Friday, January 22, 2016

Chimes at Midnight

(Orson Welles, France/Spain/Switzerland, 1967)

Viewed at Cinefamily, where it was playing as part of a theatrical release of the newly restored print.  The restoration was expert; despite the fact that Chimes at Midnight was shot on the cheap and contains some still-visible errors, it looks gorgeous, with Welles's visual brilliance evident everywhere.  His use of shadow and light, wide-angle compositions, powerfully expressive camera movement, and razor-sharp cutting, reminded me of how advanced Welles was in the technical art of cinema, and still is.

His distillation of Falstaff's story, which amounts to a kind of co-authorship with Shakespeare, is masterful.  While he's reverent of the text(s), it's impossible to miss that Welles's feels a kinship with Falstaff that develops into a kind of ownership of the character.  He goes all the way in, inhabiting the character in all this glory and grotesqueness, embodying the joy and the despair that arises from a life lived in constant, sumptuous performance.  Welles the hedonist, Welles the prankster, Welles the raging egotist and Welles the tragic, unloved genius, cast aside by his home kingdom: that's Falstaff for you.

Special mention also goes to his orchestration of the central battle, which is one of the best ever depictions of combat of any kind, ancient or modern, that I've seen on-screen.  In a way, it has a jarring effect, as it punctures the slightly dreamlike atmosphere we've experienced so-far with a kind of brutal realism, a vision of combat as mad, destructive folly, utterly irredeemable.  It might be the first indication of the world that Falstaff is so adept at skirting, but will eventually overwhelm even his prodigious talents: the world of violence and ignorance, political gamesmanship spilled over into mindless destruction; the world of kings, nobility, and conquest. 

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