One of the key moments in the maturation of any young wiseacre is the first time he or she sees Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’ve seen it 4 or 5 times for sure, and my appreciation for it has only grown over the years (I used to prefer Life of Brian, but I’ve reversed that).
There’s a new Blu-Ray edition of the movie that comes with, ahem, “catapult packaging and rubber farm animals,” and on it apparently, the fellows unearthed some Terry Gilliam animations that didn’t make the final cut of the movie, and then someone, probably Eric Idle, cajoled the visionary director of Brazil and Twelve Monkeys to free-associate over the footage.
The most meaty section of the featurette, which is embedded below, is “Terry Gilliam Introduces His Lost Animation Reel,” in which Gilliam somewhat morosely walks the viewer through some of this footage—that “moroseness” is halfway a kind of bit in the usual Python register of hifalutin silliness, but it’s also part and parcel of what seems to be an ingrained “Pshaw” sort of modesty or general inability to be impressed with himself, you know the kind of thing. Of watching the action unfold, Gilliam muses that “it sure beats me sitting talking about animation, something I know nothing about anymore.” After giving credit to the two women who were actually responsible for creating these lush images, Gilliam blurts, “I was the guy that just cut out the terrible little characters and pushed them around.”
Gilliam reveals that the Holy Grail animations were based on a book called Illustrations in the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts, which title doesn’t exist in Internet terms so perhaps Gilliam is misremembering the title. In any case, anyone who’s glimpsed the Book of Kells or other “illuminated manscripts” done by monks centuries ago will see the resemblance. At one point he plays a silly little song about King Arthur by Neil Innes that was also rejected from the final cut.
Gilliam points out that most of his animated bits really are about violence, but since the process of filming the stop-motion animations is so back-breakingly time-consuming, all the “action” takes place off-screen or, in this case, inside a snail’s enormous shell. He whines about not being compensated for this voice-over work, and pretends to prefer the idea of Python fans just sending him money directly, to the following address—but of course does not divulge that. (Naturally, right after that you hear the voice of Idle supposedly forking over some cash, complete with clinky gold coin sounds.) That leads to Gilliam in mock dudgeon: “I’m a famous film director! I don’t have to sit here talking to you people, who foolishly paid money for the same old crap!”
Hat tip to Henry Owings!