I tried to watch Orson Welles‘ Chimes at Midnight in a Manhattan repertory cinema (the Carnegie Hall Cinema? The Thalia?) in the late ’70s. But the black-and-white photography looked like shit, and the sound — poorly recorded and not even synched at times — drove me crazy. And Welles’ performance as Falstaff struck me as overly boisterous and taken with largeness (cackly voice, exaggerated gestures). This plus the fast, crazy-quilt cutting and the feeling of this splotchy, under-budgeted film having been stuck together with chewing gum…it was just too much.
About 30 minutes in I decided Chimes at Midnight was the second most unpleasant Shakespearean film I’d ever sat through (the champion being Peter Brook‘s black-and-white King Lear with Paul Scofield), and so I bailed. “Good riddance,” I told myself.
But I’m certainly willing to give it another go when a restored, properly sound-synched version, courtesy of Janus Film and the Criterion guys, appears on Bluray sometime in ’16. On second thought I can’t see buying the Bluray (my initial experience was too irritating) but I’d go if Chimes plays at a niche venue in Los Angeles. The film will screen at NYC’s Film Forum January 1st through 12th.
The Wiki page says Welles once told Peter Bogdanovich that “he had rejected offers for funding that were conditional upon filming in color.” It also says Welles had “originally wanted the entire film to use high contrast cinematography, resembling engravings of the Middle Ages.”