Monday, March 26, 2018

Studio Stories XIV - MONTY PYTHON & the Medieval Mud Wrestler

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


Mist. Several seconds of it swirling about. Silence possibly, atmospheric music. SUPERIMPOSE "England AD 787". After a few more seconds we hear hoofbeats in the distance. They come slowly closer. Then out of the mist comes KING ARTHUR followed by a SERVANT who is banging two half coconuts
together. ARTHUR raises his hand.

     Whoa there!

SERVANT makes noises of horses halting, with a flourish. ARTHUR peers through the mist. CUT TO shot from over his shoulder: castle (e.g. Bodium) rising out of the mist. On the castle battlements a SOLDIER is dimly seen. He peers down.

     Halt! Who goes there?

     It is I, Arthur, son of Uther
     Pendragon, from the castle of
     Camelot.  King of all Britons,
     defeator of the Saxons, sove-
     reign of all England!


     Get away!

     I am...  And this my trusty
     servant, Patsy. We have ridden
     the length and breadth of the
     land in search of knights who
     will join our court at Camelot.. 
     I must speak with your lord
     and master.

     What?  Ridden on a horse?


     You're using coconuts!


     You've got two empty halves
     of coconuts and you're bang-
     ing them together.

     So? We have ridden since the
     snows of winter covered this
     land, through the kingdom of

     Where did you get the coco-

     Through ... We found them.

     Found them? In Mercea. The co-
     conut's tropical!

     What do you mean?

     Well, this is a temperate zone.

     The swallow may fly south
     with the sun, or the house
     martin or the plover seek
     warmer hot lands in winter,
     yet these are not strangers
     to our land.

     Are you suggesting coconuts

     Not at all. They could be

     What? A swallow carrying a

     Why not?

     I'll tell you why not ...
     because a swallow is about
     eight inches long and weighs
     five ounces, and you'd be
     lucky to find a coconut un-
     der a pound.

     It could grip it by the husk...

     It's not a question of where
     he grips it. It's a simple
     matter of weight - ratios ... 
     A five-ounce bird could not
     hold a a one pound coconut.

     Well, it doesn't matter. Go
     and tell your master that
     Arthur from the Court of
     Camelot is here.

A Slight pause. Swirling mist. Silence.

     Look! To maintain Velocity, 
     a swallow needs to beat its
     wings four hundred and ninety
     three times every second.


     Am I right?

     I'm not interested.

               SECOND SOLDIER
          (who has loomed up
          on the battlements)
     It could be carried by an Afri-
     can swallow!

               FIRST SOLDIER
     Oh  yes! An African swallow may-
     be ... but not a European swal-
     low. that's my point.

               SECOND SOLDIER
     Oh yes, I agree there ...

          (losing patience)
     Will you ask your master if he
     wants to join the Knights of

               FIRST SOLDIER
     But then of course African swal-
     lows are non-migratory.

               SECOND SOLDIER
     Oh yes.

ARTHUR raises his eyes heavenwards and nods to PATSY. They turn
and go off into the mist.

               FIRST SOLDIER
     So they wouldn't be able to
     bring a coconut back anyway.

               SECOND SOLDIER
     Wait a minute! Suppose two swal-
     lows carried it together?

               FIRST SOLDIER
     No, they'd have to have it on a line.

Stillness.  Silence again.


CUT TO Terry Gilliam's sequence of Brueghel prints. Sounds of
strange medieval music. Discordant and sparse. Wailings and groanings. The last picture mixes through into live action. BIG CLOSE UP of con- torted face upside down. A leg falls across
it. Creaking noise. The bodies lurch away from CAMERA to reveal they are amongst a huge pile of bodies on a swaying cart that is lumbering away from CAMERA. It is pulled by a couple of
ragged, dirty emaciated WRETCHES. Behind the cart walks another MAN who looks slightly more prosperous, but only on the scale of complete and utter impoverishment. He wears a black hood and looks sinister.

               CART DRIVER
     Bring out your dead!

We follow the cart through a wretched, impov- erished plague-ridden village. A few starved mongrels run about in the mud scavenging. In
the open doorway of one house perhaps we just glimpse a pair of legs dangling from the ceiling.  In another doorway an OLD WOMAN is beating a cat against a wall rather like one does with a mat. The cart passes round a dead donkey or cow in the mud. And a MAN tied to a cart is being hammered to death by four NUNS with huge mallets.

               CART DRIVER
     Bring out your dead!

There are legs stick out of windows and doors. Two MEN are fighting in the mud - covered from head to foot in it. Another MAN is on his
hands in knees shovelling mud into his mouth. We just catch sight of a MAN falling into a well.

From MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, 3-20-1974 Draft, script by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

Monty Python’s Michael Palin describes an episode that happened during the shooting of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL:

I remember the end of one day when we’d been doing a lot of crouching with the castle in the background and Terry Gilliam asked us to crouch once more because there was a lovely shaft of sunlight coming and catching John’s [Cleese] helmet. John went absolutely berserk, saying, “You know I’m not waiting for a shaft of light to strike my fucking helmet. We’ve been here for four hours, we’ve crouched and it’s cold. What are you waiting for? The moon and the stars to arrange themselves around my head?”

I got very angry myself. I had to be the “mud-eater” for eight takes. The mud-eater was this character who had to crawl across the mud as John and Graham [Chapman] were coming through the village at the beginning and I had to go up and eat this mud. It was really a shot for those two, but I dutifully did my bit, crawled through this filthy, stinking, pig-shitty mud and they said they wanted to do take eight. John went, “Why? What the hell was going on?” To which someone said, “Well, you were fine, but we can see Mike’s back.” That’s when I just went, “What? You can see my back, what have you been doing all this time?” And I went absolutely ape and threw myself in the air, landed in the mud and just wiggled my legs around, screamed and yelled for about five seconds. There was absolute silence and then John and Graham just led this spontaneous applause. John said he’d never seen anything like it, he’d never seen me get angry ever. Then they had to do the scene where I actually eat the mud and the props boy said, “When you get to the mud, don’t worry, because I’m going to put some chocolate down there that looks just like mud, so it’s completely edible.” I said, “How will I know which is the chocolate and which is the mud?” They had no answer to that. So I had to eat whatever was there, most of it was chocolate but a little bit of it was mud. After that we had to go and get anti-tetanus injections in this little tiny Scottish doctor’s surgery and he was completely amazed to see this creature in just a bundle of rags and a rather bad wig coming to have this injection because I’d been eating mud. He had to have several quick Scotches before he could administer, I think.

Back to the hotel for rushes [the day’s film to be screened]. The day of the mud-eater. Clad in rags, crawling through filthy mud, repeatedly and doggedly in a scene which makes the flagellation scene from SEVENTH SEAL look positively comfortable. Extras all supposed to have plague with boils and pustules everywhere. That night at dinner the menu began, “…with various effluents.” I asked Mr. Ross rather gruffly what this meant, then saw the rest of the menu: “Mud Cocktail”, “Filet of sole a la slime”, etc. A complete mud menu.

---THE PYTHONS, Autobiography by THE PYTHONS with Bob McCabe, Orion Books, Ltd. 2003.
   John Cleese - “We never made any real money until THE HOLY GRAIL came out in America. We’d started in ’69, we’d been together six years and then all of a sudden there was money coming in on a different scale from anything before.” The BBC sold the 4th season of the television series to the ABC television network. However, the Pythons preferred America’s PBS which had previously telecast the show because it had no commercials and the shows went out as intended, a whole continuous thing.
   Someone sent them a tape of the ABC version and they were appalled. Six shows had been cannibalized into two 45-minute “Specials” and “they’d obviously gone through looking for anything that might conceivably be seen as offensive and taken it out. And in so doing, they just removed all the funny bits.”---Terry Jones. Python’s m├ętier was mockery. It was inherently offensive. That was the point. To hold up society’s insanity and hypocrisy to the audience, satire at it’s most lethal.
   Of course, the Pythons sued. Because Terry Gilliam was American, they got it into the New York Courts. They showed the original version, and then the ABC version. Everybody laughed at the first. Nobody laughed at the second. “The idea of suing people to stop yourselves going on TV is so pure… because people are so desperate to be on television in America.”---Eric Idle. So pure… and so Python.
   Despite it all, including the Judge being a fan and asking for autographs for his kids, they lost “…cancelling [ABC’s version] at this time would cause undue financial harm to ABC. And to Terry [Gilliam] and me who were sharing one room the whole idea of causing undue financial harm to a multi-million dollar corporation seemed fairly ripe.”—Michael Palin
Quote of the Post:
And I went absolutely ape and threw myself in the air, landed in the mud and just wiggled my legs around, screamed and yelled for about five seconds. There was absolute silence and then John and Graham just led this spontaneous applause.

---Michael Palin

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