Art and Experience: After Distribpix Inc.’s Steven Morowitz and filmmaker Joel Bender unearthed a 35mm print of Orson Welles’ 1965 Shakespearean classic—after decades when the film was unseeable—there was hope that it would soon hit theaters. Now there is a definitive restoration from Janus Films, which took 20 years, but not from this source. Janus will present “Chimes at Midnight” in an exclusive engagement at New York’s Film Forum and L.A.’s Cinefamily starting January 1, with a rollout to select U.S. cities to follow.

“Chimes at Midnight,” the film Welles seemed most proud of, stars its director as Sir John Falstaff, the comic character whom Shakespeare introduced in “Henry IV,” parts I and II, who makes an appearance, too, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and in a movie — first released in 1966 and unavailable for decades – that also references “Richard II” and “Henry V.” But it is Falstaff – corpulent, conniving, merry, muddled and a well of humanity —who dominates, even as his fellow debauchee, the young Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) approaches his date with destiny, history and power.

 

Janus worked for 20 years on this effort. They used a scan from the Filmoteca, made from the original negative, in order to make marked improvements in both corrected color picture and cleaner sound. Digital restoration at Criterion took care of dirt, tears, splices, stains, scratches, and flicker. Still to come in an ongoing collaboration with Filmoteca, the Piedra family and archivists and restorers is the full preservation and 4K restoration of the film, which may take years.

The limited re-release of “Chimes at Midnight” comes in the midst of a mini-renaissance for Welles, despite “Kane” being knocked from pole position by “Vertigo” on the Sight & Sound list of the greatest films of all time: the drumbeat for a respectable Blu-ray edition of “Chimes” continues to grow; and the campaign to finish Welles’ last film, “The Other Side of the Wind”—abandoned upon his death in 1985—marches on, despite (many) setbacks; and he received the documentary treatment last year with “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles.”

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