Saturday, August 11, 2012

1965 and Falstaff

1965 blogging, part 2 of 5
Chimes at Midnight

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I relax by considering possibilities for future series.  I spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1965. 

So here’s my second 1965 series possibility:  21 essays on Chimes at Midnight.

The end of Hotspur from Chimes at Midnight (1965).

Chimes at Midnight has a very secure spot among my all-time favorite movies, frequently making the cut when I’m asked for a top 10 favorites.  Chimes at Midnight was Welles’ third stab at translating Shakespeare to film. His 1948 Macbeth was flawed but interesting, his 1952 Othello was pretty great, and then along came the blow-out masterpiece of Chimes at Midnight in 1965.

Keith Baxter as Prince Hal.
Chimes at Midnight is the story of Falstaff and Prince Hal, stitched together  from passages in Shakespeare’s two Henry IV plays plus little bits from Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  The relatively unknown actor Keith Baxter masterfully holds the movie’s center as Prince Hal, nimbly and wittily responding to the imposing presences of John Gielgud as King Henry (IV) and Welles as Falstaff.  Most miraculously of all, Welles delivers a nearly wordless action scene for the Battle of Shrewsbury that is cinematically worthy of Shakespeare.

For an Orson Welles movie that’s received considerable critical praise, Chimes at Midnight remains frustratingly unknown.  It’s never received a mainstream video or DVD release in the United States.  My first viewing was of a copy of a Japanese-produced video with Japanese subtitles (thank you, Christianne!).  But even seen in an imperfect presentation, it’s magnificent—my favorite of Welles’ great movies.

My only hesitation at launching into a 21 Essays series is my need for good screen captures.  Ideally, I’d wait until a worthy DVD is released (Criterion?  Please???).  But if time drags on and no DVD comes to market, maybe I’ll just have to make do with whatever I can wrangle up.

Over the next three days, I’ll be proposing some more 1965 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1965 movies, books, short stories, poems, songs, paintings, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

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