A “medieval dreamer in a sixteenth-century post-medieval world,”* Don Quijote confronts present with past. His head full of books and in the clouds, trying to right the world’s wrongs, this noble knight is grounded, if at all, by the humanity of his devoted squire, Sancho Panza. “I must follow my path despite all the world,” he says. Orson Welles might have said the same about himself.
Welles began shooting his film of Cervantes’ seventeenth-century novel in the mid-1950s. He died in 1985. In 1992 a version appeared in Spain, completed by horror filmmaker Jess Franco, who had assisted Welles on Chimes at Midnight (1965).
One of Welles’s most massively moving, gorgeous works, the stark black-and-white Quijote begins in the style of a Soviet silent; low-hung, upwardly tilted cameras frame bony Quijote on horseback against eternal sky, here, of legend, myth, literature. Ironically, this repeated camera ploy has the effect of destabilizing the image of Quijote, wobbling it, as though only his horse could manage to keep a nearing-fifty Quijote upright. Quijote has endured, we are later told, obscurity, repression, tyranny—a reminder that Francisco Franco (until his death in 1975) ruled Spain.
The first time Quijote, on horseback, confronts his Dulcinea, the creature of his imagination upon whom he wishes to lavish his chivalry, she is a present-day woman riding a motorcycle! Thereafter, periodically the past and the present intermix, as do the Cervantes film and Welles’s own stay in Spain while shooting it—a postmodernist delight, but again underscoring how out-of-place Quijote always was in time. Quijote concludes that humanity’s choice to be enslaved by machines, not progress, is modernity’s problem.
Missing is extraordinary footage wherein, watching his first movie in a theater, a battle epic, Quijote charges the screen, cutting it to shreds.**
* See my piece on another great film, Georg W. Pabst’s 1933 Don Quixote.
** This is available for watching on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHQEViM3QYU
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