Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception, for your aghast befuddlement

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dipsomaniac Amore: FALSTAFF (aka CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT)


We fans of Welles and of his boozy expressionist MACBETH (1948) dreamt long and loudly of one day seeing a CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966) DVD, ideally on Criterion of course, or even a damned Kino VHS, if you want to reach deep back (it's been in legal limbo forever). Orson Welles' culling of Falstaff bits from several Shakespeare plays--put in a larger English history (circa early 1400s) context via Hollinshed's Chronicles--was damned hard to appreciate on graymarket shit dupes, the only way we could see it outside of a revival house. The handful of critics who'd seen it on the big screen assured us it was a masterpiece, but with the muddy image of a dupe and Welles' glaringly obvious lip sync re-dubbing already alienating us first-time viewers, Welles' complex expressionist camera angles--all running cross odds against the verbal parrying and cross-cross against the odd editing schemata--"functioned" together so badly it was impossible to wade more than ten minutes in before running from the room. The effect was so busy and discordant that it seemed to us that the only way to appreciate Chimes of Midnight on the small screen was to perhaps to have edited it oneself, or to have worked on the editing. The only other avenue to appreciating its ceaseless cascade of intricate movement, overlaps of drama, history arrestingly grotesque woodcut- expressionistic deep focus frames, discordant distorted perspectives, bawdy double entendre, and poetry was perhaps to be drunk, tripping, and an actor or scholar who knew the plays and history by heart. Enough forgotten words and slang phrases were used that we needed subtitles and a period English dictionary to unscramble it otherwise, and we didn't have either. What's worse, the whole cast within the film were laughing uproariously at every little movement of old Jack Falstaff, before we even got a chance to see him or get the joke, and that's an alienating effect, intentional or not. The character of Falstaff himself seems hardly fit material for such guffawing. We're trying our best to keep track of what's going on but end up only worried we're not 'enjoying' it right -- their laughter becomes at us for being dimwitted philistines.

The last hard-to-overcome element was Welles himself, looking so ballooned and decayed it felt as if he might bust or drop a sandbag out of his purse and float away out of the Mad magazine-meets-Bruegel frame. Thanks to the overdub, his voice sounded like a ventriloquist throwing his voice back in time across vast sound mixing chasms. And now, time has made us sensitive. Welles looks so bloated as to be quite sick - his obesity is not a laughing matter, sir!

I tried to watch the whole thing once or twice but gave up, decreeing I'd wait for the Criterion Blu-ray to come along and deliver it in a remastered form with English subtitles. Maybe if the full scope and glory of the cinematography could be appreciated, the sound fixed up, this mountain of aforementioned icy qualms could into flattened puddles melt? Well, the Criterion has come. No more excuses. Dive in, that puddle is deep! Sure it's taken me months to finish it, to find at last the right mindset for its odious savors, but I did, though it almost killed me, I did.

Now allow me to suggest the ways I did it might for you too work, for why else would one watch it if not to boast later that one has and imply in doing so one is, what is the word? a cultured aesthete? 'Hiccup'

It's not rocket science, man. I relapsed over Xmas. Yea, for other reasons than Percy's scourge, yet I pray thee --judge me not. Because if nothing else, my cups grew so cracked by mid-February that, by contrast, Don Birnim would seem a lordly Dunsinane.

And so I 'finished' the Chimes at last. In glorium intoxicado.

I'd learned from my last relapse (1998) that Welles and Shakespeare are the ultimate bender companions. I spent days watching and re-watching an old tape of Welles' Macbeth, swooning and laughing, following along in my gigantic red 'Complete Shakespeare' book from college, and scribbling incoherent journal entries as Orson ranted under gloomy painted skies, swilled from his drinking horn, servant ready in the wings with the jug for refills. Welles soothed the saucy doubts and fears of a lost weekend-into-next bender.

And it all made sense. The obtuse Elizabethan language was as clear as a bell. For when the brain is bobbing merrily in the amniotic surf, Shakespeare's language comes into delirious focus. And Macbeth and his guilty conscience is the perfect partner for when you know your bender has spilled into the work week, the boss's unanswered voicemails like an accusing blinking digit Banquo. I still have the pages of almost illegible, whiskey-stained, hand-written notes I took from that last bender, to the effect it was the ideal relapse play, the fall from sober workaday Eden and into the opiate-womb where three meals a day and a job as Thane of Cawdor are as unattainable as even getting up off your knees to add ice to your highball. (see: Hallowed be thy Shakes: Three Macbeths). Into that morass, Welles' deep booming voice, his mastery of Shakespeare's poetry, came a-rolling like a harmonizing deep bass chord, vibrating through the rapidly misfiring chakras and aligning them, shaking off some of the toxic fluoride crystal buildup from thy third eye pineal 'til it vibrates like a tuned electric tamboura.

The best analogy I can think of for that feeling is the dread one might feel when alone on a rudderless raft being swept out to sea and looking back at the receding shore (knowing the only way back to sobriety is acute alcohol withdrawal, which is like being eaten by a shark in slow motion over a week-long period as you swim vainly against the outgoing tide). At such a moment of quite desperation/resignation, Welles' thunderous oratory fills the sail of Shakespeare's words like a westerly gale into the canvas sail of one's no longer-becalmed heart, not towards the ever-thinner mirage of the eastern shore, but upwards, via a cloud passing low one can climb onto to the cozy confines of the Republic soundstage and sail straight to olde Scotland. The full measure of Welles' resonant voice and the poetry of the dialogue cohere across moody expressionist compositions to make all of Scotland feel like one gloomy haunted house ride up in the cumulonimbus woods, the marching figures with their tall flags and hanging corpses, ghosts, silhouettes of falling axes and men ("let it come down"); and Welles staggering around in his papier-mâché crown and furs like some drunken glorious fool at a masquerade. The court in attendance eye him with concern and useless suspicion, the way my own friend coterie was eyeing me as they prepared for another impromptu intervention, as I screamed at phantasms in the middle of Sunday potluck.

So this time, because of a horrible Xmas, after 19 years of not drinking, back in that bender apartment,and after running through my usual suspects (including, because it was on TCM, High Society which stuck in my head like a broken record once I ran out of whiskey), I found Chimes and remembered how Macbeth had so grounded me in its repeatable coil of brilliance 19 years earlier.

I did so hope Chimes might at last make sense, and that all that High Society suffering wasn't for naught. 

A German translator friend of my dad's told me one Christmas long long ago that all Europeans have a drink before a foreign language class, that it's like running a stuck jar lid under hot water; our language center yields its tight latch to let us think outside the parameters of sober syntax. Drinks (plural) weren't enough for me to learn French, I found that out (never studied), but they are enough to finally get and think in Shakespeare's old world pun-filled English (which I did). The loosening of the deeply-whetted brain's linear grip enables a kind of twisty tongue-tripping free-fall that the bard's hyper-articulate eloquence catches in mid-air and swings around as if a glowing orange between two high-wire acrobats, and Welles' resonant voice reaches into the bones of the rattled skeleton Calloway drummer and harmonizes them like so many low note Tibetan monk chant xylophone bars.


That's good, because while Chimes is filling thy hitherto becalmed sails, you're still out on that raft with no paddle, being sucked out to the open ocean without a soul around to notice (if you're lucky enough to live alone). Soon you're realizing you really need to jump off the raft and start swimming towards shore before it's too late --but you're tired and the current is against you, and sharks and the undertow, and you'll jump in a minute you're just trying to get ready; and then, presto, it's too late even for jumping. The shore is gone. Then you can't remember which direction the shoreline even is, so you realize the next song you hear will be the sweet lure of the sirens to your exhausted cabin fever dehydration death. Water! Water!

What this means in relapse terms is not water, of course, but it's just as desperate. You wake up--usually on the floor or couch--in agony and unable to move your head to see what time it is, or what day. Finally, moving your head by tiny increments you notice it says either 6 or 9 o-clock on your VCR. But you can't tell if it's AM or PM by the thin gray light outside; if it's AM you're fucked: the liquor store wont be open for hours (I realize I'm paraphrasing Lost Weekend here, but it's from experience). Worse, you can't tell if it's AM on a weekday. I mean, if it is, you're going to have to go to work soon. If its PM on a weekday you're fucked, as you forgot to call in sick to work... again. You'd try to call now, or sit up, or make coffee, but just turning the channel to the weather/time is hard enough you get the dry heaves. Find that bottle... fast, before the DTs get you. If no bottle is left, oh lordy.

See, while you're drinking - ooh lah lah, hallucinations and sheer ecstasy, laughing with joy as Hal and Falstaff trade off on their impressions of Gielgud's dry air oratory as the king. Even if his officers hammer at the tavern door like Monday morning's rail-thin skeleton, their phone calls go straight to voice-mail. Away to the wars with you, they probably say, or the equivalent: "Where are you? If you're there, pick up. Hal, the war looms," they say. Being unable to even the find the phone, you declare pacifism and defy unemployment's looming shame to the empty air. You grab the bottle, still half-full, and a few minutes later, the magic is already working. The pain melts away, replaced by swirling ecstasy.

To go from such withdrawal-based misery that you can't stand up or even move your head to see the clock without retching, to such narcotized bliss that you float beyond time and space in so short a time, is worth all the suffering. The swimmer, pushing off from the bottom, swims faster upwards, breaching like a porpoise at the thought of a tossed fish. Hitting "bottom" is just the Phoenician sailor corpse's word for "a whole new worrrrld." Those are pearls that were his eyes. You can't even find your glasses, maybe they're all bent and broken under foot somewhere. You can find your glass, though, of course. You're king!

So... hit play, clink-clink the ice and pour the cure that makes a heaven of hell, (add grapefruit juice - repeat as needed). Feeling better now, you realize, to your infinite joy, that it's only 6PM on a Saturday.You have all the time in the world to get straight. Feeling good enough to mix another drink, to steady your wobbly raft as it were, you sit down with newly-minted drink for Chimes of Midnight. Ah yes, it barely matters that you've seen it three times in a row. It's still so complex, strange, alien, that you often have no idea what's going on. But you know it must be art, because your soul feels so good.

This is because really, in a sense, like the demon in the whiskey that unites with the demon in your soul, Welles' Falstaff is the ultimate bad influence friend, both diegetically and metatextually. We know the analogy, every alcoholic English lit major does. We're Hal, and John Falstaff is the booze, and he has got to go, and so we vow to shun him upon our ascendancy to a full time job, but might we not put that off awhile?

Certainly there's little love for the father in Falstaff. Though Sir John Gielgud the actor is himself a poster child for charm and wit in the service of base dissolution, his sober King is such a square and so ignobly come to crown (and blanketed by paranoia and guilt about it) that his road there carries its own sort of Macbathean self-fulfilling prophecy: the bad boy behavior of his princely son Hal with that fat rogue knight Falstaff approximates the shimmering accusatory finger of his own private Banquo ghost. He'd rather wish that some night-tripping fairy would go into the past and swap out louche Harry with noble Hotspur in their cradles than try to understand his own culpable odium in the equation. Of course he already does understand it, not even lying to himself eases the pain, just as I wince to see my young wild magic repeated in the youngsters of today, all the same mistakes and illusions they won't be dissuaded from making and falling under... and to see my own hand in it by making it all look so damned cool, and so on down the line (even this essay could count), and then knowing my dad felt the same thing for my brother and I, as my dad watched but said nothing as his 1.75 Early Times Bourbon water line dipped and rose like a ship in a hurricane when e'er we were home.

That's why, for all its robust glory and rich language, Chimes is really a kind of Adam Sandler movie. Half the film is just compilations of elaborate insults, pranks, bad boy behavior, and real job shirking, and then---finally and with much (literal) trumpetfare--the turn to sobriety, AA- compelled to kick the jonesers, townies and mooches out of your life. The sun shines and the clouds part. Adam Sandler grows up, gets a job and a nice girl; Hal gets a crown; you get "some help" and a sponsor; Master Shallow goes back to his own ruddy taverns to boast of knowing the man who knew you when, and then they forget you - for more naive and hitherto-sheltered freshmen are coming into town every fall. The things they have seen, Master "Shallow" indeed.

RECEPTION

It might have been pitched like that and done well at the box office--the violence of the battle and the lusty sex of the tavern with Jeanne Moreau's Doll Tearsheet played up, but instead, alas, Falstaff AKA Chimes at Midnight was paradoxically too old-fashioned and too sophomoric-- for swingin' '66. It proved yet another of Welles' art house flops, the equivalent of Oscar Jaffe's Valerie Whitehouse vehicle Joan of Arc. The art crowd of 1966 were flocking to see stuff like Blow-Up and Repulsion. A Shakespeare film starring a grotesquely fat malcontent with loads of overdubbing and complicated history, overlapping ornate dialogue that would be difficult enough to understand if read, let alone blurted in a post-dub rush over rapidfire grotesqueries and complexly interwoven fields of bawdy, profound, and historically-specific action, it was just too much johnson.

The first row is an array of successful art films from 1965-66 (for releases traveled slowly across country in a few prints) one might see in a row displayed before the local art house cinema.  Looking at the top row and imagining seeing all those posters in a row outside the theater, any promoter can see the subliminal issue why the lower row wouldn't fill many seats. Those movies have beautiful blondes; Falstaff has a grotesquely rotund brainiac nerd in full armor. Seeing it instead of, say, Persona is like admitting you're some wobbling bookish unlaid square with elbow patches on your tweed jacket and ink stains on your fingers from years of note-taking and running from the giddy, druggy thrill of svelte or buxom babes in shimmering mod clothes frugging to the latest psych rock jam or grooving down at the coffee shop to some bongo and guitar folk poetry until the (acid was still legal) drugs kick in. 
As you can see, there's no Janet Leigh or Rita Hayworth to put on the poster, no Edie or Catherine Deneuve nor Jane Fonda nor Raquel Welch. There's no 'sizzle' of the sort tarting up concurrent releases of similar length and film stock, like Fellini's La Dolce Vita or Antonioni's L'Aventura. There's not even any guns, or knives, or cars. All Chimes could promise was Welles--deep into his fake noses and rotund grotesquery phase--and some passing glances at Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet as far as sweet young things. There's a few wives on the opposing side (like Hotspur's lady, played by Marina Vlady who's vivacious and interesting) and gorgeous "seamstresses" up in the rafters, but they're seen only when they're needed to wave good-bye, engage in folk dances, run from the sheriff, or laugh obediently for Hal and Falstaff's impromptu plays. One or two are cute enough we hope to see more of them, but Welles gives us less than a few seconds at a time, so we come to rely on the random shots of Moreau's face for our respite from the rustic manliness of the blood vessel-woodcut old faces, Margaret Rutherford's pestering for money, and the inn's expressionistic rafters (Welles loves ceilings). Too bad, for with every strand of wild hair brilliantly captured in Edmond Richard's dusky Haxan-ish photography, her face wreathed in spiderweb lines, Moreau's Doll pulls doting delight from deep within Sir John's sack-and-gout plagued corpulence, but one shudders to think the abysmal state of his 'bait and tackle' after this long and chancrous life, and Shakespeare's bawdy double entendres on STDs, cleanliness of drawers, and full chamber pots ("empty the jason")--are all kept in to make sure we do, indeed, so shudder.

For a long time this was the only picture we could find of Chimes at Midnight
and it raised a lot of questions as to the age/relationship here, especially since, when I saw it first,
Welles' was in the news for allegedly bathing Pia Zadora (who was having her
Bardot-80s / Brooke Shields-70s x Zsa Zsa Gabor 60s / Charro- 70s  moment) in Butterfly (1982)
I mention this aspect only since it reflects the more elaborate expressionist approach of Welles vs. the psychedelic art house hit makers of the day, whose iconography moves intrepidly beyond signifier language, their focus on youth and psychedelic drugs provoking a post-modernist new aesthetic arrest that runs opposite to Welles' bellowing boozy poetics/ While booze dilates the mind's language center so it might easily swallow up Shakespeare's dense archaic language, acid eliminates words altogether, transcends them, to arrive at a kind-of 'impossibility-of-truth' with image and sound in and of themselves--the psychedelic impact on the senses is so amplified an intense that Wellesian intentional ugliness can create a bad trip panic - thus youthful beauty becomes essential to the point of compulsion. And music is the key...(3)

If Wine be the Music of War, Drink On...

In addition to the lack of sex and beauty, a problem with Chimes lies in the merry olde score by Francesco Lavagnino. Far too repetitive and jaunty in its main theme, it's as if he was so enthralled with Nino Rota's work on La Dolce Vita (1960) he forgot to bring in an actual mood of his own.

Then again, Lavagnino comes alive, or finds his own, for the celebrated battle, adding wordless female chanting and military drums so that the score becomes an ominous liturgy, heralding of the giallo eeriness to come in the work of Ennio Morricone or Mario Nascimbe's work on One Million Years BC, the following year. Deservedly at the top of cinema's best battle scenes (fitting perfectly between Potemkin's and Duck Soup's), the main battle sequence is a whirlwind of Eisensteinian movement-based editing: horse's stabbed, clangs of metal on metal, bodies in armor falling, charging lances and waving morning stars, waves of soldiers riding in and archers letting fly. From organized symbolic nationality and cavalry card shuffling we gradually get down to the pain and muddy brawling of the up close soldiers, no recognizable insignia to tell them apart visible below the mud and blood, as if starting out a Riefenstahl equestrian Olympiad montage and ending a muddy massive rugby riot filmed on a bunch of GoPros worn by the central rioters. There's almost no gore, just a gradual erosion of imagery--there's not even any judgment or polemic - just a real-time example of how men like to get dirty and deadly. It's also a master class is making a hundred extras seem like thousands and of staging battle, without condemnation or celebration. Instead Welles offers an in-between recognition of war's necessity for man's esteem and a sad realizing of his mortal frailty. In other words, Welles' battle is not a head-shaking "what a waste" dove polemic or a chest-thumping hawk call, but something more profound and important: he finds a sense of nobility and grace achieved through mud, crying widows, and grievous wounds. Only Conan and Patton have maybe come close since to tapping the same unspoken vein of true courage.

And naturally, I most adore that--after the field is won-- Falstaff turns his section of the front into a massive tailgate by pulling his rotund girth up to a big keg on the field of victory, and pouring out a measure of "sherri-sack." Chilling around it with a coterie of the surviving unkempt countrymen he pricked earlier, this is clearly a post-battle ritual he's experienced before, declaring his love of sherri-sack for it makes normal men both brave and droll, "apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of fiery, nimble shapes, which delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue... becomes excellent wit." Adding, that sobriety thins men's blood, he claims that's why Hotspur fell, and that "if I had a thousand sons, I would make them foreswear thin potations and addict themselves... to sack!" At that point of course, being drunk and feeling guilty about thy sack addiction, thou mayest cheer. In Falstaff's sanctioned view, your vice is a noble endeavor!


That's the rub of the nutshell, the full measure of Chimes' glory. We all wish it could go on forever, but war and the bender alike must end. A wild free-for-all is over in a flash, followed by months of recovery, limb mending, meeting attendance, and TV watching. Drinking speeds up time and the hang-over slows it, so eventually--as in The Lost Weekend--the only 'conscious' part of drinking is the pain of withdrawal. Pain is the only thing we remember, the only time we're conscious, aware of time's passage, plagued by saucy doubts and fears. If we get six whiskey bottles at the store, the misery will be postponed a week or so, but that week won't be remembered - it will pass in an instant. The joy of the plentiful glass may have been quite wondrous, but our takeaway is but a dim blur, a black space on the tape, a sweet narcotic black out, which is itself by shame and dread book-ended. We only have the evidence we must have had a blast -- cryptic clues: broken mirrors, ripped up pages, cracked DVDs--the vacuum cleaner left on, roaring away inches from our head on the carpet (true story) when we wake, or the stove left on, a pot of pasta reduced to scorched resin, empties galore, some bottles broken and jagged with chunks in our foot now crusted over with blood; the TV showing a patient DVD menu on eternal repeat (or in the old days, static), black bruises on our legs or arms, more empties-- all the battle fray equivalent of the dead bodies,  like unfinished vulture meals left to rot 'til the frozen winter stops the stench.

Sooner or later, the bodies and the empties must be cleared from the field for the next big show; the booze gone, the wounded too messed up to even call downstairs for delivery, or Seamless, or an ambulance. The show finally doesn't go on, and in that--freedom. We just had a sample of what suicide was aiming for. We skipped the earthly record.

Me, after my recent relapse left me too messed up even to call and order a liquor delivery, I quietly convulsed on the floor from alcoholic withdrawal and/or a bad reaction with my SSRI meds. Sinatra's slightly buzzed-flat reading of the line "She got pinched in the Ass- / tor Bar" from "Yes, Indeedy" kept repeating over and over in my head like a skipped record, ensuring I'll never be able to watch High Society again. That is my grievous battle scar. I have its big indoor shimmering poolside Apollonian temple for lovely Grace Kelly (who seems rail-thin) and the big central foyer in Logan's Run blurred together like a fusion of the mall (where I spent my formative years' depression) and the hospital (where I'd be shortly). I can't watch that one again either. For awhile anyway.


Laugh and the world laughs with you, unless it doesn't know what you're laughing at --then it feels paranoid, like you're laughing AT it. 

Getting back to Falstaff- if you're new, let me assure you of this: getting past the first twenty minutes is hardest, for the film just plunges in and doesn't endear itself to anyone: the voices seem mismatched to the actors, the words a muddle, and Hal and Poins laugh and cavort through and around interwoven camera movements with such hearty dubbed relish at Falstaff's cumbersome knavery before we even see him, that we're automatically alienated and thinking we made a mistake coming here. After all, it's no easy thing getting up, finding a disc, opening the machine, taking the current one out and putting the new one in, all without falling over, smashing the tray, breaking or dropping or losing either disc, and putting the old one away before it's scratched. The whole operation requires a finesse ill-served by a bender. We're putting a lot of hope on old Jack Falstaff, but before he even has a chance to stir from his mountainous slumber, Poins and Hal are rolling around on the ground, laughing, planning all sorts of teasing jests and bringing up older ones, that they--at least-find side-splitting, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths (Hal being royalty who thinks he's being a rebel by robbing from the middle class - sound familiar?). Meanwhile the landlady bustles about demanding payment and reciting Sir John's bill, which the boys think is guffaw-worthy, but gets me mad. I hate the whole concept of credit and when people give credit to a rogue like Sir John or that terrible fisherman Mr. Johnson in To Have and Have Not  -- I lose respect for them! And it hurts.


At the same time we're thrown into the political intrigue with Henry's father King Henry VI, who's sort of held onto a temporary king appointment and left the rightful ruler (by his brothers' decree) rotting in some faraway French jail, refusing to pay the ransom. In this sense, Welles keeps our alliance divided -- we actually do like Hotspur more than Hal on some level, as he at least has a young wife he loves and a sense of fun in honor rather than reveling in juvenile vulgarity and deadbeat debauches. The best Hal can do as far as restoring honor to his name is the kind of half-hearted declaration of the prodigal son, who promises to straighten up after his dad bails him out on his second offense. And is this not the claim made by addicts, drunks and slumming socialites, that this rough company is an example of the sun permitting "the base, contagious clouds to smother up his beauty from the world," so that, when he pleases, he can shine again and be "all the more wondered at"? What a rationalization! "If all the year were playing holiday to sport would be as tedious as work" (and therefore vice versa). Haha, I wish I'd known that line when my dad was alive. Hotspur, on the other hand, clearly finds time for both sport and work, and has grown a far healthier landscape. Harry's not wrong to want some night-tripping fairy to redistribute the pair. And it's Hal's killing of Harry in the duel that makes this truth all the more painful. Truly, the better man has lost. We like Hal for the first time only then, as he admits it.

"The day is wasted if you're not" - La Greco
VALUABLE ONLY WHEN LOST
But really, the most offensive thing, what should have turned the tide for good, is that Falstaff takes credit for the death of Hotspur; since he's after all a key part of Hal's base company it doesn't matter if the king believes him or not, it's enough to sully the victory. For me, in that scene, Falstaff goes too far - and it makes me like the man even less than before. Maybe the problem lies in positioning along the scale between Welles' gruff but decent rascals ( Will Varner) vs. the charming but horrible villains. My favorite Welles characters--Quinlan, Macbeth, Harry Lime--aren't supposed to be o'er lovable. They aren't kept in the company of guffaws and loving looks. In fact it's only at the moment of his profound realization that his thing with Hal is kaput, that he's out in the cold and that he deserves it and it's the way of the world, and he wouldn't fit in anyway -- that Welles' Falstaff actually seems to become warmly human. It's a powerful, haunting moment for being so long coming and Welles carries it sublimely. It's one of those rare persona breaks that major stars sometimes perform in films, that are all the more valuable for their rarity--Cary Grant's breakdown before the child services director in Pennies from Heaven, for example, or Robert Redford choking up despite himself after bumping into Barbara Streisand at the end of The Way We Were. It's probably Welles best moment as an actor, and worth enduring the slog of his roguery to get there - suddenly we get that Welles maybe never intended us to think him as lovable as Falstaff thinks he is -  but how could we resist with that voice? It's always there, that larger than life ego with the genius to back it up.  But here Welles does one better.

If we get this far into these films, we're already primed for these sudden changes, which take advantage of the previous reels of cool detachment to hook us. By this point in Chimes, we've figured out Welles' unique rhythm and can comfortably let the words we don't know slide clear away. And, too, Criterion's disc has subtitles and audio commentary by James Naremore. He's good at keeping the historical background front and center rather than getting too lost in production history (which comes out more in the extras). This is essential for understanding as is (I found this very useful), the English subtitles, since so many of the words are forgotten slang anyway (which most adaptations would subtly modernize) and so casually tossed off, being able to look them up if needed helps greatly. Also, the more we watch the less the dubbing aspect becomes noticeable. Especially as the film goes on it seems to all but disappear as a problem.

In short, if ever a disc was worth owning and studying and watching obsessively while drunk, this is it. Welles' Macbeth for your first big relapse; Falstaff for your last.

The last, you have heard me. Never say never but we have heard the chimes. All things must end - and if we're lucky they end in an Ativan drip and Librium dispensed by beautiful young nurses in powder blue scrubs bathed in the nighttime glow of their mobile medicine tray computer screens like shimmering valkyrie. If not, god help us. Let no man stand alone in that dark and dingy hour. With no Welles, art thy cups abused.
Though his mud-and-blood besotted gravity swallows up thy trapped and troubled shoes,
in his boozy expressionistic poetry art thou art lifted,
shoeless... through.

Lifted, drunk and truly through.
For two hours.

1. NOTES:
 Bright Lights -'Welles plays Macbeth like someone just waking up in the drunk tank after a three-day blackout. .."
2. Corman imported so many of these and one wonders just how much his genius with marketing had to do with the entirety of the art house movement. Sex sells the first ticket and art keeps the word of mouth high. 
3. PS 12/18: Welles--it turns out--explores the youth-psychedelic/sex angle in his film-within-a-film in the unseen The Other Side of the Wind).

SEE ALSO:
Shrooms, for Remembrance: Mel Gibson's HAMLET (1990) in Psychedelic Context

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous17 June, 2017

    reading this 'round 6 o'clock on a Saturday night, all synchronized. Fond memories of a few artsy/fraty bros in college who NAILED this Sandler version of Henry IV/V.
    They must have seen this somewhere!
    Thank you for the poetic words about addiction too :)

    ReplyDelete

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