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Filming 'Othello' (1978)
A Last Look into an Artist's Mind
The final film of Orson Welles is perhaps his quietest, most reflective piece of work. "Filming Othello" is not, as the title might suggest, a "making of" documentary about putting the Shakespeare play onto film. Instead it falls into the somewhat vaguely-defined "essay film" category occupied by the likes of Welles' own "F for Fake", and perhaps the documentary work of Werner Herzog. This movie mostly consists of its director talking into his camera toward the audience, and occasionally playing clips of his "Othello", past conversations with other actors, interviews, etc. Formally, this film is not the most interesting in the world (which ironically, is where Welles has largely succeeded in the past in filmmaking), but here it's the content that is truly fascinating.
Nearly thirty years after putting his own version of "Othello" onto film, here we watch Welles look back onto it, recounting both tales of the production, his own interpretations of Shakespeare's original text and discussion with others on it, reaction to the film, and finally his own wish to have made it even better than it was. If this is not concerned with how to film Shakespeare, then what "Filming Othello" is concerned with is Welles himself, and his look back at an accomplishment in his life, and with the distance from it gained by history.
This film is Welles probing his own mind, where if in "F for Fake" he shares with us his philosophy on art in general, "Filming Othello" is his philosophy on creating and thinking about his own work. And yet there's a melancholic feeling all throughout the movie as Welles calmly but quietly reviews his past work. One gets the impression that here the legendary director of "Citizen Kane" who was willing to pick a fight with powerful newspaper tycoons at the mere age of 24 has finally been humbled by history, and that he has finally acknowledged his best days are behind him.
"Good night." Those are the words that Welles speaks to us at the film's very end, and they serve as a last, sad goodbye from a great artist, lamenting that he could not have done more.