Midnight Special

The time or concept of Midnight holds a special place in film; while Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is ending with the acclaimed Before Midnight, (2013) here are some other films in which Midnight is featured as significant cultural metaphor:

Chimes at Midnight (1966)

Who better to play the famed Falstaff than Orson Welles himself, who directs the film inspired by five Shakespearean plays including Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, Richard II, and Henry V. The film was a long time in the making, with Welles developing the idea through several plays including Five Kings (1939), before settling on the idea that would become Chimes at Midnight, a story about the betrayal of friendship. The title comes from the second part of Henry IV, in which Falstaff states: “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.” According to Welles scholar Bridget Gellert Lyons (no relation), the title: “which is given further resonance by the repeated intoning of bells throughout the film, is associated for the audience with sadness and mortality more than youthful carousal.”

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Ultimately a story about friendship, based on the 1965 book of the same name by James Leo Herlihy, John Schlesinger directs a young Jon Voight in the role of naïve though somewhat kind-hearted male prostitute, Joe Buck, who has a habit of dressing up as a cowboy. Buck travels to New York intent on making a career in prostitution, making money from sex-starved women, although it doesn’t go according to plan. Soon Buck meets small time con-artist Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, (played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman) who is crippled and abrasive but eager to be friends with Buck. John Barry composed the melancholic, Grammy award-winning theme for the film, while the song “Everybody’s Talkin”, written by Fred Neil and performed by Harry Nilsson, won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Arguably Woody Allen’s most popular feature film, Midnight in Paris is a colourful, nostalgic work that follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), as he travels back in time to 1920s Paris at midnight every night, meeting such illustrious historical figures as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali and an assortment of others. While Gil struggles to write his book, he deals with the romantic dilemma of whether to leave his impatient, superficial girlfriend Inez (Rachel McAdams), for the lovely Parisian art-groupie Adrianne (Marion Cotillard). Underpinning the whole story is the issue surrounding nostalgia and the process by which the past becomes romanticised. Pure gold.

Midnight Express (1978)

Brutal and disturbing, Alan Parker’s American/British film, based on Billy Hayes’ 1977 book Midnight Express and adapted to screenplay by Oliver Stone, tells the story of Billy, an American college student who, while holidaying in Istanbul, straps 2kg of hashish blocks to his chest and attempts to board a plane bound for America. Billy is arrested and eventually sentenced to 30 years in prison, where he suffers physical and mental torture before breaking down and almost beating to death one of his inmates (biting off the prisoner’s tongue in the process). Gruesome and alarming, the film was a critical and commercial success despite criticisms about the portrayal of Turkish people.


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