Blu-ray (Special Edition / Wide Screen / Restored / Subtitled)

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Overview

Anyone interested in making a low-budget movie ought to see Orson Welles' screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, a striking example of how much can be achieved with very little money. For years, stories about this singularly troubled movie circulated more widely than the film itself; Welles began shooting Othello without securing full financing, so he would gather his cast, assemble a crew, and shoot until his money ran out. He would then take an acting assignment to raise some cash, reassemble his cast, and start filming again until the latest batch of money was gone. For the sequence featuring the murder of Cassio, Welles (depending on who tells the story) either couldn't pay the bill for the costumes or they just didn't arrive in time, so he reset the scene in a Turkish bath with his players wrapped in towels borrowed from their hotel. This process went on for four years; by the time Welles was done, the film was on its third Desdemona, and the director, himself, had to dub several voices, since most of the dialogue was recorded after the fact. Remarkably, the finished film not only isn't a disaster, it's a triumph, that rare example of a movie based on a Shakespeare play that's as exciting to look at as it is to listen to. While Welles pared the Bard's story of jealousy, betrayal, and murder to the bone (this version clocks in at a mere 92 minutes), the film's striking compositions and energetic quick-cutting allow the camera to tell more of the story than almost any other Shakespeare adaptation. Repeat viewers will see that Welles picked many of his camera angles to obscure the fact that Othello's mighty army was merely a handful of extras, but the unexpected bonus is a lean, muscular look that's the perfect match for the film's brisk narrative style. The spare, but powerful, visuals feel like a product of Expressionism, not a low budget, and the images have atmosphere to spare. In addition, it's truly a pleasure to hear Welles' rich baritone wrap itself around Shakespeare's dialogue; his con brio performance as the noble Moor undone by jealousy and betrayal has the impact of a fine stage rendition without overplaying its hand. Michael MacLiammoir is his equal as the conniving (and lustful) Iago, and had this film been more widely seen, it could well have sparked the successful screen career he so obviously deserved. And Michael Laurence is fine in an often witty turn as Cassio (with a verbal assistance from Welles). Only Suzanne Cloutier as the virtuous but wronged Desdemona lacks the forceful presence of the rest of the cast (though given how much of the role was edited away, it may not be entirely her fault). Welles' daughter spearheaded a campaign to restore and re-release Othello in 1992; and while the digital sheen of the re-recorded score sometimes makes for an odd contrast to the occasionally scratchy recordings of the dialogue, the new edition of the film looks better than ever (both on the big screen and on video) and is highly recommended to anyone who loves good acting or good cinema.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/10/2017
UPC: 0715515197816
Original Release: 1952
Rating: NR
Source: Criterion
Region Code: A
Presentation: [Wide Screen]
Time: 3:04:00
Sales rank: 11,327

Special Features

New, restored 4K digital transfers of two versions of the film, the 1952 European one and the 1955 U.S. and UK one, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks; Audio commentary from 1995 featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles scholar Myron Meisel; Filming "Othello," Welles's last completed film, a 1979 essay-documentary; Return to Glennascaul, a 1953 short film made by actors Micheál MacLimmóir and Hilton Edwards during a hiatus from shooting Othello; New interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow; Souvenirs d'"Othello," a 1955 documentary about actor Suzanne Cloutier by François Girard; New interview with scholar François Thomas on the two versions; New interview with Ayanna Thompson, author of Passing Strange: Sheakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America; Interview from 2014 with scholar Joseph McBride

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Orson Welles Othello
Michael MacLiammoir Iago
Michael Laurence Cassio
Suzanne Cloutier Desdemona
Robert Coote Roderigo
Fay Compton Emilia
Hilton Edwards Brabantio
Nicholas Bruce Lodovico
Doris Dowling Bianca
Joseph Cotten Senator
Jean Davis Montano
Joan Fontaine Page
Willy Ferrero Conductor

Technical Credits
Orson Welles Director,Producer,Screenwriter
G.R. Aldo Cinematographer
Alberto Barberis Score Composer
Anchise Brizzi Cinematographer
Maria de Matteis Costumes/Costume Designer
Julien Derode Associate Producer
Georges Fanto Cinematographer
Willy Ferrero Musical Direction/Supervision
Alberto Fusi Cinematographer
Aldo Graziati Cinematographer
Angelo Francesco Lavagnino Score Composer
Renzo Lucidi Editor
William Morton Editor
Jean Sacha Editor
Carroll L. Shepphird Editor
John C. Shepridge Editor
Alexandre Trauner Art Director
Oberdan Trojani Cinematographer

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