Chimes at Midnight: DVD Review
Chimes at Midnight is at long last available in a quality video format, albeit with a few caveats. Firstly, for those of us in North America and other NTSC areas, the disc is from Spain, and thus in PAL video. Which means that you either need a DVD player that will convert the signal for you or a computer DVD player, which simply ignores the video formatting. Second, since the disc is from Spain, you'll have to track down a source for it outside normal DVD channels; of late, copies have become plentiful on eBay, but dealing there is always with its risks; otherwise, a US importer of foreign discs or a Spanish etailer is the way to go. Lastly, the film runs only 112 minutes or so, when the given run time is listed at 119 (sometimes 115) minutes. Part of this is due to runtimes being shortened by four percent because of PAL speedup, but there is at least one very brief cut in this version.
The package that the DVD comes in is quite slick, similar to the Citizen Kane DVD from France, which came in a larger box which opened to hold the case. Here, you get the foldout box and a newspaper-like supplement which includes a number of articles on Welles and the film, all in Spanish. See the photo below to see what these look like. UPDATE 8/03: It appears that this packaging might have been a limited edition of sorts; many copies I have seen on eBay do not include the box and "newsletter," only the normal DVD case.
On to the disc itself. Video quality is quite good, considering the low-budget, low-tech conditions the film was made under. The picture is a little softer than one would like, but it still looks decent throughout. And given the previous alternative (fuzzy VHS copies), this will do fine. It is letterboxed, but apparently is not anamorphic, for those with widescreen televisions. Audio is fine, and the box states that the sound for both the English and Spanish dub track is in Dolby 2.0 stereo, which would require some re-mixing, I think, and as with the Othello refurbishing, I don't know if this involved any fiddling with Welles' original soundtrack, but it doesn't sound like it. As I mentioned, there is a Spanish dub, but after listening to it for a moment or two, I switched back to the English, because, let's face it, this Welles and Shakespeare, and why would I want to hear them both in a different language? Subtitles in English and Spanish are provided also.
In regards to extras, there are the usual filmographies (Welles and Gielgud here), and interviews with famed trash director Jesus Franco (second unit director on Chimes, who looks pretty awful-where are his teeth?), Juan Cobos, Tony Fuentes (both assistant directors), Edmon Richard (director of photography), and Emma Penella (assistant to the producer). None of these are subtitled in English. Next, there is a brief series of stills from the set, including the Spanish poster for the film. Pages for the cast and crew are included, and trailers for other DVDs from Suevia round out the features.
As to the missing footage, I compared the film to the script presented in Bridget Gellert Lyons' book about the film, and found only one line of dialogue and its respective shot missing according to that script. The line in question (it comes during the scene in which Falstaff is selecting men brought to him by Shallow) is not a omission that ruins the film by any means, but since some people are completists, myself included, it deserves to be mentioned. It does only amount to a couple or so seconds. If anyone has an indication as to any other missing footage, please let me know, so I can update this accordingly.
Considering the lack of quality video presentations that Chimes at Midnight has had, this is certainly a good start. According to reports I've seen on the web, a quality 35mm print does exist, so a quality video presentatio in the film should be possible. Until then, Suevia Films has given us a version that will do just fine.
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