Othello Screen 12 articles

Othello

1952

Othello Poster
  • The florid mise-en-scène gives full play to complex compositions and tilted camera angles. Individual scenes are in an unrestrainedly operatic bravura style, and while the film succeeds visually, it ultimately fails as drama. Even Welles couldn't do everything. He seems miscast as Othello, while Micheál MacLiammóir delivers a subtly insinuating performance as an Iago whose anger and jealousy, it is hinted, are motivated by feelings of sexual incapacity.

  • Welles’s mastery of illusion extended to his ability to spin elaborate production design out of little more than lighting and suggestion. Othello was shot over years and continents: the seams may sometimes show, but the vortex of Welles’s imagery exerts a hypnotic force, all in the service of delivering a potent adaptation of the tragedy of the Moor of Venice.

  • Othello was the first of [Welles' independent films], and in many ways it remains the most important and exciting of them as well. It’s more significant to Welles’s work as a whole than Kane, because it leads to much more in his subsequent oeuvre–and its long absence from American screens has been a major obstacle for anyone wishing to understand that oeuvre.

  • Some of the most powerful images include centuries-old Moorish architecture (found in Italy and Morocco), shot in ever-surprising Expressionist angles, and the looming faces of the cast, which brings a silent cinema intensity to the characterizations.

  • Every scene is fragmented, jolting between breathlessly canted angles, intense close-ups and deep-focus long shots soaked in oppressive shadow. There’s anxiety even in broad daylight, as seen in a tense murder sequence set in a Turkish bath, conceived on the fly when costumes failed to arrive. Welles’s blood, sweat and tears are fully evident in each frame, and the movie won him a deserved prize at Cannes upon its initial release.

  • The movie is a formidable intellectual achievement; Welles made it over the course of three years, earning money as an actor and channelling his pay into another few days of shooting... The fragmentation of the shoot is reflected in the fragmentation of the images, which is no mere expedient but an aesthetic, a fragmentation as complex as that of a rapid montage by Eisenstein, but one that runs not on synthesis or analysis but on dissolution—the shattering of a mind and of a world.

  • Despite the stressful, ad hoc circumstances, the film is remarkably single-minded in its visual scheme. It moves from the bright coastal light of the Mogador coast to the darkening cell interiors of Othello’s Moroccan castle. Latticework-spiderweb imagery abounds, each character crisscrossed by shadow and then further sliced by the aggressive editing, which never seems to let bodies complete a motion before cutting to a new angle, the world shifting beneath their feet.

  • When Othello looks into mirrors throughout Welles’s film, he sees a man at war with himself. Welles the filmmaker (working with several cinematographers) heightens the movements between darkness and light upon Othello’s face to express internally battling elements; Welles the actor collaborates by giving a firm, sentinel-like performance that allows us to witness the fight as it takes place.

  • Something odder than a masterpiece, Orson Welles’s “Othello” is at once a credible abridgment of Shakespeare and a jigsaw puzzle that nearly defies comprehension. This brilliant, confounding movie, which has several times vanished and reappeared since it had its world premiere (and shared the top award) at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival, will be available on Blu-ray next month from Criterion.

  • It hardly seems possible that these disparate pieces of film could have been brought together to form a coherent vision of the world. Could one even attempt to diagram the supposed layout of the residences and public spaces within which the film takes place? We come to feel that it is unfolding in some parallel domain of memory in which all places and times are equally accessible—truly a cinema of the mind, yet achieving its effects through the immediacy of stone and water and metal and fabric.

  • Welles's early work abounds in high-contrast lighting and sinuous tracking shots, as well as the utilization of architecture as psychological symbolism. This is also true of Othello, but this film also initiates Welles's experimentation with a sophisticated editing syntax. Psychology isn't only expressed by the fabulous gothic castles and in-camera framing, but by the fevered energy of the cutting, and by the spontaneous repetition of certain images to convey the free association of thought.

  • As successive restorations have improved the visuals, Welles’ achievement becomes clearer. I still regret Welles’ over-optimism about what he can get away with in terms of lip-sync, or its absence, and his reliance on dirt-speckled freeze-frames for a couple of shots at the climax. But the film, in all its glorious audio-visual incoherence, succeeds as fever-dream, a shimmering flick-book of staggering architectural contortions.

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