Uneasy is the Ear that Hears the Sound

Cinema occurs when sight and sound collide, and Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight is bisected by that crossroad. The visuals, shot in black and white by cinematographer Edmund Richard, are overwhelmingly gorgeous. The score, written by Angelo Francisco Lavagnino, is memorable and evocative. The dialogue, adapted by Welles’ from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, is unfortunately nearly impossible to understand, ruining what could be a singular piece of filmmaking.

The 1965 film makes Falstaff, one of the most interesting sidemen in Shakespeare’s canon, the hero of his own tale. Welles brings formidable energy and massive bulk to his portrayal of the drunken Falstaff, presiding over the brothel where he lives like a bizzaro-world monarch. Back in theaters in a newly restored edition, Chimes at Midnight looks crisp but sounds like a lively conversation heard through the walls of a shipping container. It’s clear that little of the dialogue was filmed live, and when the post-production recordings never quite synch with the lips of the actors, creating a quite distracting effect. The first half of the film has a manic comedic energy, and the actors cruise through their iambic pentameter like they’re trying to break land-speed records. Dedicated Welles fans or those intimately familiar with the plays may have the patience to sift through the noise, but otherwise Midnight may most appropriate paired with an art rock soundtrack at some unspeakably hip bar.

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