Shakespeare Without Dialogue
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 07/11/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Othello is a fine adaptation of the famous Shakespeare play. The idea of Shakespeare without dialogue might seem perverse, but in fact works very well, not least because Shakespeare's stories are so good. Moreover a flavour of Shakespeare's language is preserved in the title cards. This silent version is quite a lavish production, with large sets, detailed costumes and crowd scenes, but what makes it really stand out is the quality of the acting. Emil Jannings was an incredibly versatile actor. At times he is barely recognisable from one role to another. He looks totally different in, for example, Faust or The Last Laugh and his style of acting also changes from role to role. Douglas Brode, in an essay accompanying the DVD, argues that Jannings was a theatrical actor, chewing the scenery in his portrayal of Othello. I would disagree and would suggest that Brode has missed some of the subtlety of the performance. Jannings uses subtle changes of facial expression to convey Othello's mood. His portrayal of Othello's tortured jealousy is nuanced and far from over the top. Werner Krauss also gives a fine performance as Iago. He portrays Iago as Mephistopheles, bringing humour and devilry to the part. Kraus is also something of a chameleon. Those familiar with the actor from his role in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari will not recognize him as Iago. His acting is a joy to watch. Ica von Lenkeffy, in the role of Desdemona, can't really compete with two of the greats of German cinema, but she holds her own and looks stunning. The print used for this Kino DVD is not perfect. There is a fair amount of damage and there are some occasional jumps where a few frames have been lost. However the print is perfectly watchable and the damage does not really spoil the enjoyment of the film. This enjoyment is enhanced by a very good piano score composed and played by John Mirsalis. This score has some fine themes and fits in well with the action.As a bonus the DVD has four short films with a Shakespearian theme. The first of these, Duel Scene from Macbeth (1905) is mainly of interest because it is such an early film. It lasts barely a minute. The second, The Taming of the Shrew (1908) was directed by D.W. Griffith, but I wouldn't say it is one of Griffith's best Biograph films. The third short film Romeo Turns Bandit (1910) is more interesting, partly because it stars one of the great early comedians Max Linder. Also it exhibits the stencil colouring process used by Pathé. Unfortunately much of this colour has faded, but enough remains to get an idea of the process. The last short film, Desdemona (1911), is the longest of the four and I think the best. The story is of a group of actors putting on Othello with the backstage action mirroring that of the play. The print of the film is in pretty poor shape, but it is a pleasure to be able to see the film at all. These bonus films really add to the DVD and make it a must for silent film fans."