Saturday, November 21, 2009

Playing Out The Plays

Yeah, I know, pull my finger
There live not three good men unhanged in England; and one of them is fat, and grows old.

As an actor, I have a passing acquaintance with Sir John Falstaff, having played the rogue in a disastrous production of The Merry Wives of Windsor O so long ago. In the same regard, I have a passing acquaintance with The Bard, through said Shakespeare production. I do, however, have a deep knowledge of the work of Orson Welles, a filmmaker I admire.

As most people who know me know, I'm kind of slow on the uptake when it comes to discovering Classic Cinema. However, after finally viewing Chimes at Midnight, aka Falstaff, I now hunger for more of Mr. Welles's Shakespeare adaptions.

As some of you know, this is a pastiche that Wells assembled (based on a stage play he stitched together entitled Five Kings), combining scenes from Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor and a few other bits of Willie's plays to create the Life and Times of Sir John Falstaff.
-->In a word, the film is glorious. From Gielgud's King, coldly rebuffing Worchester, Hotspur and Northumberland and lamenting over his wayward son to Hal and Jack Falstaff's hilarious tavern reenactment of Henry's court to the smoke and blood of the Battle of Shrewsbury (a sequence that has got to be one of the greatest battle scenes put on film, influencing other movies from Monty Python and The Holy Grail to Braveheart), Welles presents us with a pitch-perfect recreation of a Shakespearian world, majesty and bawdiness intact.The performances are also first-rate. John Gielgud's Henry IV hits the right balance of arrogance, coldness, melancholy and fatherly concern. Keith Baxter as Hal also hits the right notes of hedonism and abandon while showing us what goes on in the back of his mind. Norman Rodway as Hal's opposite number Hotspur is the embodiment of outrage and action. Margaret Rutherford's Mistress Quickly is a great foil to Falstaff, alternately haranguing and lamenting the Fat Knight. Doll Tearsheet, as played by Jeanne Moreau, gives a performance of lust and tenderness. Other roles, from Poins to Bardolph, play off each other, Sir John and Hal like pinballs, always coming back center to Jack and Hal.

As for Welles himself, what can I say? I agree with some critics out there who say that Sir John is his penultimate role. He occupies the expansive skin of the great Sack of Guts so perfectly he seems to always have exsited in that world. If Welles hadn't committed any other performance to film, his Jack Falstaff would still rise head, shoulders and belly over all all other portrayals of the character, nay, any other portrayal of any Shakespearean character.

As for the film, it moves. In the castle, quick editing and deep focus keep the pace and tension going. Other places the camera and characters are always in motion, swirling around each other, yet never losing their (and our) bearings. As with Welles pictures of this period, it was shot in Europe (here Spain) and was pieced together over a period of years (and the schedules of the actors - both Margaret Rutherford and Jeanne Moreau had to get their scenes in over a period of one week each). Yes, it's a Welles Patch Job with his usual smoke and mirrors but I'll take a Welles Patch Job over any two dozen major films, classic or contemporary. Yes, he could be indecisive when putting it together, but the man knew how to edit in his head and he wasn't afraid to change things in the editing room, even if it meant redubbing actors with his own voice or roughly matching two different location shots in the same scene. Yet it works. It's the kind of audacity a Trantino or Del Toro wished they had.

If you want to see Shakespeare on film, this is the one to start with. Unfortunately, for my brethren in the U.S. of A, that means (as of this writing) either ordering the Spanish disc from Amazon or (heaven forbid) not finding a torrent and downloading it (wink wink), as the film is tied up in copyright in America (if ever a film needed a Criterion release it would be this one). However you do it, if you like The Bard or Welles (or are just curious to see a great film), you owe it to yourself to see this one. It's a great ride.

[EDIT - 2016] Criterion has now released this magnificent film on DVD and Blu-ray.  Amazon has it, so go get it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Beer and Ham(s)

Finished?  (hic)
Now, my men, to the vomitorium!
I've got a film recommendation for you (and the picture should give you a clue what film it is), but that can keep until next time. Why? St. Patty's Day is today, good reason for even temperance folk to let loose, belly up to the bar and be Irish whether you are or not.

Now I know the folks over in good ol' √Čire are either shaking or laughing their heads off at the Yanks who get all teary-eyed listening to Mother Machree or misty-eyed watching The Quiet Man while getting stinko but hey, it's the sentiment that counts and besides, there's booze. So shut up and have another round on us.

Besides, we can all pretend we're Mexican and down Modelos pretty soon.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twit-Willow or The Face on The Bitroom Floor

Social Networking, 
Old Skool
Well, they got me. Social Networking. I knew I could resist, but I finally succumbed. made a solomn vow long ago to resist as long as I could and never register on MySpace (I heard too many bad things about it and besides, there's too damn many adolescents there), but, in the end, I fell to Facebook. Seems all my theater friends were Facebooking and, after checking it out, I took the plunge. It's sort of like plunging into a vat of hot oil as opposed to a vat of acid, but the die is cast. I was also talked into joining Twitter.

As one of these kind of sites go, it's pretty good. It's a lot tidier and I feel they screen folks better so don't worry about talking to some pedophile or mass-murderer. I also don't get propositioned for sex-sites and such (hey, they gotta make a buck too, but not off of me).

BUT, it's also a time-vampire (yeah, like I got anything better to do). Another thing you gotta watch out for: when you register, the floodgates open and everyone comes out of the woodwork. Remember Uncle Succotash who's always trying to borrow money or that jerk in the office you studiously avoid? I'll bet my last Somalian they're on Facebook somewhere and if they don't have the radar to ferret you out, the website helps. It runs up a red flag to all those folks and says "HEY! WE GOT ANOTHER ONE!"

Now, as way of disclaimer, I don't mean the folks I have as friends now. I was lucky enough that all the folks I talk to on FB are the best. I'm just warning you that EVERYBODY on FB will know you're on FB. Caveat Emptor.

Yes, you can always deny their "friendship", but that gets a bit tiring after a while (and nothing like how I used to get hit on for a "friend" on Orkut - seems they were all from Brazil, too - coincidence?).

So, you can find me on Facebook under my real name, Glen Hallstrom. You can also find me as Smokestack Jones on Twitter, a service I don't get at all. I own a really old cell phone, so it's practically of no use to me and I can update my status on FB, whereas Twitter, that's all it's for. Oh well, Mad Dogs and Netsurfers...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Getting A Heart-On

How Godzilla Reproduces
February. Yep, it's here again. The time of year when Cupid shoots an arrow into a hole in the ground, a groundhog comes out, sees his shadow and goes back in the hole where he's sitting on his upholstered couch eating pizza and watching a good movie on his big plasma set (while trying to ignore the Super Bowl party going on in the hole next to him), afterwards nailing Mrs. Groundhog under the sheets. Yeah, sure. Punxsatawney Phil should have it so good. Hell, I should.

The general consensus of the Big Day (Valentine's) seems to be split down the middle with most of the populace. Either you like it or hate it. The opinions wavers, depending on A. your gender, or B. your degree of attachment with another. I remember I hated Valentine's when I was single, because I was single. Now I hate it because I'm married, but we're always broke around that time, so no celebration for us.

Actually, my stance on the holiday falls into the Secondary Holiday category, where I don't care about it, but it has a perk that makes it tolerable. There are three: Valentine's (candy), Easter (more candy) and St. Patrick's Day (booze). Well, the third one you really don't need a holiday for, but there's more happy drunks out and about (the Mexican version - Cuervo, uh Cinco de Mayo is an unoffical fourth Seconday for the same reason as St. Paddy's Day).

There is also a third category which is all the other holidays such as Columbus Day, MLK's Day and things like Flag and Arbor Day that don't mean anything to me because usually the only folks who get them off are govamint workers.

So Happy February Holidays, folks. I'll be thinking nice thoughts while breaking my dentures on Conversation Hearts (damn, those things are addictive).

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Short Bus to '09

Wow, 2008 is gone. Felt the breeze of that one go over my head (not having much hair up there, I feel a lot of breezes). And here it is, end of January and I'm just getting to the End of Year recap. Ahhh, I been busy (sort of). And therein lies a tale...

Not much of a tale, really. Been trying to get an audiobook read and out the door, not an easy task when you got the holidays upon you and fighting the blues. I get depressed a lot during the year, but I actively fight it during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. I love that time of year too much to let me ruin it. So Get Back Satan! You ain't gonna get me down with Santa and a turkey in front of me!

Well, let's see...had the Vegas trip in March (you guys know all about that one), had to cancel SoCal with the grandson(s) due to time and money constraints, had a temp job for about four months (it was supposed to be for the Cal trip, but too many people holding out their hands) aaaand that's about it. Oh yeah, my audiobook adventures have taken a turn for the better. I got hold (via Librivox) of a chap named Simon in th UK who produces audiobooks and I did one for him (allong with some Lovecraft). It led to some folks in Canada wanting me to do a book for them, which I finished this month. It's getting my name out there and some of it might actually pay real money. Keep you posted.

Well, I don't really have a rundown of my DVD purchases this time, as the one place I was keeping my info (DVDSpot) decided to pull the plug. That still hurts; I liked that site. So, here's some highlights:

It's been a year for completing collections: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 finishes off that series (although WHV sez more titles will come outside that set), Got all the Walt Disney Treasures I've planned of with the release of The Chronological Donald Volume 4, Popeye the Sailor Volumes 1-3 were released, which completes the black and whites, which is as far as I'm gonna go with it (I don't like the color series), The Three Stooges Collection is up to four volumes, which pretty much covers the Curley years (next is the Shemp Era, then I stop - Besser and DeRita will not darken my video shelves). Traded in my Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello set for the new Abbot and Costello: the Complete Universal Collection box (and a gorgeous box it is). Finally got around to getting Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, TCM Archives: The Buster Keaton Collection was got over the holidays, as was The Marx Brothers Collection, a nice companion to my Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection,the 50th anniversary set of Touch of Evil replaced my old copy and, oh yes, I have added a collection of the Great Man, with Universal's The W.C Fields Comedy Collection Volume 1 and 2 plus Criterion's W.C. Fields: 6 Short Films. The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration was another holiday gift and, also on the Criterion front, The Thief of Bagdad. Dark City was replaced with the Director's Cut and The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original) makes a surprising appearance in the collection.

There. Not bad, going from memory. Oh, one more thing: I'm on Facebook (under my own Name Glen Hallstrom) and Twitter (under SmokestackJones). Don't ask...