Moor and Better

Just enjoyed — immensely — Criterion’s Blu-ray of Orson Welles’ OTHELLO* — I opted for the 1952 cut, which I believe to be superior. For one thing, we get Welles narrating the titles, which is always a treat. More spoken titles, please!

“That was a film mainly about the locations,” assessed Fiona. “And what he can do with them,” I added.

As successive restorations have improved the visuals (I first saw the film in a fuzzy 16mm projection with inaudible sound), 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.

And sometimes it succeeds as Shakespearian drama too — particularly in Welles’ quiet moments, and in everything Fay Compton does as Emilia (the most perceptive character in the play).

I’m doing a Welles thing at the moment. I’ll tell you later.

*My frame-grabs are, perforce, from the old DVD.


8 Responses to “Moor and Better”

  1. Be sure to read “Put Money in Thy Purse,” Micheál MacLiammóir’s account of the making of “Othello”

  2. Oh, I love it! I should read it again, actually. Or at least dip in.

    I’m actually not at all sure about MacLiammoir’s casting in the film, but I’m still glad he was along for the ride because we got one of the great maing-of books out of it.

    I have never seen a wholly successful Iago.

  3. John Warthen Says:

    Simon Russell Beale onstage, Kenneth Branagh on film.

  4. Argh, blocked in the UK.

    Have never seen the Branagh/Fishburn. I should, I quite like Mike Radford (who used to teach alongside my dad).

    The two basic approaches to Iago seem to be the dull, trustworthy outward appearance (Frank Finlay, Ian McKellen, and I assume Branagh) and the smirking villain nobody would ever trust (MacLiammoir). I think the best approach must somehow combine the two.

    The closest thing I’ve seen is Michael Kitchen as Edmund in King Lear, a similarly deceitful character, played with frightening charm.

  5. Truly a shame it’s blocked. Pasolini’s puppet “Othello” — “Che Cosa Sono Nuovole” is one of his greatest films. Toto is an ideal Iago. Ninetto’s Othello upends the puppet performance because he wants to know why Iago hates him so much and can’t get an answer. You can feel the depth of Pasolini’s love for Ninetto throughout this little film.

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