othello (1952)

Othello is much better than Macbeth. I first saw Othello at the Public Theater in 1978 on a double bill with a documentary called Filming Othello. It (Othello) was filmed all over Europe (as was usual with Welles during this period), with he and other members of the cast getting whatever other work they could to raise money to keep the production going (including Welles' "The Lives of Harry Lime" radio show for the BBC, which is quite good). One murder scene was filmed in a Turkish bath because they had no costumes and no money.

It was made right after Macbeth (it took three years to make), and it won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1952. As always with Welles' Shakespeare films, he is quite liberal ("savage" might be a better word) with the text, realizing that the point is to make a good movie, not to make a reverent one. And he succeeds, it is a very powerful movie. Unlike Macbeth it was all shot on location, and the castles and ships and so on are used to very good effect. And Welles' old friend Michael MacLiammoir (a Dublin stage actor who had never been in a movie before), who was brought in at the last minute to play Iago when Everett Sloan bailed out, is excellent.

Like many of Welles' films, it begins with the end of the story, the funeral of Othello and Desdemona. Welles wanted the audience to concentrate on the working out of the characters' fates, rather than just wondering how it was going to end, plus it evened the playing field between those who were familiar with the play and those who weren't.

I have rented Othello and the restored version is very good. It does, however, come with an introduction by Welles' daughter where she talks about the film, and she says that it hasn't been seen since the middle 1950s, and that the negative was thought to be lost. As I said, I saw it back in 1978 (or it could have been 1979), so it seems they're making it into even more of a "lost" masterpiece than it is.

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