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Chimes at Last
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.