Sunday, May 03, 2015

I Am Not What I Am

The seventh film in the Orson Welles retrospective that I was able to attend was presented in a brand new, restored DCP courtesy of Carlotta Films. The quality of the picture and the soundtrack were great.

If Citizen Kane (1941, Welles) demonstrates the height of Orson Welles's achievements during his Hollywood Studio phase, Othello (1952, Welles), or William Shakespeare's Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, shows his greatest strengths as an International Independent filmmaker. Call this the second film in Welles's International Independent career, which also happens to be a Shakespeare adaptation, along with Macbeth (1948, Welles).

From the opening, Othello appears to be mounted as a large scale production. The cold open prologue funerary march initiates a bookend structure by its framing of Othello's visage in CU drenched all around in blackness. This can recall the iconographic masks of drama--the world being a stage . . . And with extreme long shots, the robed line of mourners recalls a staggeringly powerful aesthetic picture of a Brazilian funeral march from Welles's unfinished It's All True (1942, Welles)--I am so going to steal that. The Moroccan location work is Welles back in command of photographic exotic locales and taking the best advantage of exterior settings. Then there's the historic Venetian canals through the floating city that delight one's tourist appetites; and the Byzantine groin vault labyrinthes are remarkable--especially in the Dutch framed defeated collapse of Roderigo in shallow water with his cute little curly haired white dog sidekick splashing in the foreground.

That's awesome how Roderigo is followed by the little dog. I didn't ask myself why. I just went with it. Why not?

What an understated masterful staging of a tragedy Shakespeare wrote: An honest, brave man's utter annihilation by a friend he shouldn't trust and a wife he should. Iago (Micheál MacLiammóir) is one of those villains who is all bad, and totally fits into Welles's catalog of bad guys. If Macbeth's about a central protagonist ridden with guilt, Othello's about a central protagonist plagued with jealousy, the "green-eyed monster." And this again gives Welles the actor a singular obsession to spin out of control through the whole narrative with.

One of the most romantic of sentiments forms the basis of the romance: Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) falls for Othello after he's returned from seven years of military service because, with "a greedy ear," she likes hearing him tell her about what his life was like in brutal combat. But the tragedy of course is that Othello is by nature a General, and when Iago plants false accusations about Desdemona's infidelity, just like the way Othello sends troops to destroy the Turks he hears are to invade Cyprus, he attacks his love like if she were a rival nation.

So there you have it all: love, tragedy, backstabbing (literally), and even comedy, because well, Roderigo's funny as shit. The turkish bath assault is suspenseful and cringe inducing with Iago's blood lust for power.

Welles bombards the screen with directorial flourishes too. Latticed barriers hiding characters, frames within frames, the small square Othello is forced to eavesdrop on Cassio through during the handkerchief bit, cubby holes of darkness throughout the castles, and the best of all for last. The final confrontation of Desdemona shows her in repose profile CU while the jealous Othello emerges from behind her frontal to the camera like a preying wretch; his repeating mask in darkness; and the elegance of the clean linen mask he murders her with (again the mask motif); finally, the manhole up in the ceiling as the people see the base depravity of his actions revealed below them.

Even though Iago may be all bad, I've always empathized with him. He's burdened with contradictions, but it's because he feels as though he'll never find love. Damn, I love tragedies.


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