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I saw Chimes at Midnight!

Old 04-18-06, 11:48 AM
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I saw Chimes at Midnight!

The local art theater got a print of Chimes at Midnight this week, and we went to see it the first night.

There are only about three prints in the US. We watched the 16mm print that used to be Orson Welles's personal copy. There is a 35mm print extant, but the theater owner couldn't get it.

The movie is based on a cute idea: that since Falstaff is a supporting character in several Shakespeare plays, Welles could combine all those scenes into a complete story. Falstaff was a larger-than-life rogue, a charmer, and a genial crook. He was popular with audiences, and Shakespeare kept putting him into more plays. Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor because the Queen herself wanted to see another Falstaff play. Welles made the movie out of his own pocket by making TV commercials and spending the money by regathering the cast and filming another few scenes. It took years to make.

The story is a Rake's Progress. Falstaff is first seen surrounded by drunken friends, loose women, and the future king, and every day is a party. But as his money runs out and his lies are no longer believed, his entourage is reduced to a handful of servants and one whore who still loves him. He alienates prince Hal, who grows out of his wild youth and becomes the great king Henry V. The king no longer wants Falstaff around.

The cast was uniformly excellent. John Gielgud was especially exciting as Henry IV, the prince's disappointed father and a warrior king.

The battle scene was particularly good. 1965 was only a few years after the 'minor flesh wound' was still common, and the battle was nasty, violent, and dirty. Soldiers were clubbed down from behind with maces, thrown from galloping horses, and knifed in muddy pigpiles.

The film print was scratchy and broken. Even in black and white, there were changes in color between reels. The sound was sometimes so bad that I couldn't understand what these fine shakespearian actors were saying. But there probably won't be a restoration any time soon.

The movie is not available on Region 1 DVD, but is out in Region 2. If you ever have a chance to see it on a big screen, make time to see it.
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Old 04-18-06, 11:55 AM
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We did run into one problem. We went with a friend who didn't even have a passing familiarity with the Shakespeare plays, and without that context couldn't understand what was going on. She didn't understand that once King Henry V cast off Falstaff, he became a great hero.

Since this is a riff using minor characters, it helps to know what the major characters are doing offstage.
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