Magazine article The Spectator

Keanu Reeves Taught Me the Magic of Python

Magazine article The Spectator

Keanu Reeves Taught Me the Magic of Python

Article excerpt

Some years ago I was writing a script with John Cleese in Los Angeles and we went for dinner at a buzzy brasserie called Chaya. When the waiter brought our steaks he also brought a $200 bottle of St Francis Cabernet Sauvignon. We hadn't ordered it; the waiter said it was a gift from some anonymous diners. John suggested to the waiter that they come by our table as they were leaving the restaurant.

It turned out to be Keanu Reeves and a couple of chums. They joined us for a drink and then the most remarkable thing happened: they started to re-enact scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, from the knights who say 'Ni' changing their name to 'the knights who say Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-EkkPTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z'nourrwringmm', to Keanu doing a perfect rendering of John's French soldier: 'I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.' In another part of the city that same night, Eric Idle was putting together a one-off performance for the Getty Museum using Python material. It was so successful that he took it on tour -- twice: 'Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python' and 'The Greedy Bastard Tour'. There is an exponential American appetite for Python in general and The Holy Grail in particular. Hence Eric's musical adaptation of the film, Spamalot, which has played to sell-out audiences on Broadway for the past 18 months and looks set to do the same in London when it opens on 16 October.

American students first got to know about Monty Python through records which were smuggled into the country by their English cousins like samizdat artefacts. Then in 1975 PBS broadcast the TV programmes and the Holy Grail film hit the campuses. The cult status in which the troupe is still held is borne out by the fact that there are more than 32,000 largely home-made Python videos on YouTube. Indeed it was an American, Joel Furr, who named the repeated sending of unwanted emails 'Spam' -- making it today a recognised international term. It came from the 1970 sketch set in a café which served Spam with everything, causing a horde of Viking diners to break into a chorus of 'Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam'.

Vikings loomed large in Python largely because, as Oxford undergraduates, Terry Jones had read mediaeval English and Michael Palin history. The legend of King Arthur was a natural for a movie. The first script was actually set in both the Middle Ages and the present day with a man called Arthur King finding the Holy Grail on the 'ant counter' at Harrods. But that was abandoned and the only post-modern element to remain is the Scottish police arresting the Knights of the Round Table for murdering their TV historian narrator. Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson beware!

Naturally the dinosaurs of the British film industry, EMI and Rank, wouldn't back the movie -- they preferred On the Buses -- but it would have proved a shrewd move since the return to investors over 30 years has so far been 6,000 per cent -- with more gushing in from multiple Spamalots. Next year it will become a fixture in Las Vegas in the custombuilt 'Spamalot Experience and Grail Theatre'. Pop groups were the main investors in the movie, so today people like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd are stacking it away.

Terry Jones had gone on a recce to Scotland and settled on various castles to film but, just before shooting started, the Department for the Environment for Scotland changed its puritan mind, deeming the project 'inconsistent with the dignity of the fabric of the buildings'. …

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