The Moorish General Othello is manipulated into thinking that his new wife Desdemona has been carrying on an affair with his Lieutenant Michael Cassio when in reality, it is all part of the scheme of a bitter Ensign named Iago.
Desdemona, daughter of a Venetian aristocrat, elopes with Moorish military hero Othello, to the great resentment of Othello's envious underling Iago. Alas, Iago knows Othello's weakness, and with chilling malice works on him with but too good effect.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
There is a shot of one character striking another in the face that took two years to shoot the reaction shot for because Orson Welles was off filming other projects. . See more »
There was once in Venice a moor, Othello, who for his merits is the affairs of war was held in great esteem. It happened that he fell in love with a young and noble lady called Desdemona, who drawn by his virtue became equally enamoured of Othello...
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There are actually 3 significant versions of this film. The version that is available on DVD and at Film Festivals is the "restored" version mentioned above. The Criterion laserdisc consists of Orson Welles' American version of the film in which he completely overdubbed Desdemona's voice with a new actress and overdubbed many characters including Roderigo with his own voice. In addition this version contains written credits instead of spoken and has many alternate shots. The original Cannes version was shown once on British Televison in the early 80's and is very difficult to find. See more »
Right from the start, Othello has a striking visual style. Oblique camera angles (from low and high, close and far), nice use of shadows, a cool-looking castle. Really nice black-and-white imagery to look at.
On the other hand, I wasn't as convinced by the story and acting (but they grew on me as the film continued). There are many parts where actors seem to rush or mumble their lines. Shakespeare is hard enough to follow and a good performance should draw you in and make the dialogue *easier* to understand. Characters are often facing away so we hear their lines but can't see their mouths or their facial expressions. What's the point of acting then? I can act if acting means reciting lines from a Shakespearean play.
I have since learned that Welles was struggling with funds for the movie and that explains some of its short-comings. Especially with sound. He had to dub some of the lines himself and there remain parts which are clearly out of sync. It's hilarious to learn that he borrowed/took costumes from another movie to use on Othello. And that costumes weren't ready for one scene so he changed the location to a bathhouse with the actors in towels.
I find the story flawed. Iago is single-handedly able to manipulate Othello to his will. Iago is unlikable because of his misanthropy but Othello may be even more unlikable in his stupidity. He never thinks to properly analyse or question what Iago presents to him as the truth. He barely seems to communicate with his wife at all and becomes consumed by his obsessions and assumptions. But I do somewhat admire Iago's patience and intelligence, he makes a good villain. And there is real tragedy to what happens. It's conceivable that some unfortunate coincidences could help a seed of suspicion grow into the full-hearted conviction that you're being lied to. And to desire revenge is all too human. It's just funny that nobody suspects Iago. Othello would prefer to believe that everyone else is against him.
I found the ending climactic and meaningful. Some of it took me by surprise, other parts felt inevitable. I'm aware that Welles shortened the play a lot and may have taken liberties with it. At least I now have a rough idea of what Othello is about; I feel more educated. I liked all of the actors but Micheál MacLiammóir (a Dublin actor in his only feature film role) stands out as the antagonist. There's something about his eyes and calm indifference. Less is more.
Summarising, Othello is rewarding for its villain, its believable tragic turn of events and the enjoyable, creative cinematography. Now if only Othello could learn the scientific method...
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