on 3 May 2012
This is purely a review of the new Mr Bongo DVD release of Orson Welles' 1965 film "Falstaff" (aka "Chimes at Midnight") released on the 30th of April 2012. I have bought two previous DVD releases of this superb Welles film only to be bitterly disappointed by the extremely poor quality of both. However, as the saying goes, third time lucky. I took the plunge with this new Mr Bongo version. I have previously bought several DVD releases from Mr Bongo and have been pretty impressed by them all, and now I can add their DVD release of "Falstaff" to that list as its an enormous improvement over the others. The image is anamorphic widescreen (enhanced for widescreen televisions) preserving the original 1.85:1 ratio and the grey tones and contrast are impressive. My only very slight concern is the image can appear a little soft at times, but that may be due to the original print used and may be how the film looked theatrically. There are no extras at all and no subtitles, but as far as bare bones DVDs are concerned, the film is really all you need as its quite excellent. The Mr Bongo release is the one to go for. There is no contest.
on 1 June 2009
Many a devotee of Orson Welles has struggled in vain to find a copy of his 1964/5 masterpiece, 'Falstaff', or 'Chimes at Midnight'. Its inaccessibility is an unusual and unjust fate for the preferred film one of the 20th century's finest directors. Speaking in a 1982 BBC interview, Welles cited 'Falstaff' as his favorite film. Despite its flaws, the peerless cinematic composition is matched by equally fine acting, and Welles' original adaptation of Shakespeare. Weaving together scenes from four different plays that include or mention Falstaff, the resulting text is a masterful interpretation of the Falstaff character.
This version awards the viewer with a clean, fine print. But it still suffers from the flaws of the original: deteriorated sound and poor subtitles. Viewers beware: many, including native anglophones, may prefer subtitles in English. Native and non-native speakers alike will find themselves out of luck: aside from Spanish subtitles, those in English are dreadful. They are not only inaccurate, but are often longer and more difficult to follow than the dialogue on screen.
The 'extras', such as they are, offer a few short texts in Spanish on the principal actors and the life of William Shakespeare, which are hardly worth the while. A series of interviews may well interest the viewer, provided she or he can follow, as all are conducted in Spanish with no subtitling available. On the whole, one would have hoped for a version of this film accessible to all the world. That might have been done through proper subtitling, and the inclusion of extras that reflect on the work of Welles, rather than an exclusive focus on the film's production in Spain.
on 21 January 2011
One of the finest of all Shakespeare films, and perhaps Orson Welles's masterpiece too, we have been waiting a very long time for "Chimes at Midnight" to appear on an English-produced DVD. Here it is at last.
Has it been worth the wait? For the film of course, yes. The acting, the cinematic imagination, the multi-layered panorama of Shakespeare's themes from the two "Henry IV" plays (with a little from "Henry V" and elsewhere added) from which Welles collated his script - all these are as wonderfully fresh, vivid and rich as when the film first appeared in 1965. "Chimes at Midnight" captures Welles himself as Falstaff at the height of his powers. John Gielgud was never better on film than here, as the tormented Henry IV; whilst the support from Keith Baxter's cold-fish Hal, Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey (dubbed into English) and the rest of a superb cast rises fully to his game.
This Cornerstone Media release uses the same basic restoration as the Spanish/English release Chimes at Midnight (Campanadas a medianoche) [Spanish Import] [DVD] on Suevia Films, so sound and image are not crystal clear. What's disappointing, is that cornerstone have reduced the contrast so that scenes which looked reasonably bold and vibrant in the Spanish release look pale and washed out here. This is a great pity, and the Suevia Films Chimes at Midnight (Campanadas a medianoche) [Spanish Import] [DVD] release is therefore still first choice, although the newcomer has the virtue of being a little cheaper and easier to find.
This film should be in the collection of everyone who cares about Shakespeare, Welles, or the art of cinema itself.
on 22 May 2009
I first saw this film on the BBC back in the early 80's and have been looking out for it ever since. It's Welles' tribute to Merrie England and features his portrayal of Falstaff. It was filmed in Spain with an international cast and had Swiss/Swedish backing.
All of which sounds distinctly odd, but it's a triumph. The fight scenes were filmed in a public park in Madrid and have an immediacy and fascination that many big budget films would struggle to match. A memorable film by a great film-maker, who overcame many obstacles to make it.
This sparkling print courtesy of Mr Bongo in its original evocative black & white allows us to see, despite its minor flaws, a masterpiece, and arguably the greatest Shakespeare film ever made.
Being an Orson Welles film, it was made in Spain, with an unlikely eclectic cast from various countries, makes eloquent use of the means available to him, but displays a remarkably close fidelity to both the letter and spirit of the Shakespeare plays Welles has mined for the golden experience this film offers.
I have never seen a more rounded (pun intended) Falstaff as that of Welles. When he played Rochester in the forties Jane Eyre for example, we only saw one or two aspects of the man, but in Falstaff - particularly as Welles was by 1965 fifty and fat, to put it bluntly - he almost literally becomes the bragging, bibulous, lovable old fraud. His restraint in the heart-wrenching scene of newly-crowned Hal`s dismissal of him - "I know thee not, old man" - speaks volumes.
John Gielgud gives one of his best ever screen performances as Henry IV, a chilly, austere king and father, as unsentimental as he is racked with shame and guilt and concern for the succession. Of course, Gielgud speaks the lines faultlessly, but he seems to be in perfect accord with Welles`s direction and perception of the part. If Welles is the blustering heart of the film, Gielgud`s Henry is the shivering soul.
The sets are wonderful, again the low budget forcing Welles to create magic out of a bare castle or a straw-filled inn-cum-bawdy-house in some Hispanic version of Eastcheap!
That sadly neglected Welsh actor Keith Baxter (still with us at eighty) is brilliant as Hal, both in the tavern scenes and as King Henry V - by the end, you can see him adopting the piety and seriousness of the man we know from history. It is a committed and utterly natural performance. (One minor cavil is that his, and Tony Beckley/Poins`s hair styles look too contemporary.)
The glorious Margaret Rutherford is perhaps a trifle motherly as Mistress Quickly, though her final sublime prose speech recounting Falstaff`s death - one of the most moving passages in Shakespeare - is on the button.
Jeanne Moreau (what a cast!) is superb as a fiery Doll Tearsheet, and Norman Rodway a fine, suitably impetuous Hotspur.
A word too for the late Michael Aldridge (credited wrongly as Aldrich) as Pistol. He was a wonderfully funny and resourceful actor, and he invests his smallish role with an unforgettable vigour and a kind of debauched charm.
That respected, too little seen actor Alan Webb, in his scenes with Falstaff, is a model Justice Shallow, all high voice and endless chatter.
Every now and then you wonder if the whole thing is going to fall apart at the seams, such is the obvious on-the-hoof manner of the film`s production, but this feeling only adds to its overwhelming, and ultimately touching sense of rightness.
The lengthy battle scenes are astonishingly and realistically achieved, and the cinemaphotography of Edmund Richard is a thing of wonder.
There are more `perfect` films from Shakespeare, but none so exciting to look at - no, not even Kurosawa`s Ran - or so moving. The words are audible (at least they are in this new print) and spoken by all both naturally and with full attention to meaning.
This was Welles`s own favourite among his films, and one can easily see why.
I last saw this masterpiece 36 years ago in an art cinema in London,The Electric.Then I remember the print was shakey,the sound out of sync,but I got its essence.This is the film Welles really wanted to make above all others.The film has been out of circulation for 35 years,obtainable in only Brazilian and Spanish prints.The larger-than-life character that flits through various of his plays,Henry IV parts I and II and The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V, based on the real Jack Oldcastle. Welles took the scenes from the different plays Falstaff is in and makes him the hero,he weaved multiple plays together to create a new narrative.Now its been released in this DVD February 2011 as Falstaff Chimes at Midnight.Richardson narrates the film from Holinshed's Chronicles.
The title comes in the elegiac opening.Originally Falstaff said it to his aging friend Justice Shallow. However, there is a degree of tragedy and sadness around this as well: Shallow and his ancient kinsman Silence represent the rural happiness and content with life that Falstaff can never really have, and when Falstaff tells him,"We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow" it becomes nostalgic and almost tragic to think at what all this man's been through and enjoyed.Welles exudes real warmth and humanity.This is the closest Shakespeare ever came to a representation of his early Stratford life on stage.
Henry IV(Gielgud) is a careworn King,troubled by his son's (Prince Hal's) waywardness and his usurper role as Bolingbroke.Unable to expiate his crime by the threat of civil war.Prince Hal beguiles the time in the company of Falstaff,drinking in taverns and plotting practical jokes.Falstaff carouses with his cronies and his mistress, Doll Tearsheet(JeanneMoreau),drinking, kissing, laughing, cavorting,play-acting,gambling,story-telling.The film re-edits the plays of Shakespeare,covering the period from the end of Richard II to the start of Henry V.Falstaff is centre stage with the story of the Kings setting the framework of the plot,relegated to the background.Yet the strength of Gielgud's performance is crucial,guilty,cold,with dignity,reflecting the high stone walls of his castle,which Prince Hal will one day inherit,following his prodigal journey.
There are some soundtrack difficulties(ie either too low or too high and changing from one to the other too quickly),but this should not alter one's enjoyment of this incredible film.Working,due to budget deficits,in Spain and dubbing a lot of the extras.This film is a testament to Welles' genius in the character part he was born to play,Falsaff.He gives us the jolly giant in all his pagan bawdiness,tragic melancholy,part of merrie old England, a dream world of Paradise Lost before Puritanism descended like a swathe to gut its comic heart. Falstaff represents the very core of Shakespearean goodness,an intuitional,natural innocence,a golden time of joyous, anarchic abandon.A pity there is no subtitling, as this would have greatly aided the understanding.
There are deep-focus shots,low -angle close-ups,masterful editing,imbuing the B&W film with a rhythm that complements the narrative drive and organic unity,a masterful music score that keeps it all moving,like the camera work, eternally moving round Falstaff and the sharp cinematography.The tavern is a large low-slung barn,managed by Mistress Quickly(Rutherford).The quick pacing of the Battle of Shrewbury is so energetic it rates as one of the best battles in cinema history,with bodies falling into a sea of mud.Prince Hal saves the day killing Hotspur in single combat,for which Falstaff claims the credit.All the time his cowardly bulk hidden or darting through the trees.The fat vagabond tells a tall story.All the lines are from Shakespeare yet effortlessly flow.
The dying king advises Hal to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels to unite England.Overjoyed to hear of Hal's succession,Falstaff boasts of his future under the new King,but the transformed Henry V spurns him-" I Know thee not old man!"-in public during the coronation procession.The changing relationship between Falstaff and Hal is the heart of the drama.Falstaff is the vital link for the future king between the court and the submerged life of London's back streets.The camera captures the broken-hearted gaze of the cast-aside Falstaff, Shakespeare's most popular,magnificent creation.Keith Baxter is magnificent(Hal) as is Norman Rodway as the heroic Hotspur.But truly Moreau is lively and Rutherford is affectionate.Welles's best film,one of the all time great Shakespeare movies,incarnating the true spirit of the bard's most popular character.
Welles again demonstrates his consummate creativity, merging a number of scenes from Shakespeare's plays to carve the finest portraits of both the young Henry IV and his muse and drinking companion, Falstaff. It is a timeless relationship between rebellious youth - so in need of a break from the burden of responsibility that presses on him - and his antithesis, an old drunkard merrymaker who bumbles through life with wit, laughter, and in the worst disorder. In a grainy production that makes no shortcuts in language, It is acted to perfection by the unbeatable ensemble of Wells, Baxter, Gielgud, and Moreau, to mention only a few.
At the center is prince Hal, whose father disapproves of his adolescent partying. He needs the corpulent Falstaff, who loves him and hopes to use him once he gains power, as a courtier. Gielgud (the perpetual old man) is the King, defending himself and Hal from a series of deadly challengers from family and friends. All of these relationships evolve, so close to life that only Shakespeare could write it. It make me weep at the mystery of life.
The film is extremely ambitious, a hallmark of Welles. The sets are wonderfully realistic, including the horrific civil war battle between the Henries, when Henry IV must at last prove his mettle to his father. Nothing romantic and glorious, just mud, mayhem, and fear. It is one of the best portrayals of organized violence on film. But there is the wider milieu as well, from the court to brothels and pubs. It is beautiful and raw.
I saw this 30 years ago in English with subtitles on French television and remembered it so vividly that I have looked for a good version of it ever since. This version is good, but the sound is primitive and somewhat low. The formatting is also inset rather than full screen, hence the print somewhat inferior. But these are minor gripes. This is a great film that can be viewed over and over. Now I will watch it with my children, for whom I am nurturing an interest in SHakespeare - this is the perfect vehicle.
on 26 January 2011
This film is a masterpiece. It's my favourite Welles film. I first saw it at the Academy cinema in London in the 60s, and have never forgotten the impact it had on me then.
So why only 1 star ? Well this is an appalling transfer with poor sound and ATROCIOUS image quality.
It's a disgrace that this version is on sale in the UK, and even more of a disgrace that Amazon is taking peoples money for it !
Since writing this review 5 months ago, I've purchased the 'Sinister' version from AMAZON Italy. About 18 euros inc postage. A far better copy than the above, and with the english soundtrack. So please, buy this version !
on 10 August 2015
This is a comment not about the film itself (wonderful!) but about 3 different releases of the film on DVD: Mr. Bongo—50th Anniversary Restored Edition (a Spanish restoration; 2015), Mr. Bongo regular edition (2012) and the Suevia Films release as "Campanadas a medianoche" (2000). The image quality of the Suevia Films is distinctly inferior to that of the other two versions and the image is far jumpier. The most detail is captured on the Bongo50 version, but this seems to be done by reducing the dynamic range and heightening the exposure level, with the result that the image is really grey & white rather than black & white, and, for a restored version, there's still a lot of noise. In all 3 versions, the image is very soft. A quick search through the web indicates that some unnamed studio has plans to come out with a new release later in 2015, perhaps from the supposedly pristine positive print recently found and shown in France. In any case, this masterpiece of cinematography definitely needs it. None of the 3 versions I've seen is really up to par. Has anyone seen the Sinister Films version (Italy, 2011) or the StudioCanal version (France, 2012) that was quickly suppressed for copyright reasons? All but the last of these is available on amazon.co.uk.
This is a clever conflation of several Shakespeare plays, filmed in Spain (only occasionally does one miss the verdure of England) and possessed of an amazing energy and exuberance. Such a vivid contrast between the carousing of fat knight and young prince and the high-minded solemnity of the movers and shakers around the King at his court. The battle scene is supreme in cinema, capturing the manic energy, fierce exhilaration and utter horror of the field of screams.
All this may be necessary to offset the awkward motion of the monstrously fat Sir John. Wells certainly is powerful in this seminal role but, the essential difficulty of Shakespeare, I was frequently missing two out of every five words uttered, and so quick some of the dialogue there wasn't time to get the sense of it. If I hadn't read the relevant plays a few years back I would have been lost. I guess being very acquainted with the text is now a prerequisite.
The English actors had the finer diction, befitting the royal line, but what realy impresses is the sheer vitality of the filming. Nothing stuffy or reverential. An action movie with a big heart.