Othello

OTHELLO

Shakespeare wrote the 3 hour long original but Welles cut and pasted it together to create a 90-minute pastiche that is barbed, claustrophobic, and hallucinatory. Film was shot in bits and pieces between 1948 and 1951, with the actors sometimes languishing on location while Welles went to raise more money.   In his last completed feature, “Filming Othello,” from 1978, Welles unravels the strange story of the shoot, which involved an actor, say, entering a doorway filmed in Morocco in 1949 and emerging in the same scene from a doorway filmed in Italy in 1951.   The fragmentation of the shoot is reflected in the fragmentation of the images, which is no mere convenient but an aesthetic, a fragmentation as complex as that of a expeditious montage by Eisenstein.  In the course of his production he employed five cinematographers, but few films sustain such uncanny visual consistency.  If by “auteur” we mean a director who takes not just the filmmaking process but all the alternations of fate and finances as his medium, then Welles easily qualifies.  From the opening scene the sublime strangeness takes over; it is like entering a Cubist painting. The dead Othello’s face, upside down, fills the screen, with strange chanting on the soundtrack.  Beginning with the ending, the narrative then follows that of the original, but so curtailed and suddenly pieced together that it takes on an alien quality.  His “Othello” (Orson Welles) boils down to the title character, his wife( Suzanne Cloutier), Iago(Micheál MacLiammóir) and bit players (and impressive numbers of extras). Welles the actor gives an impassioned performance as the titular character, while MacLiammoir is equally stunning as his jealous adversary.

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