Wednesday, June 29, 2011

River, it had to go that way

We put the stage version of 'Chimes' on in Belfast in 1960; Welles discovered me .. As you know, the subject matter had long fascinated [him]. He had experimented with it in 'Five Kings', and it was .. getting clearer. He always saw it as a triangle, basically, a love story of a Prince lost between two father figures. Who is the boy going to choose?

It can persuasively be argued that Orson Welles' treatment of this primordial question is second only to Shakespeare's, but that is virtually to place the achievement beyond mortal capability, and praise needn't go that far. Particularly with treatments also by van Sant and Kenneth Branagh, the story of Prince Hal's accession to the path of his usurper father has been framed for the people of America to ponder in the most serious gratitude to art. Gus van Sant, alone, has addressed this question in not one, but three films, cited below; but of course it is the genuinely tragic history of the United States under the Bush family's dysfunctions, in synergy with secular illiteracy and abject naïveté, for which we will return again and again to Shakespeare's Bolingbroke plays - Richard II, Henry IV 1, Henry IV 2, Henry V, and the catastrophic Henry VI. Even ignoring the degeneracy of his companions, the 43rd President's endless public renunciations of his namesake more than underscored the wasteful cruelty of his governance; they prefigured it.

Laurent has friends named on this page, who broke our condition to him when there may have been time to thwart it. They and he, ideas merely, stand to inherit a bequest of understanding we see as their right to expect us to have known. We only regret that we are in the cast of these plays, in their audience never. The theatre they made is not ours to leave, as is our wont - indeed, as Michelle Bachmann pretends to us, we can do. The nation has been unmade with her repeated affirmation, and for her to arouse despair with her achievement now, surpasses all vulgarity and effrontery.

A page, such as this, taxed for revelry in fannies and reproved for showing smiles, is likely to elicit disgust for stepping out of the form for which its critics flock to it. But what could they have believed we had in mind, as they conceded the charm of our pictures? Did they expect another sleepwalker to hold their coat, indulging their identifying sentiments without a sense of debt? William Shakespeare is standing there, prodding our bunks and scorching us from the sun dial - Honour thy young. We were raised to know, and we did. 

Their image lives in our vestigial heart as ours; what shall it mean to say that we're its host?

Keith Baxter, actor
  Interview with
  the editor
Chimes at Midnight
op. cit.

Orson Welles, director
Chimes at Midnight, 1965

Gus van Sant, director
Mala Noche, 1986
My Own Private Idaho, 1991
Good Will Hunting, 1997

Kenneth Branagh, director
Henry V, 1989

N.B. Olivier's Henry V, a wartime 
consolation and a personal triumph, 
cuts the crucial scenes of Henry's
seduction by the monks and his 
harshness, and is not this story.

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