Othello

Orson Welles, Morocco, 1951, 91 minutes

Othello was the first of Welles' European productions. Inevitably the transition from Hollywood to European film-making was a difficult one, for the technicians and equipment were significantly inferior, and Welles had to keep dashing back to the States to ask for funding or work for money to fund the film itself. But what the film lacked in technical qualities Welles often made up with innovative and impressive methods to combat the budgetary constraints.

Filmed on and off over a period of four years in Morocco and Italy, Welles had to improvise different ways of filming scenes whenever the money was scarce (or just not there). Much of the film was made outdoors in Venice or Mogodor, which led to soundtrack difficulties occasionally. When an actor did not turn up, Welles filmed around this: using a stand-in, changing the camera angle, or simply just getting the other actor to talk to a shadow. When costumes were lacking, he staged Rodirigo's murder in the steamy and sinister setting of the Turkish baths. With such sporadic filming Welles had to devise amazing montages linking footage from Mogador to the Venice scenes.

As with all of Welles' films the dark impressive visual force of his images creates a stirring atmospheric feel. Othello, despite its relatively poor production values, was very well received, taking the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Many critics believed that the images on screen generate enough lyrical beauty, emotion and graphic power to permit comparison with the poetry of Shakespeare's writing. The film owes much to Welles exuberant flashy style, but flashy can also refer to the fact that his brilliant is somewhat irregular and tends to appear in many small bursts, however these bursts combine to produce a film of considerable might.

Review by Mark Radice
Taken from EUFS Programme 1993-94