Orson Welles' daring and visually adventurous production of William Shakespeare's classic play. Welles, one of the greatest directors ever, revered Shakespeare and was determined to bring his own versions of the Bard's wor... more »k to the silver screen, though the studios resisted the idea. Without studio funding, Welles struggled for three years to make "Othello" with his own money. The film won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and critical acclaim but was rarely seen for many years. Over $1 million dollars in restoration work was spent, including re recording the score and re creating the sound effects, as well as updating the audio to digital. "Othello" remains a testament to Welles' legendary genius.« less
David Montgomery | davidjmontgomery.com | 06/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If people today remember Orson Welles at all, it is probably as the pitchman who would "sell no wine before its time." The more "film literate" might know him as the director of "Citizen Kane." Most, though, will be unaware that he directed a number of other outstanding pictures that rank among the very best. "Othello" is one of those.Incredibly, "Othello" was filmed over a three year period from 1949 to 1952, in nine different cities in Morocco and Italy. Welles never did assemble adequate financing for the film, so he was forced to shoot in a series of small spurts. They would work until his money ran out, then he would rush off to take acting jobs to raise cash to start filming again.One scene-between Othello (Orson Welles) and Iago (Michael MacLiammoir) on the beach-starts on one continent and ends on another, a full year later. Somehow, though, Welles kept the whole picture alive in his head. He also improvised when he had to. On the day when they were to film Iago's attempt to murder Cassio (Michael Laurence), the necessary costumes had not yet arrived. Welles quickly moved the action to a Turkish bath where he could dress his actors in only towels and sheets. It is now one of the most effective scenes of the film.As was typical of Welles, he took many liberties with Shakespeare's text, trimming it to a tight ninety-one minutes and cutting out the comedy. The story now begins and ends with the funerals of Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) and Othello; scenes not contained in the orginal, but done here to good effect. (For those of an auteurist bent, "Citizen Kane" and "Mr. Arkadin" also open with the deaths of the main character.) The first words of the film, spoken by Iago are, "I hate the Moor." Thus Welles tells us right from the beginning what the play is about. (He later did the same thing in "The Trial.") Iago hates Othello and he will stop at nothing to bring about his downfall. He chooses Othello's wife Dedemonna as his tool to undo him, cunningly manipulating the Moor until his natural jealousy turns to murderous madness.A familiarity with Shakespeare's play will help ease viewers' passage through the film. The action is sometimes confusing, a fact not aided by the total dubbing of the dialogue-much of it by Welles himself. Although, his brilliant vision may have been hampered by his scant resources, it was not destroyed. Welles remained committed to telling the story visually, as well as through Shakespeare's prose, and he succeeded magnificently.This is no mere filmed play. It is a stunning work created by one of the greatest artists the cinema has ever known. If, ultimately, it is more Welles' "Othello" than Shakespeare's, we are still the richer because of it."
Why the LOST masterpiece?
Neville Blender | Down Under | 04/30/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm sick of the general notion (mostly in print) that Welles virtually went down hill from Citizen Kane onwards. The fact of the matter is, no one would give him a break, ie; finance. In the few instances that he was given the money, his films were breathtaking ("Touch of Evil"-for example).With Othello, Welles had virtually no backing apart from his own money. Subsequently, he spent alot of time acting in other people's movies to make the expensive film costs. This is why "Othello" took so long to make. Welles had nightmarish problems with refilming when actors couldn't make the call after the long waiting periods (read Michael Macliammoir's "Put Money In Thy Purse"-his diaries during the making of "Othello"). Therefore, Mr Welles travelled through thick & thin to give us this incredible movie. From the first image of the funeral, the angles & the look of the film is staggering to say the least. Macliammoir is brilliant as Iago. The part where he is hoisted up in a cage, should be one of those scenes they always flash in a greatest scenes montage. Orson is in great Shakspearian form & shines through all his scenes. I don't think any film maker today could come close to this film's stunning beauty & innovative camera shots. To think it was made on a low budget makes you reconsider the quality of something like the "Blair Witch Project", considering the 1950's had yet to invent the low costing video camera. But this is besides the point. "Othello" is THE most underated film in the history of movie making, and it IS a true masterpiece. No wonder it won an award at Cannes at the time. God bless Welles' lovely daughter, Beatrice for restoring & caring for the film. It is an incredible restoration, considering the lack of existing negatives. It just shows how Welles' reputation was tarnished through the years by rediculous criticism. This movie has become "The Lost Masterpiece" because of the critics. It should never have been lost. Welles created many myths about himself, but the popular myth about him shared by most people is the idea that he made this amazing debut film & then everything from then on was substandard. The rise & fall nonsense. In reality all his films are of the same standard but are only marred by bad editing by other people's hands. Welles' genius was just as rampant in film-editing but he rarely got the oppurtunity. Besides, these movies were his babies, not some bespectacled "Barton Fink" character employed by the studio. If I had had money while the man was still alive, I would have given it all to him to make wonderful films. All these people standing around him like Peter Bogdanovich saying how great he is when they should have been pulling some strings & getting the man a deal with the studios. I can't believe his last film "The Other Side Of The Wind", has never been seen because of dodgey finacial deals at the time. This is a tragedy. What was there not to like about Mr Welles? I believe he was just too damn good. With him around, nobody had a chance. So we must be thankfull for the dozen or so films he left us. It's a shame that he is more respected now than when he was alive. It's as if the public & the movie community have suddenly realised the magnitude & importance of this great man's work. Whoops! Anyway, the DVD presentation is a joy to watch. A must own for all serious DVD collectors. I can pick out Joan Fontaine as the page boy but can't see Joseph Cotten for the life of me. Is this another one of Orson's illusions?"
Welles' images match the beauty of Shakespeare's language
Eddie Konczal | 12/31/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Considerable controversy has surrounded this 1992 restoration and re-release of Orson Welles' "Othello." First, the film was wrongly labelled a "lost classic" - not technically true, as Welles aficionados will realize. More seriously, the restoration crew (under the aegis of Welles' daughter, Beatrice Welles) re-synced the dialogue and re-recorded the musical score - an abomination to Welles purists. While it would have been preferable to adhere to Welles' vision for the film, such an endeavor becomes extremely difficult when no written record of Welles' intent exists (as it did with his famous 26-page memo to Universal regarding "Touch of Evil"). So it's true that this version lacks a degree of authenticity; but what are the alternatives? Grainy, scratched, poorly synced public domain prints (c.f. "Mr Arkadin" and "The Trial")? Or, worse, no available copy at all (c.f. "Chimes at Midnight")? Anyway, on to the film. "Othello's" existence helps disprove the charges of profligacy and "fear of completion" that plagued Welles' career after "Citizen Kane." Shot over four years in Morocco and Italy, and financed largely by Welles himself, "Othello" manages to avoid a low-budget look, thanks largely to virtuoso editing that masks the incongruities of time and space. Welles' powers of invention are on full display here, most obviously in the famous Turkish bath scene (an improvised set necessitated by a lack of costumes). Set designer Alexandre Trauner's astute choice of Moroccan and Venetian locations instantly establishes a geographic authenticity; Welles initially expolits them for all their stark beauty before retreating into noirish interiors, underscoring Othello's descent into darkness. Aside from Michael Macliammoir's chilling Method performance as Iago, the acting in Welles' "Othello" has been criticized as too restrained and modulated for Shakespearean tragedy. Such criticism is largely unwarranted, for this "Othello" is as much for the eyes as the ears: Welles' bold framing and expressionistic camera angles de-theatricalize the play, undermining the need for stage elocution. Indeed, the camera is the true star of this film, as Welles generates images that match the grandeur and eloquence of Shakespeare's language."
A masterpiece, but not a popcorn movie
Eddie Konczal | 04/07/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is not necessarily an easy film to watch, even in the restored version. The dialog track was post-dubbed to begin with, and though the restorers did their best to improve the synchronization, the speech is still oddly disembodied much of the time. That, combined with the sometimes clipped and rapid delivery, can make it hard to follow. Knowing your Shakespeare helps, of course, but don't expect to be able to follow along with the book -- there's more than the usual amount of chopping and rearranging.I admire the work that went into the restoration, but it is not in the same league as something like the splendid Criterion edition of Seven Samurai -- there is still a fair bit of visual noise in places. The "Restoring Othello" feature is very disappointing as well, consisting mostly of scraps of interviews and random shots of the studio. Those quibbles aside, this film offers great photography, great editing, and great acting. Welles has a field day casting his large shadow on walls, striding through scenes crisscrossed by pillars and iron bars, and reeling about like a sort of Moorish Kane. He does all this while making the descent of Othello into the clutches of the green-eyed monster completely believable."
Put Out Thy Light!
A* | New York, N.Y. United States | 06/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film blew me away! I always know what I am looking forward to in an Orson Welles film; brilliant camera angles over lapping dialogue and that masterfull voice but I was floored by how well all of those aspects are used in Othello. It's hard to believe it was four years in the making and that the production of this film was marred by unusual circumstances but welles never gave up and the beauty is on screen to marvel at. Welles was a master of Shakespeare since a child so the dialogue flows as if second nature to him and the rest of the seasoned veterans handle it just as well and that is the key to this film. Welles always had pure facial emotion working in his favor and when those huge glowing eyes of his is used in the final scenes as he kills Desdamona its as if headlights of danger are piercing through his face and the dark almost unbearable lighting can't hold back those eyes or the viewers emotions and the soundtrack that damn haunting score never looses it's pacing simply amazing. Finaly Welles' fluxuating girth comes in handy his Othello is so imposing and commanding that u to would fear the repercussions of his hand if you betray him! Just cut out all the lights unplug the phone and watch with amazment at the best adaption of Othello ever made! McLiammour plays Iago with such contempt and an under lying lust for the moor that another level of depth is revealed. The opening is all out dramatic and ever the more shoking and draws you into the story instantly! Welles' reworking of the dialogue and dramatic use of the camera and lighting makes the flick ever so frightening and perverse! Doves flying above in a clear sky, the shores crashing against the waves as Othello is told by Iago of his wife's deceit or the gripping of the knife being shoved into Welles' by himself to redeem himself for the crime he has committed against his love! Shakespeare has never been told with the passsion upon which Welles tells it!"