Monday, September 26, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Foreshadowing With Visual Gags (On the Cheap)

[Quick Summary: Bumbling King Arthur and his knights encounter silly obstacles while looking for the Holy Grail.]

As you may (or may not) know, this film was shot on a shoestring budget.

How do you get plenty of laughs on the cheap? Visual gags!

The Monty Python gang are among the best at devising the cleverest ones.

For example, see how they foreshadow by repeated use of triads:

ex. "They have ridden past the following signs, all in triplicate: --

CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
[The audience wonders, "Why are there three? A mistake?"]

BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
[The audience sees three again.  Ok, not a mistake, but what is going on?]

EXT. GLADE. DAY.

They now pass three KNIGHTS impaled to a tree. With their feet off the ground, with one lance through the lot of them, they are skewered up like a barbecue.
[Is this the punchline?]

Then they pass three KNIGHTS sitting on the ground with one enormous axe through their skulls. They look timorous.
[Is THIS the punchline? No? What's going to happen next?]

SIR ROBIN rides on a little way with the music building up enormous and terrifying tension, until suddenly there standing before him is an enormous THREE-HEADED KNIGHT.

Large terrifying chord.
[We teeter on the tension.]

(Incidentally the three heads come out of one large body, specially built to accommodate three actors, although the KNIGHT has the usual complement of arm and legs. The THREE HEADS of the KNIGHT speak in unison.)"
[Release of tension. All the "threes" make sense and it's a huge laugh!]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The repeated use of a triad of items is funny, and sets up a subliminal expectation of a payoff.

Also, punchlines are often delivered on the third beat.  Here, it's on the fifth beat.  It works here, but might not always.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, & Michael Palin

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