Thanks for joining us for CINEMA FLASHBACK for the week of April 17th, 2010, where, each week, we examine a film that had its American release during this week somewhere in the past.
Jabberwocky debuted before American audiences on April 15th, 1977.
The Jabberwocky poem is brought dynamically to life in this (sort of) adaptation. Michael Palin is young Dennis Cooper — a cooper’s apprentice more concerned with studying the efficiency of his father’s cooperage than learning his trade. When David is disowned by his father for his stock-taking foolishness and spurned by Griselda Fishfinger, the woman he loves, he is forced to reckon with the aimlessness of his life and must attempt to carve his own niche. Having ventured no more than a few miles from his small hometown in medieval England, David sets out for the city in hopes of finding work and discovering himself. However, the Jabberwock monster is terrorizing the countryside, making entrance into the city difficult for outsiders. David soon bumbles his way into the city, and after a series of comic mishaps finds himself squire for the king’s champion knight, on a mission to slay the Jabberwock.
This film, like most everything I have seen directed by Terry Gilliam, is boldly photographed. The world of Jabberwocky is brought to life in a most vivid and striking way — The rate of the film is slowed to comical mimicking of rapid movement and characters are filmed in extreme close-up and at the least complimentary angles, the camera seemingly pointed up a person’s nose or catching the character while they are eating or shitting. They grunt and fart their way through the film. Gilliam’s squalid vision of medieval England seems like a handful of dungeon master pewter figurines brought to life.
Much of what is to be enjoyed in this film is the kind of thing that is enjoyable in the rest of Gilliam’s cinematic works. Gilliam’s world seems reflected to us through a fun house mirror. David, a wide-eyed nave who believes the best of everybody, gestures towards other of Gilliam’s protagonists — Sam Lowry of Brazil leaps to mind first. Palin does a fine job with David, capturing his innocence and pitiable naïveté. Actress Annette Badland portrays Griselda Fishfinger to grinning, malnourished perfection, and the rest of an enjoyable cast rounds out the rest of the denizens of Jabberwocky’s world. Terry Jones, another Monty Python alum, makes a brief appearance in the film.
The film has fun making sport of the medieval royalty and clergy. The royalty, cowering behind the city’s walls, is in fear of their lives for the Jabberwock monster; the clergy in fear of its life at the possibility of losing the revenue-making monster that the Jabberwock has become. The clergy goes so far as to try and undermine the crown’s attempts at slaying the monster by enlisting the aid of the feared Black Knight, a Knight with a frightening horned helm and black steed.
For sure there is plenty of absurd Python-esque humor throughout the film. With Palin as the film’s star and Gilliam at the helm, how could there not be? However, to lump this film in with the rest of the Python troupe’s cinematic efforts, or think of it as The Holy Grail that almost was, is to do a disservice to a fine film that should be considered on its own merits. Although the film lacks a discernible plot in the early parts of the film, the film-makers and cast manage to make an engaging film that is both howlingly funny at times, and at times a mark off-center. Fans of Monty Python will find much to love about Jabberwocky, but it should also appeal to lovers of comedy, fantasy, and even horror.