Tag Archives: brattle theatre

Chimes at Midnight (1965)

15 Aug

At last.

chimes_at_midnightIn 1999 or 2000, I went to the blessed Brattle Theatre for an Orson Welles double feature, the first film of which was to be Chimes at Midnight, his adaptation of both parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (with a peppering of other Falstaff here and there).

I saw about three minutes. And the sound went out. Not the theatre’s – the film’s. Nothing to be done. They showed Othello instead. Which is great and all. I had already seen it.

A couple of years later, a girlfriend found it in a video store in Chicago. It was pretty beat up. I was only in town for the weekend. It was late. Through no fault of the movie’s, I fell sound asleep.

Years went by.

chimes 3Generationally speaking, it is almost impossible to make clear how difficult it is for me to remember sometimes that the internet exists. I look for something for years, give up, and while talking about it one day, think, “Wait – look online!” And there it is – Junior Miss on YouTube or I Go Pogo on eBay.

Or Chimes at Midnight new(ish)ly released in an affordable (for me) version that also doesn’t require a region-free player.

So I got it.

Now, no less than Pauline Kael has gone all apey over this movie, so I feel no need to try and surpass her praise for it. But let me go on record as saying it’s mighty good.

chimes at midnight 10 croppedMuch of what’s said about Chimes at Midnight is about the direction, particularly the impressively staged and influential battles, which Welles, with his usual inspiring creativity based at least in part on total lack of funding, carries off like the master he was. But, again, books have been written.

But Welles the actor is perfect here – I’ve seen several Falstaffs and his, for me, most effectively balances the old knight’s vain (and vain) attempts to hide his pathetic streak under a mask of playfulness without lapsing into the actor’s trap of overemphasizing the gravity or levity. So good that I wanted to watch it again immediately to focus purely on this and not all the splendid battles, the terrific performances by the rest of the cast (I particularly enjoyed Margaret Rutherford’s Mistress Quickly and Norman Rodway’s Hotspur), and, you know, the Shakespeare.

Worth every minute I waited.

P.S. – Because of a programming opportunity that it’s too early to talk about, I’ve been thinking about double features lately. Am I insane for wanting to pair this with Auntie Mame for an evening of Questionable Role Models?


26 Apr
The Seventh Seal (1957)

(a la Frank “The Guy From ‘Jack Benny'” Nelson) Yeeeeeeesss?

I’ve got one for you…

Late Sun. 4/28 on TCM:

12:15 a.m. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

1:30 a.m. The Paleface (1922)

2:15 a.m. The Seventh Seal (1957)

4:00 a.m. Love & Death (1975)

*Yes, I know. There are four, not three. But Paleface is a short. Leave me alone.

So, see, I know the joke is already here – Seventh Seal is the magnificent contextual setup for the punchline release of Love and Death (a favorite of my preferred Goofy-Age Woody Allen). But I have the foreknowledge that one of the loveliest in-cinema laughs I was ever a part of was at a showing of Seventh Seal at the Brattle in Boston years ago.

(I’m sure no one there remembers me – around the turn of the century, I used to call ahead and get them to put M&Ms in the soda fridge for me so I could have them with the hot popcorn. Good times.)

Anyhow, in comes the Reaper, who (which?) after standing there for a moment in front of von Sydow, announces himself in his Eeyore-ish Norse way: “I am Death.” Which seemed so patently obvious and deadpan that the audience, as one, let out this belting snort. Not mockery, now. It was funny that night. And it made the whole movie so much fun without making it anything it wasn’t (I’d argue it improved it, in fact). I mean, Death does pull out a handsaw at one point: the movie is not without humor. Can we not assume there’s more than we thought?

Thinking about it now, I realize that was a big moment for me – I’ve done script adaptations of a handful of classics since that time and in each I’ve looked for opportunities to mine for comedy instead of superimpose it. It’s trickier than it sounds, and something I wish happened more often; not to say that I’m successful, but I don’t know that it’s even a goal for most.

So I’m arguing that Buster Keaton is a perfect lead-in to put one in the right frame of mind for Bergman’s famed Arty Death Movie. After all, what is most good comedy but intriguingly heroic ways to deal with the threat of some form of Death? (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moliere’s Don Juan, and Steamboat Bill, Jr. certainly fit that description.)

I’m not saying stay up ‘til all hours. This is why Nature gives us DVR. But watch these three together and let them seep into each other. That’s all I ask.

Post Script: I had the opportunity to see The Paleface here in Louisville a few weeks ago with live accompaniment by Bourbon Baroque. No point. Just bragging.