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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February 2004, 14:39 GMT
Python slams 'overrated' Renaissance
By Paul Stevens
News Online, Bristol

Terry Jones
Terry Jones finds history often repeating itself
Film director, scriptwriter, author, historian and comic genius Terry Jones is one man who, it seems, would not welcome the title Renaissance Man.

For Jones, whose six-part series Medieval Lives, is currently airing on BBC Two, the Renaissance comes in for some trenchant criticism.

"I think it's overrated," he says.

The former Monty Python stalwart is a staunch defender of the qualities of the Medieval world.

"The Renaissance writers and thinkers went out of their way to rubbish the centuries that preceded them. Which is why we call them the Middle Ages," he says.

"But the Medieval world was modern. At least it was modern to them. I mean their architecture for instance, nobody had seen anything like this before, ever.

"Whereas the Renaissance was very conservative in looking back to the classical world of Greece and Rome and going back to domes and columns and pretending that the only time of enlightenment had been the ancient world.

I think politicians would be quite happy to have just blank ciphers walking through the shopping malls with just new Reeboks on their minds
Terry Jones

"So they called everything in between the ages of darkness or the Middle Ages - the age in between."

Jones, currently on a whistle-stop tour of Britain, reveals his love of English that acted as a catalyst for his fascination with English history.

"It may sound a bit perverse, but I got really interested in the boring bits of Chaucer," he says.

"Specifically, I became fascinated by the 30 lines that describe the knight in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

"It didn't seem to make sense that you had these 30 lines of praise to a man who spent his life making war and killing people."

University crammer

He adds: "And I thought, because it's Chaucer, there must be more to it than that. If it seems boring, that must be because we're not being taught it right or we're not understanding it right.

"It seemed to me that you needed to read around the subject and find out what was the mental furniture in people's minds."

For his work on Medieval Lives Jones travelled extensively throughout Britain and on the continent.

"We did quite a bit of filming in Italy and France which was great fun and then quite a lot in England as well.

Terry Jones
Jones is concerned about the future of history teaching in schools

"This is one of the perks of doing it. I mean to go to so many great cathedrals like Lincoln and Beverley Minster, it really is an eye-opener to see these beautiful buildings.

"And you learn such a lot, you get given researchers and then you get all the top experts in their field who give us all their latest research.

"It's a bit like having a university course crammed into a few weeks."

Funniest film

If Terry still exudes a youthful enthusiasm for his subject, then he is sceptical about its future as an academic discipline, at least in Britain's schools.

"It's not compulsory on the national curriculum after the age of 14," he says incredulously.

"I think it's terrible. I mean, I think it's through history that we know who we are and how we help to identify ourselves.

"On the other hand I think politicians would be quite happy to have just blank ciphers walking through the shopping malls with just new Reeboks on their minds."

Apart from the series, there are a couple of screenplays in the offing, although he says, he really only likes directing films of scripts he has penned himself.

But, he says, he is delighted that users of Amazon.com recently voted Monty Python and the Holy Grail the funniest British film of all time, while Life of Brian finished seventh.

"It is very satisfactory because when those films came out, at the end of their respective years, there wasn't a single film critic that mentioned them, we just weren't on the film radar then."

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives is available now (BBC Books, 18.99) and accompanies an eight-part series on BBC Two.




SEE ALSO:
Python's Grail 'best Brit film'
12 Feb 04 |  Entertainment


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