John Gielgud in Chimes at Midnight.
This is weather for inspiration: for films and books and good listening. If you’re in New York, go see the new restoration of Orson Welles’s 1966 Chimes at Midnight. (Or Midnite, as it says on the Film Forum marquee.) If you’re not, you’ll be able to see the Criterion release soon anywhere you like. The alternate title is Falstaff: the film is Welles’s compendium of all the Falstaff material to be found in Shakespeare, welded into a cohesive, idiosyncratic unit. Welles, of course, is Falstaff. Jeanne Moreau plays a bawd.
As bravura as Welles’s Sir John may be, he’s matched in Chimes by another Sir John: Gielgud as Henry IV. Indeed, that stage legend’s performance is so magisterial that—be aware—it may send you down a bit of a Gielgud rabbit hole. (And rabbit hole is an especially apt word here: he did once record a version of Alice in Wonderland.) Gielgud’s eight-decade career made his one of the most famous voices in English, which means plenty of audio. Sir John’s classic Shakespearean recordings are of course legion, and if you’re a Wodehouse fan, be sure to find his “Leave it to Psmith.” But if you crave something more solid, you must—absolutely must—listen to his unabridged Brideshead Revisited.
Now, the Jeremy Irons version is wonderful; it’s one of the classic pieces of audio fiction, in my opinion, and I love a book on tape. The question really comes down to this: Do you want Charles Ryder or his father? Not that Gielgud interprets the whole novel as that abstracted patriarch; the reading is as sensitive and varied as you might hope. Even if you’ve read the book a score of times, or you’re ambivalent about it, this recording is worth your time: it is a pleasure. There is a great deal to be said for walking through a dead, gray world with a wonderful voice in your head.
But obviously, having turned my attention to audiobooks: first, and immediately, you should listen to David Bowie, circa ’78, narrating Peter and the Wolf. Et in Arcadia ego.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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