA TRUMP LED TO AN ENCOUNTER WITH DONALD TRUMP.

Twenty years ago, Patsy mentioned Ivana Trump in an episode. As Lumley told Vanity Fair, Trump got wind of it and invited Lumley to a party in London. “He was with Marla Maples then, and first she came and was the sweetest little character: ‘Oh, I think you’re so gorgeous, you look so beautiful,’” Lumley said. “And then the Donald came along, with that Brillo Pad hair stretched across his head, and gave me a very odd look, as if he was sizing up a horse or something. And after examining me, he muttered, ‘Yes, she’s quite good-looking, she’s a bit like Ivana.’”

10. SAUNDERS AND LUMLEY ACCIDENTALLY MADE PATSY AND EDINA RELATABLE.


BBC

In an interview with Lena Dunham, Lumley stated that Edina and Patsy were “really vile and dreadful” people. However, Lumley had fans coming up to her saying the characters reminded them of people they knew. “And some people would queue up to say, ‘My mother and my aunt are just like you and Eddy, and this is a picture of them.’ And you go, ‘Oh, no, how great. Well done, you. But oh my God, we are awful.’ And they went, ‘Oh, yeah, they love it. They go out, they get drunk.’ And you go, ‘Oh my God, we weren’t trying to teach people to get drunk.’”

Lumley further explained they didn’t set out to do that. “I don’t think we had expected that, because we painted them with such broad brushstrokes. We were trying to be high satire.”

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11 Great Facts About Bad Santa
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Dimension Films

If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Bad Santa, it’s that the holiday season isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. The non-stop ratchet party of a film stars Billy Bob Thornton as the titular character, a functioning alcoholic and misanthrope who works as a mall Santa in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve.

Of course, plans go haywire when the con man befriends a troubled kid (Brett Kelly) and falls for a bartender with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham). It’s the ultimate film for pessimists who shirk at Christmas sentiment but love to throw down, making it the perfect pick-me-up to pull you through December. Get to know more about the cult classic with these 11 great facts about Bad Santa.

1. BILL MURRAY WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE LEAD.

According to The Guardian, Murray was actually in final negotiations to take the lead, until he dropped out to film Lost in Translation. Suffice it to say, it was a win-win for both Murray and Billy Bob Thornton.

2. THE COEN BROTHERS HELPED DEVELOP THE MOVIE.

Raising Arizona, Fargo, and, er, Bad Santa? Believe it. According to director Terry Zwigoff, the Coens were actually the first choice to helm the movie. “The story I had heard was that the original writers, who wrote about 90 percent of what you see in any of the cuts, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, met the Coen brothers and said, ‘We want to write a script that you guys direct.’ And they said, ‘We only direct our own writing but we've always had this crazy idea about this drunken Santa Claus and this little person elf that has to keep him in line,” Zwigoff told IndieWire.

“So John and Glenn wrote this script," Zwigoff continued. "And the Coen brothers read it and they told them, ‘We don't want to direct it. We think it's great but we don't want to do it.’ So they asked them if they could give them some notes. And when the Coens sat down to try and give them notes over a weekend, eventually they just thought it would be easier if they take a pass on it and rewrite it.”

3. IT WAS A SINGLE LINE IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT THAT MADE TERRY ZWIGOFF WANT TO DIRECT THE FILM.

“I’m more interested in dialogue,” Zwigoff told The A.V. Club. “Most of the scripts I’ve gone after to direct, there’s generally just something about the dialogue.” For Bad Santa, it was one line of dialogue that hooked him. Continued Zwigoff, “It was something like, ‘Sweet Jews for Jesus!’ One of the most inspired lines I’d ever read.”

4. ZWIGOFF ISN’T A FAN OF THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE MOVIE.

Following an interview with IndieWire, Zwigoff hosted a public screening in which he presented the director’s cut of the film, which is his preferred version. “That's the filming of the script, basically,” Zwigoff explained. “The studio wanted to mess with it and make it more mainstream and pour some fake sentiment on it for the people that stumble around the mall. Go to Target some day and look at who your target audience is. Look at the people who are out there going to films and you realize you are totally f*cked, you don't want to do anything these people like. But that director's cut is exactly the script I got. I wanted to protect the script. I like writers a lot. It was a lot darker.”

5. BILLY BOB THORNTON WENT METHOD FOR THE MOVIE.

In an interview with Film4, Billy Bob Thornton detailed exactly how he got into his alcoholic character. “I've traditionally played really extreme characters and even in a comedy, if you're going to play a guy like this, you can't be sort of drunk, you know? And I wasn't sort of drunk,” said Thornton. “You have to go completely into it. I love children, I'm crazy about them, but I had to ignore that fact and play the part.”

6. IT WAS JOHN RITTER’S FINAL FILM ROLE.

A still of John Ritter from 'Bad Santa' (2003).
Dimension Films

America wept when news broke that John Ritter, the beloved star of Three’s Company, passed away suddenly on September 11, 2003 of aortic dissection at the age of 54. His hilarious turn as mall manager Bob Chipeska in Bad Santa was his final feature film appearance. The movie was dedicated to his memory.

7. LAUREN GRAHAM HUMPED A CHAIR DURING HER AUDITION TO PLAY SUE THE BARTENDER.

If you’re going up for a character who’s got a fetish for Santa, you’ve really got to sell it. “I had to audition doing the scene where I first straddle Santa,” Graham recalled to Uncut. “So I’m basically in front of a room full of executives humping a chair. I really did love Billy Bob though, even more than the chair. With a character like this you have to make a big decision. I just thought: she loves anything to do with Christmas, she totally doesn’t see what’s disgusting about this particular Santa. He fulfills a strange kinda fantasy for her.”

8. ANGUS T. JONES OF TWO AND A HALF MEN WENT OUT FOR THE ROLE OF THURMAN MERMAN.

In an interview with The Province, Brett Kelly, then a student at the University of British Columbia, recalled his audition to play Thurman Merman. Among those he beat out to play Bad Santa’s sidekick was fellow chubby-cheeked actor Angus T. Jones, who’d go on to star in Two and a Half Men (before infamously trashing the show). Kelly recalled how filming the movie affected his life: “It wasn't like I was in Bad Santa and I came back and everything had changed. It was more like I got to drop in and see like, ‘Oh, that's what making movies is like.’”

9. THORNTON HAD TO DEFEND THE FILM AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT.


Dimension Films

Let’s be real: Bad Santa isn’t for the easily offended. Taking a cultural icon and turning him into a sex-crazed alcoholic isn’t exactly going to win over more conservative moviegoers. Which is exactly why Thornton found himself defending the movie. “We did get a few comments," Thornton told Film4, “and my reply was always, 'As far as I know, Santa Claus is not in the Bible. I think you guys are talking about Jesus.””

10. IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC, THE MOVIE IS CALLED SANTA IS A PERVERT.

Films are known to change names to fit foreign markets. That’s nothing new. However, sometimes its nuance gets a little lost in translation. Case in point: the Czech Republic’s extremely literal, albeit accurate, title.

11. IN A DELETED SCENE, SARAH SILVERMAN CAMEOS AS A SANTA TEACHER.

Among the multiple scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor (much to Zwigoff’s chagrin) was a hilarious moment with Sarah Silverman. In the two-minute scene, Silverman acts as a Santa School teacher instructing a classroom of mall Santas on how to coax a smile out of a child and please their parents.

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