Lavishly-staged theater performance reworked for the cinema, the cameras onstage with the actors. Beautiful, worth the extra cost of whatever HD special-event screening this was. My favorite Puck (Kathryn Hunter, a countess in one of my favorite scenes of Orlando, which we just happily rewatched in HD), but Katy prefers Stanley Tucci. Duke Theseus was apparently not played by Matt Berry of Darkplace, though it looked like him. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, Wolf of Wall Street).

Taymor:

We shot four performances live, with four cameras in different locations surrounding the play, and then for four days we could go onstage and do more single-camera setups: hand-held, Steadicam. The audience was invited; they were watching a movie being made, and that’s where we could get intimate.

It has been a while since I watched some Orson Welles.
And hey, the voices are in sync, so we’re off to an unusually good start.

“Give me the spare men and spare me the great ones.”

While King Gielgud is off ruling the country, his son Prince Hal fucks around, drinking and robbing and having fun with his low-life friends including Falstaff, an overweight self-obsessed clown played by Welles. Falstaff was apparently a running secondary character in three overlong Shakespeare plays, here stitched together to make him the main player, the royalty drama becoming the background story. A good Welles movie, with fun editing, grotesque close-ups and nice compositions.

I’m not too good with the timelines of English kings, but this is the early 1400’s, Henry IV (Gielgud) having recently killed Richard II. Of course the true heir Mortimer has been locked up somewhere else, as is always the case (at least in Shakespeare), and his friends plot the current king’s overthrow. Hal returns to his dad the king and joins in a victorious fight against the Mortimerists (not their real name), personally killing their leader, which cowardly braggart Falstaff attempts to take credit for.

Falstaff thinks this is all in fun, that his group will be friends forever, and when Henry dies and Hal becomes King Henry V, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking he’ll become rich beyond belief, but instead is banished from the court by the newly serious Hal, returning home to die (offscreen) of grief. I was amazed that Welles wouldn’t give himself a big, talky death scene, but I suppose he wasn’t adding new dialogue to the Shakespeare.

King Gielgud:

King Falstaff:

King Hal:

Ebert says the battle scene is “edited quickly, to give a sense of confusion and violence — providing an ironic backdrop for the frightened Falstaff himself, running from tree to tree to hide from the combatants” in the comically large and round armor Welles has made for himself. Being a Shakespeare drama about kings and thieves, there’s not much screen time for women, but Margaret Rutherford (Blithe Spirit) runs the pub/inn and Jeanne Moreau (just after Diary of a Chambermaid) plays a friend/prostitute. This played at Cannes alongside Dr. Zhivago, The Nun, The Round-Up and Seconds.

W. Johnson in Film Quarterly:

The vastness of the film’s spaces serve to deepen the sense of nostalgia. The tavern, for example, is enlarged beyond probability in much the same way that a childhood haunt is enlarged in one’s memory: this is how Falstaff, the perpetual child, would remember it. Similarly, the wide horizons of the film’s outdoor scenes (actually shot in Spain) evoke the spacious, innocent Olde Englande that Falstaff imagined he lived in. Naturalistic settings would have called attention to the costumes, the archaic language, the theatrical structure of the scenes, everything except what’s really important – the characters and their changing world. Welles’s exaggerations give the film its human perspective.

As portrayed by Shakespeare, Falstaff is not only lazy, gluttonous, cowardly, lecherous, dishonest and the rest but also a great innocent. He is devoid of malice or calculation; no matter what is done to him, he remains open and trusting. He lives in a dream world where there are no politicians or policemen or pedagogues; and when Hal destroys that world by rejecting him, he does not adjust to reality but dies.


The Fountain of Youth (1958)

Welles himself calls it “a wacky little romance” in his intro, which seems both accurate and too humble. It’s a jokey little story with a predictable twist ending, but the way its told and shown is thrilling.

Glamorous actress Joi Lansing marries scientist Dan Tobin “the gland man,” but leaves him for tennis champ Rick Jason. The gland man has his revenge, claims to have discovered a 200-year youth serum, gives them a single dose and lets them fight over it.

Orson interrupts the action and talks over it, blocking the picture with his body and voicing the characters himself. Instead of editing he’ll use sudden lighting changes. It’s all a charming trick.

Rosenbaum calls it the only completed film besides Citizen Kane “over which Welles had final and complete artistic control” which “even begin to qualify as Hollywood products,” as opposed to his independent works.

Since so little has been said about this cool little movie, I’m going to overquote from an article in his book on Welles:

In The Fountain of Youth, Welles’s first television pilot – an adaptation of John Collier’s short story Youth From Vienna that begins as an essay on the subject of narcissism – the dialectic is given a new pattern. For once, the narrating Welles persona is intermittently visible as well as audible; he begins the show, in effect, as a slide show lecturer, and reappears periodically to remind us of his privileged position. … By speaking for the characters as well as about them – literally lip-synching Joi Lansing, Dan Tobin, and Rick Jason, his three stars, at certain junctures to mock their roles as puppets – his moral fallibility (that is to say, his narcissism) becomes identified with theirs, and the implicit nastiness of Welles’s amused, glacial detachment consciously boomerangs.


Too Much Johnson (1938)

JR: “The only copy of the film was lost in a fire .. in August 1970.”

Apparently not! I watched Scott Simmon’s new 34-minute edit. Three sections, to be screened between acts at a Mercury Theater play. Mostly they are goofy chase scenes. In the first (and longest), mustache villain Edgar Barrier (Journey Into Fear, Macbeth) chases Joseph Cotten (The Third Man / Ambersons / Kane star) across city rooftops over a girl. In the second, they board a ship bound for Cuba, continuing the chase, and in the third they’re both chased around the island by Howard Smith. It probably would’ve worked better in context.

Simmon:

It feels to me as if Welles and the Mercury theater were working toward some reenactment of a history of American film up to that point: Silent film comedy interspersed with 1930s screwball stage dialogue. In any case, the revised play, in its tightest last revision, has a spirit far from the Gillette original — with rapid-fire exchanges in place of relatively longer speeches.

Romeo/Juliet musical from ballet choreographer Robbins (who directed the Broadway version) and Hollywood’s own Wise, who shared the best director oscar. The movie won ten oscars total, and with its reputation still pretty huge, I thought I’d love it more than I did. In ‘scope and full of color, glad we held out for a high-def version at least.

Puerto Rican girl Maria (Natalie Wood, actually of Russian ancestry but whatever Hollywood) is in love with whitey Tony (Richard Beymer). But she hangs with the PR Sharks, and Tony co-founded the Whitey Jets, and the groups’ leaders (Marie’s brother Bernardo and Tony’s BFF Riff) die in a turf fight. PR Chino loves Maria, reveals that Tony killed her brother. Jets nearly rape messenger-of-peace Anita, who then lies and says Maria has been killed by Chino, who really kills Tony when he runs suicidally into the streets. Maria actually lives, Chino goes to jail and everyone is sad. Most of the songs were quite good though, and the dancing was all great.

Wood was a few years past Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers, and Beymer would play Ben Horne in Twin Peaks. Riff had been a child star (Russ/Rusty Tamblyn), played the lead in George Pal’s Tom Thumb. Anita was Rita Moreno, star of The Electric Company through the 1970’s. Bernardo was George Chakiris, one of the dancing dudes who likes the Young Girls of Rochefort. Outdoor scenes were filmed not on massive sets but in a crumbling, condemned neighborhood of NYC. Wise followed up with a romance where Robert Mitchum plays a Nebraska lawyer.

Delicate drama mostly shot in shallow-focus close-ups – so delicate that it has pretty much flown right out of my head. I remember some actors rehearsing Shakespeare, a girl with a pirate video delivery service, chance meetings and a dream sequence. And I remember really, really liking it. Katy did not.

Quintin has a great Cinema Scope article about the Argentinean writer/director:

The films take Shakesperean promiscuity to the limit: in the end any actor can play any character—including sex changes—as if all the bodies, the names, and all of Shakespeare’s and Piñeiro’s characters are impossible to distinguish. In Viola, María Villar plays a character named Viola who—in principle—has nothing to do with theatre. But then she meets a girl who is acting in a production of Twelfth Night who asks Viola to be her replacement. In the second act of Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man called Cesario, but in the play within the film he is called Bassanio, a character from The Merchant of Venice. Any multi-talented member of this magic sect can act, write, or even play music, as is clearly shown at the end of Viola. These endless confusions and exchanges continue on and on in the film. Piñeiro has declared that he doesn’t want to make the kind of film where characters’ paths intersect due to the cleverness of the script, but rather one that allows people to live as they want or as they can. But, in that way, all of these individualists living like monads, trying to succeed in love and art, end up mixing into a symbolic orgy, where film and theatre, men and women, music and literature, work and leisure, dating and talking, are molded into a single entity.

Poor crouched Richard (Olivier) sees his brother Edward become king of England, resolves to do something about it. Before Richard in line to the throne is his brother Clarence (John Gielgud), whom he imprisons in the tower and then has assassin Michael Gough (The Horse’s Mouth) murder, then basically guilts the sitting king (Cedric Hardwicke of Suspicion) to his death thinking he’d ordered his own son killed. In the midst of these plots, Richard finds time to relentlessly chase and finally marry the Prince of Wales’s widow Anne (Claire Bloom, Hera in Clash of the Titans), who then mostly disappears from the movie. Next in line: Richard’s young nephew Edward V (Paul Clunes, 12 at the time, a TV writer/producer in the 1980’s), whom Richard cajoles into the tower and has killed. Richard’s cousin Buckingham (prominently-schnozzed Ralph Richardson of The Holly and the Ivy) helps him gain favor to be crowned king, then flees when he finds out about all the murdering, but is soon captured (and murdered) within the span of a single scene. All this murder reminds me of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Finally we break out of the castle, snooze through a talky dream sequence then get a nice battlefield scene vs. golden-wigged Henry (Stanley Baker of Losey’s Eva and Accident) and balding traitor Lord Stanley (Laurence Naismith, Fezziwig in Albert Finney’s Scrooge).

A. Taubin on Olivier: “The echo of Hitler in his vocal delivery was deliberate; the atmosphere of paranoia and the violence and rampant betrayals attendant on Richard’s rise to power struck a nerve. . . Olivier gives us a murderous, fanatical protagonist, legendary in history and all too familiar in the modern world.”

Written in the 1590’s and set in the 1480’s. Alexander Korda’s final production, shot by Otto Heller (Peeping Tom). In adapting from the play, Olivier cut half the women’s parts and borrowed scenes from Henry VI. This is known as one of the best-ever Shakespeare adaptations. It wouldn’t make my top five, though I admit the costumes are mighty colorful and elegant. It’s mostly dudes speaking inscrutably on expansive sets – long and hard to follow and no fun.

Whedon’s crew hangs at his house with minimal set dressing and does b/w Shakespeare.

Katy and I liked it.

Dr. “Whiskey” Saunders of Dollhouse plays Emma Thompson, and Alyson Hannigan’s husband plays her arch-rival/love-interest Kenneth Branagh. The great Fran Kranz is young, lovestruck Claudio, best buds with Reed Diamond (Dollhouse head of security). Dr. Simon of Firefly/Serenity is fine as villain Keanu Reeves, but not even secret weapon Nathan Fillion can live up to the mighty Michael Keaton in the 1990’s version.

This is the fifth post-’68 Godard movie to put me to sleep, after Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du Cinema (in installments), In Praise of Love and Notre Musique (in a theater). In this case, I was tired and angry at the movie and fell asleep on purpose, to make the movie feel bad about itself (assuming Godard doesn’t take it as a compliment when you sleep through his movies, like Guy Maddin does).

techno-rasta godard:

Tried to watch it without paying heed to the stories surrounding its production, which turn out to be more interesting than the film itself. Godard signed the “contract” on a bar napkin, over a year later got calls from the “producer” asking where’s our film?, JLG read the first few pages of King Lear and got bored with it, hired a bunch of overqualified actors and pissed them off. Writer/actor Norman Mailer walked out after one day, and Godard put this and his voicemails from the producer into the final cut. Something like that, anyway – I can’t be arsed to look it up.

Shakespeare Jr. or whatever:

Burgess Meredith (in his follow-up to a Dudley Moore Santa Claus movie) is apparently the King, talking some nonsense with Molly Ringwald (her inexplicable follow-up to Pretty In Pink) in a hotel room. Downstairs in the restaurant, a wiry, spike-haired Peter Sellars (dir of something called The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez) is real interested in what everyone else is doing. As I drifted awake again later, Godard (with RCA cables wound through his hair and indecipherable English speech) and Woody Allen caught my attention for a few moments each. Might be a nice-looking movie – the DP had shot the last couple of Eric Rohmer movies – but you can’t tell from my VHS copy. And I doubt it, anyway.

Molly:

from Canby’s original NYTimes review: “a late Godardian practical joke . . . as sad and embarrassing as the spectacle of a great, dignified man wearing a fishbowl over his head to get a laugh. . . . After making what is possibly the most lyrical film on language in the history of the cinema (Le Gai Savoir), Mr. Godard has now made the silliest.”

Rosenbaum would disagree: “It may drive you nuts, but it is probably the most inventive and original Godard film since Passion,” and he talks about the complex surround-sound mix, which again, I’m sadly missing on my VHS version.

Typically, JR has put more thought into the film than anyone else, his analysis revealing the film’s fundamental link to the spirit of the play.

Excerpts:

Sellars “introduces himself offscreen as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, and roughly describes his job as restoring what he can of his ancestor’s plays after a massive cultural memory loss was brought about by Chernobyl.”

As the film proceeds . . . we get snatches of Shakespeare’s Lear, snatches of what appears to be Mailer’s Don Learo, and snatches of what appears to be an earlier, unrealized Godard project, The Story, about Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in Las Vegas. (Three Journeys Into King Lear, as one printed title puts it. But does “King Lear” in this case refer to the play, the character, or the Cannon Films project?)

For Godard, it’s a legitimate source of pride that he won’t film anything to illustrate a scriptwriter’s point or provide continuity; his disdain for ordinary filmmaking practice becomes a creative challenge, and, in terms of his limited capacities for story telling, a calculated risk. . . . This originality often seems to be driven by hatred and anger, emotions that are undervalued in more cowardly periods such as the present, just as they were probably overvalued 20 years ago. It is a source of energy that remains crucial to much of the avant-garde.

Wonderful adaptation, filled with Cocteau-like movie-magic. Introduced at Emory by Rushdie, who calls it “The Dream” for short, and isn’t a huge fan of James Cagney’s performance.

Katy and I already watched the McNutty version from 60-some years later, so I’m familiar with the story. Dark-haired Olivia de Havilland (her film debut, later in Gone With The Wind) is coveted by both Dick Powell (star of Christmas in July and The Tall Target) and Ross Alexander (short career: suicide), while blonde Jean Muir (star of The White Cockatoo) covets Ross. The lovers (particularly Olivia) give it their all, making their segments more welcome than Cagney’s. I noted that Kevin Kline brought “a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role,” but Cagney instead brings an entire can of ham. When he’s not wearing a donkey mask, Cagney works with slate-faced Joe Brown (the guy in love with Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like It Hot) on their play to be performed for The Duke (Ian Hunter of Hitchcock’s The Ring) and his Amazon conquest/bride (Verree Teasdale of The Milky Way).

Interference comes from fairy queen Anita Louise (of Judge Priest, bringing less personality than Michelle Pfeiffer did) and sparkly-costumed elf king Victor Jory (Power of the Press) with his loyal minion, a cackling pre-Andy Hardy Mickey Rooney. The Queen has mini-minions Moth and Pease-Blossom (both sadly unaccounted-for), Cobweb (appeared in a pile of 1950’s westerns, costarring with Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter) and Mustard Seed (Billy Barty, had already been in fifty movies as Mickey Rooney’s brother, would live to appear in such acclaimed 1980’s dwarf-filled fantasy films as Legend, Willow, Masters of the Universe and UHF).

Lost best picture to Mutiny on the Bounty, but cinematographer Hal Mohr was history’s only write-in oscar winner. He later shot Underworld USA, Rancho Notorious and a Tashlin feature. Banned in Germany for being based on the Jew-music of Mendelssohn. Reinhardt had staged the play ten or more times, left nazi germany and staged Midsummer in Hollywood, then hired to make the film alongside cinema vet Dieterle (The Devil & Daniel Webster).

It’s not hard to find a Shakespeare play I haven’t read/seen/acted, but that never stopped Katy from exclaiming “really???” whenever I claimed total unfamiliarity with Midsummer, so we finally rented her favorite version. I liked it… of course, it’s no Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson, but what is? Less zany and complicated than I’d expected. Shakespeare could’ve learned something about comedy from Howard Hawks – or maybe it’s Hoffman, director of dullsville drama Game 6 who could learn something. Fortunately he keeps things much more animated here, seems to do a good job with the so-wide-it’s-squintingly-small-on-my-TV cinematography, though there’s mysteriously no participation by Kenneth Branagh or Michael Keaton (at the time they were busy filming Wild Wild West and doing nothing whatsoever, respectively).

Elf Ritual:
image

Ally, Bale, McNutty, Friel:
image

Okay, Dominic West (The Wire‘s McNulty) loves Pushing Daisies star Anna Friel (who doesn’t?) but her fun-hating parents insist she marry boring Christian Bale (toning things down after Velvet Goldmine) who is being stalked by Calista Ally McBeal Flockhart. Unconnected to any of that, Kevin Kline’s cheesy theater group (including Sam Rockwell) is preparing a play to be performed at the royal court. And all of this would probably end badly if not for the meddling of elf king Rupert Everett (Dunston Checks In) who sends puckish Stanley Tucci to prank fairy queen Michelle Pfeiffer, and along the way he turns Kline into a half-donkey and screws with the four lovers. Mud fights and bicycle rides ensue.

Rockwell is a woman, Kline is a ham, the guy behind them is a wall:
image

Convincingly elvish elf Tucci with mopey Rupert:
image

In the end everything is sorta normal except that Kline’s play is a hit, McNutty is allowed to be with his girl, and Bale magically loves Ally. I was surprised that McNutty and Ally gave the best performances of the four, even edging out all the magical beings (well maybe not Stanley Tucci), and Kline is excellent, bringing a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role. So where’s he been hiding this decade? Prepping for a comeback, hopefully.

Donkey-Kline and Queen Pfeiffer:
image