#389- Chimes at Midnight

Quick recap: Prince Hal loves his good buddy Falstaff until it’s time to become king and then he completely breaks off the friendship.

Fun (?) fact: Orson Welles had to actually slim down for the role of Falstaff.

Thoughts and observations:

Shakespearian language is beautiful, I suppose, except that I only understood about 10% of the movie. Maybe 15% if I’m feeling generous. To make matters worse, there wasn’t a subtitles option so I had to listen carefully like some commoner. About halfway through the movie I decided to stop trying to pay attention to what was said and instead treat Chimes at Midnight as if it were a silent film or a film in another language. And it worked, for the most part. I read the synopsis afterward, quite proud of myself for getting the gist of the movie.

But only getting the gist of a movie does not a good movie make. Was it well acted? Sure! Did the music set the tone? Definitely! Was the setting appropriate for the plot? Of course. But I just don’t see the point of ANOTHER film based on Shakespeare. This movie was made in 1965, coming right after several versions of Shakespeare plays and right before many, many more. Now, I’m a bit biased in this regard because literally the only version I have every enjoyed is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Minus the battle scene, which I’m still not entirely sure who was fighting who, making a film version didn’t add to the play at all. Same costumes as I’m accustomed to, same stale language, same pompous acting. And from the research I did (which was very little) really the only thing people loved was how fat Orson Welles was. If that’s the only criteria here, then this movie is a MASTERPIECE. I have no idea how Welles was able to move around and didn’t just keel over the second the director yelled, ‘cut!’. He actually went on to live another 20 years, which I’m more impressed about than anything else I learned from this movie.

 

Watchability score: 2/5. There are plenty of other films to watch if you want to see kings doing king things.

Up next: The Nutty Professor

#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh

#387- Breathless

Quick recap: After randomly killing a police office, Michel tries to convince a recent hook up to escape to Italy with him.

Se

I am equally in love with both Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo

Fun (?) fact: There’s a rumor that the movie was scriptless but that’s not entirely true. Godard wanted a spontaneous feel so he fed lines to the actors instead of having them memorize their own parts.

Thoughts and observations:

I don’t know if I’ve gotten better at understanding Godard’s films or it’s because I’ve had no social contact for the last three weeks because of quarantine, but I REALLY enjoyed this movie. I suspect the latter. What excited me so much about Breathless wasn’t the random philosophical discussions but instead seeing all the people! As 1930s films need a spinning newspaper, French movies always need a coffee shop scene and this one had me at the edge of my seat. No one had to keep 6 feet apart and they could linger at their table for as long as they wanted.

Jean Seberg, as Patricia, had my attention from the very beginning when she was walking down the street selling newspapers. Seeing as how I’m now in sweatpants 90% of the time, I loved living vicariously through her as changed into outfit after outfit for no apparent reason. I’d forgotten about dressing up and going out somewhere. And more than that, I loved how complicated her love for Michel was. When they first met up she was confused, saying that they only hooked up a few times so didn’t understand why he wanted her to flee to Rome with him so badly. But then in the next scene she insinuates that she is pregnant with his child. The way she looked at him sometimes was pure love but by the end of the film she had turned him into police. I wanted the best for her the entire time but I didn’t know what the ‘best’ was.

And as for Michel, I had no idea how to feel about him at all. On one hand he killed a cop and stole several cars. But on the other hand, look at him:

I rest my case

He was the very definition of toxic and there would be no way he would actually make it out of the country but I still would’ve taken my chances.

Watchability score: 4/5. I’m as surprised as you!

Up next: M

#386- Neco z Alenky (Alice)

Quick recap: The classic story of Alice in Wonderland, if told by David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Probably not for children.

If this creeps you out, just wait!

Fun (?) fact: Unlike traditional stop motion films, Alice did not use any miniature sets for its effects.

Imagine a full size this!

Thoughts and observations:

I had a nightmare after watching this movie and it’s really no wonder I’m not more traumatized considering:

  • The white rabbit is full of sawdust and enjoys eating what leaks out of him
  • The movie takes place in a run down house where even the leaves piled up inside are somehow menacing
  • Whatever this is:

  • Alice turning into a life-size porcelain doll which she has to escape from

I could easily come up with 10 more examples but I think you get the point. This version of Alice in Wonderland is no fairytale. Director Jan Svankmajer envisioned something along the lines of an ‘amoral dream’ and he certainly was successful. I tend to have very vivid dreams and watching Alice’s journey trigged something familiar inside of me. I don’t know what that says about my brain but I can completely relate to this version. I especially loved the end when Alice woke up and saw all the parts of her dream surrounding her: the playing cards, the tarts and the stones. And then in the final scene she looks over and sees that the taxidermied white rabbit did actually bust out of his cage. She grabs a pair of scissors and says ‘off with his head’. I LOVE that the Alice in this movie is not a sweet girl but instead mischievous and sometimes just outright violent. I found myself both rooting for her and also enjoying when she got her comeuppance.

Watchability score: 4/5, if you can handle it

Up next: Chimes at Midnight