870 Othello

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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swo17
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870 Othello

#1 Post by swo17 » Sat Apr 02, 2005 2:07 pm

Othello

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Gloriously cinematic despite being made on a tiny budget, Orson Welles's Othello is a testament to the filmmaker's stubborn willingness to pursue his vision to the ends of the earth. Unmatched in his passionate identification with Shakespeare's imagination, Welles brings his inventive visual approach to this enduring tragedy of jealousy, bigotry, and rage, and also gives a towering performance as the Moor of Venice, alongside Suzanne Cloutier as his innocent wife, Desdemona, and Micheál MacLiammóir as the scheming Iago. Shot over the course of three years in Morocco, Venice, Tuscany, and Rome and plagued by many logistical problems, this fiercely independent film joins Macbeth and Chimes at Midnight in making the case for Welles as the cinema's most audacious interpreter of the Bard.

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 on the Blu-ray
• 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 MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards during a hiatus from shooting Othello
• New interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow
Souvenirs d'"Othello," a 1995 documentary about actor Suzanne Cloutier by François Girard
• New interview with Welles scholar François Thomas on the two versions
• New interview with Ayanna Thompson, author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America
• Interview from 2014 with scholar Joseph McBride
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien

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#2 Post by ando » Sat Apr 09, 2005 12:04 pm

Anonymous wrote:Possible spoilers for anyone who hasn't read or heard about Othello.

Could someone please explain to the the scene in the baths with cassio, rodrigo and iago. I know cassio doesn't die in the book, but I thought that cassio was dead (how could he get away from iago?) but then all of a sudden he is there at the end of the film. What was iago stabbing at, and how did cassio get away from iago?
From what I remember (I'll have to look at the film again) Iago is actually stabbing at Roderigo. Cassius takes over Othello's duties after his demise. (Incidentally, the story of Othello is so well known and Welles' treatment of the play so loosely based that any information shared wouldn't really spoil the experience of watching the film.) But it is certainly in character for Roderigo to be completely oblivious of Iago's ruthlessness even when it's in his face. The problem with this scene, however, is that we (the audience) can clearly see that it's Iago thrusting his sheath through the holes in the grillwork, therefore we can only surmise that the object of Iago's stabbing is able to identify him as well. But that entire underground maze (a sewer, really) is such a fantastic hall of mirrors, particularly with the sunlight casting reflections on the basin, that identification becomes a minor point. I think Welles' only intentions were to throw the seeming order of Othello's command (and Cypress) in stark relief and give an intimation of the dark, complex, deceptive sub-terrain that is the mind (and, more important, the intention) of Iago. The film (like the play) is really centered around his villainy, anyway. It's probably one of the reasons why this sequence is so memorable.

Edit: I watched this again last night and you're right (ran22), Cassio is cut by Iago (in the "Turkish bath" - which was really a converted fish market - scene), but the wound apparently isn't fatal. Roderigo, however, doesn't fare as well. It is he who is the object of Iago's fatal stabs through the planks of the wooden floor.

What a marvelous film. I had forgotten how visually impressive and deliberately stylized this film is. Welles' turn as Othello is commendable but Iago (played by Micheál MacLiammóir ) is an obvious villain (reptilian, as I once read one reviewer comment), so the complexity of character is lost a bit. Though it's just as well - the play of images is really the centerpiece of Welles' treatment. Its complexity (if one can call it such) lies in the juxtaposition and interplay of images and sequences (where the quick cutting opposed to long held shots, for example, creates psychological implications). It's a rewarding film if you take the time to pay attention to what Welles is doing.

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#3 Post by stroszeck » Wed Aug 17, 2005 11:23 pm

Does anyone have any information on whether any company is trying to reconstruct this one? I saw it in high school and it's pretty interesting.

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#4 Post by porquenegar » Mon Aug 22, 2005 9:58 pm

stroszeck wrote:Does anyone have any information on whether any company is trying to reconstruct this one? I saw it in high school and it's pretty interesting.
The current Image disc is a restored version, although the soundtrack was mucked around with to try and correct sequences that were dubbed after filming to try and synch with lip movement. Orson Welles, reportedly dubbed many of the lines during editing for story cohesion purposes, often changing the dialogue. This is why the lip movements don't always match up. I believe the score and sound effects were also re-recorded, which is the main reason, I avoid this disc and made such a concerted effort to get the Criterion LD.

I don't know if we will ever get the original theatrical release again.

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#5 Post by djali999 » Wed May 03, 2006 3:30 am

Does anybody on here own the Second Sight DVD and if so, can they comment as to weather or not it's the "mucked up sound" version?

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#6 Post by J Wilson » Wed May 03, 2006 9:51 am

Every version currently out there is the "restored" version, unless one has somehow slipped through Beatrice Welles' net.

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#7 Post by JacquesQ » Sun Jul 27, 2008 7:12 am

There is quite a detailed discussion of the question of """restored""" 1992 (additional quotes intentional!) vs. 1952 vs. 1955 versions here (in German, though), and not the whole text is about Othello, but it is really worth reading, if only to make one keep one's old VHSs, that sometimes carry versions more faithful to the originals than "restored" "remastered" DVDs).

The guy basically hates such stupid abusive "inheritors" as stupid abusive Beatrice Welles, but he also says he has a VHS of Othello that, albeit with French subtitles, is actually the original 1952 version.

Hmm... Makes me wonder whether someone here might be in the same situation re this VHS AND willing to burn some DVD-Rs of it (if equipped to do so), or at last one and the rest would follow (I, for one, would be quite willing to get one and burn a few more for further Welles enthusiasts)? Otherwise, I will try to refesh my German and get in touch with that fellow.

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#8 Post by Ivy Mike » Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:28 am

Is the Criterion laserdisc the 1955 version of the film?

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#9 Post by Jonathan S » Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:39 am

According to Clinton Heylin in his 2005 Welles book Despite the System the Criterion laserdisc "accords with the 1952 original in most respects." He continues: "Of course, it is only one of at least three edits Welles made at the time."

I have one of the pre-Beatrice versions, recorded from the BBC around 1981. How would I tell if it's the (or one of the!) 1952 original? (I'm afraid I don't read German.)

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#10 Post by martin » Mon Jul 28, 2008 2:51 pm

Jonathan S wrote:I have one of the pre-Beatrice versions, recorded from the BBC around 1981. How would I tell if it's the (or one of the!) 1952 original? (I'm afraid I don't read German.)
According to Anthony Davies (in Filming Shakespeare's Plays), BBC showed a version of Othello May 1982. This version is dated 1953. It is easily recognizable because it has spoken credits - no printed credits!

I'm not sure if this version differs from the Cannes 1952 print. The story of the various versions of Othello is very complex. I recommend reading the chapter The Texts of Othello in Michael Anderegg: Orson Welles - Shakespeare and Popular Culture, New York, 1999.

Here's a brief summary paraphrased from Anderegg. There are 4 distinctive versions of Othello:

1) The print shown at the Cannes film festival in 1952
2) The print distributed in Europe soon thereafter (which may or may not be the same as the Cannes version)
3) The version Welles prepared for U.S. and British distribution in 1955
4) The 1992 "restoration" (or "restorations")

A print at the Cinématèque francaise is said to be the 1952 Cannes version. It has spoken credits. Some experts consider this to be the best version of Othello. Rosenbaum has also said that Welles prefered the version with spoken credits.

A version shown by BBC in 1982 had spoken credits and varies significantly from the print at BFI (The BFI print is no. 3 above). The BBC version may be the same as the Cannes print or the European print (1 or 2 above).

At least two 1992 restorations exists. The first was not approved by Beatrice Welles-Smith; therefore a new version was made. All existing releases (except the Laserdisc) are supposed to be this second 1992-version. But the video releases differ from the restored 1992 film release. A scene was eliminated from the restored film, but re-restored on video!

The Criterion Laserdisc version is the 1955 version - or very close to it.

(All according to Anderegg, who is also very dismissve of the 1992 "restorations").

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#11 Post by cinemartin » Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:49 pm

I was always under the impression that Criterion's Laserdisc was the '52 Cannes version. I've never seen it though, so it's only hearsay.

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#12 Post by martin » Fri Aug 01, 2008 4:38 am

cinemartin wrote:I was always under the impression that Criterion's Laserdisc was the '52 Cannes version. I've never seen it though, so it's only hearsay.
I've never seen it either, so I don't know for sure. It could be the '52 or '55 version - or anything in between. But evidence suggests it is the US '55 version, I think.

I found a post at Wellesnet describing how the opening reel of the the 1952 version plays out

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#13 Post by AALFW » Sat Mar 19, 2011 7:14 am

Didn't see anyone mention the most recent Wellesnet update for Othello here or in the main Welles thread, so here it is.

Nearly a month later and no interview has been posted, but worth keeping an eye on.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#14 Post by Roger Ryan » Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:24 pm

AALFW wrote:Didn't see anyone mention the most recent Wellesnet update for Othello here or in the main Welles thread, so here it is.

Nearly a month later and no interview has been posted, but worth keeping an eye on.
I think this might be a bit of wishful thinking between Mr. French and Mr. Dawson. I'm a friend of the former and I know he would love for a three-disc version of OTHELLO to happen (as all Welles fans do, I imagine), but I think this is more speculative than anything; the idea that a fan generated web-based effort might make such a project a reality. Let's hope that's what happens.

Oh, and if anyone still cares about the question raised over two years ago, the Criterion laserdisc was the 1955 U.S. version.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#15 Post by mizoguchi5354 » Mon Apr 29, 2013 7:02 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09NWcKA7JKw" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Before it's too late.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#16 Post by martin » Fri May 03, 2013 6:17 am

Thanks. Never seen the laserdisc version.

My post further up with the various versions is rather messy. I guess it t could be boiled down (or expanded) to:

1. 1952 Cannes version - not released on video
2. 1953 European theatrical release (could be the same as version 1) - not released on video but shown by BBC, May 1982
3. 1955 US (and UK) version - released on laserdisc by Criterion Collection
4. 1992 Restoration not approved by Beatrice Welles-Smith - unreleased
5. 1992 Restoration approved by Beatrice Welles-Smith (theatrical version) - released theatrically
6. 1992 Restoration approved by Beatrice Welles-Smith (video version with additional scene) - released on dvd by Second Sight, Image Entertainment etc.

Still according to Michael Anderegg: Orson Welles - Shakespeare and Popular Culture, New York, 1999.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#17 Post by Roger Ryan » Fri May 03, 2013 8:07 am

martin wrote: ...6. 1992 Restoration approved by Beatrice Welles-Smith (video version with additional scene) - released on dvd by Second Sight, Image Entertainment etc...
According to the recent interview with restoration producer Michael Dawson (also linked to in a previous post), the wrong elements were used for the Image Entertainment VHS and DVD releases (presumably the Second Sight one as well?) which resulted in an inferior picture quality. No mention was made of the audio issues on the home video releases: not only is there some questionable resynchronization of dialogue but one scene prominently features audio bleed-through from some other TV program or film.

Welles' original European cut of OTHELLO is the superior version; not only does this edit have better pacing in the first act, but the audio mix is excellent and there is far less synchronization issues than in the "restored" U.S. version.

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Re: The Best Worst Films Ever Made

#18 Post by albucat » Wed May 22, 2013 12:43 pm

A fascinating interview with Michael Dawson about the "restored" Othello he helped bring out in 1992: http://www.wellesnet.com/?p=6522&utm_source=feedly. I'd be curious to hear other opinions about what he claims--for the longest time I pretty much took Rosenbaum's word for everything, but even though it seems crazy to me that they re-recorded the score, he makes it sound less egregious. The only version I've ever seen is the restoration, so I don't have a point of comparison.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#19 Post by Roger Ryan » Wed May 22, 2013 1:48 pm

Interestingly, this new interview contradicts the information attributed to Dawson in the earlier Wellesnet interview that the home video releases used the wrong "master". Here, Dawson explains that the initial theatrical run of the restoration featured a compromised version that was then corrected for the various DVD and VHS releases.

My problem with the re-recorded score is that it sounds like a high fidelity 1990s recording, which is jarring when juxtaposed with dialogue and sound effects recorded in the early 50s. Dawson notes that the original music track sounded over-modulated...and it very well might have been on the material he was working with. However, the print of Welles' initial European cut I saw in 2005 (screened during a Welles retrospective at the Locarno Film Festival) featured a music track that sounded fine to my ears and the arrangement sounded fuller (probably due to a more aesthetically-pleasing monaural mix; I can't say there were more mandolins present!). I think it's important to point out that the initial European edit is not just an early work print or draft that was refined for the U.S. version. Reportedly, Welles re-recorded huge portions of the dialogue for the U.S. release in additional to changing the editing. Maybe he thought he was improving the film, but, as I noted above, the existing European cut has a better mix with better voice synchronization than the "restored" U.S. release.

Dawson's account of the restoration makes the process sound like a real muddle with unnecessary compromises being made that resulted in a flawed initial release. The 1992 restoration of OTHELLO would still be acceptable if the damaged elements found in the New Jersey warehouse were all that existed. The tragedy is that a superior version of the film (the European edit) has existed all along, but has not been widely seen.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#20 Post by albucat » Wed May 22, 2013 2:25 pm

His various accounts have proven so confusing that I'm really not sure what the hell the restoration is at this point. I'm sure he's fond of his work, but I'd be happy just to have the two actual Welles cuts available and wouldn't see why a distributor would feel the need to put the restoration out there. Of course, when it comes to getting American releases of Welles' work, it's always just a pipe dream anyhow.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#21 Post by ando » Fri Jun 28, 2013 12:19 am

Well, the restored version's up on TheTube, but one of most bizarre stream-of-consciousness recollections by any filmmaker that I've watched is Welles' 'Filming Othello': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvqeQt8aLnU" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;.
I can't recall what I learned about film-making as Welles is mostly pulling our chain throughout.

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#22 Post by Iamhere » Fri Jun 28, 2013 2:26 pm

^That documentary is one of the best behind the scenes information. Beautiful compositions in all shots. Bath house bit is genius.

When he stabs underneath the floor boards. the sword appears superimposed. Is there any thoughts or background to this? An optical illusion for feeling to match the gated device throughout?

Here is some articles on Race in the movie :http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcont ... ext=clcweb
http://www.nicholasrjones.com/resources ... ero-SB.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

There is an article about Welles skill with black and white photography in relations to this film..anyone know what im talking about?

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Re: Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)

#23 Post by ando » Sat Jun 29, 2013 8:17 pm

Well, the superimposition of the knife wouldn't surprise me - after all, he does the famous "Is this a dagger before me?" scene in Macbeth with a superimposed image. But, youre right, it is a rather glaring superimposition which suggests all kind of things about Iago, his relationship with Roderigo, Othello and the spectre of male sexuality (particularly, "illicit" sexuality) which dominates the play and film.

I think this lack of a powerful, or even significant, feminine presence in the play, especially as presented by Welles, creates a luridly monotonous tone that isn't alleviated, really, until Emelia confronts Othello at the end. Of course, she's then killed by Iago but, in general, there's no feminine counterpart to the display of a distinctly masculine form of bravado, prowess, humor and provocation in Shakespeare's story. And it's partly why I've always found the play a bit dim - a lesser effort by The Bard, even though it's universally lauded as one of the greatest tragedies ever written. To my mind it falls fall short of that mark.
True, it concerns the fall of a man who commands other men in an overwhelmingly male dominated society, but couldn't we say that of King Lear? Or is that not fair since Lear deliberately hands his power to women (his three daughters)? Coriolanus is another Shakespeare central figure in a male dominated world who is ultimately checked, however, by his mother. These plays are far more balanced in regard to sexual politics and, to my mind, more interesting to watch.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#24 Post by ianungstad » Thu Nov 21, 2013 9:01 pm

I would say the opposite. MGM has been letting the rights to most licensed product lapse. The British Hitchcocks; Bergman films; Cronenberg films; Babette's Feast; Southern Comfort; being a few recent examples. Women In Love is OOP and not available for streaming or any other digital format. If the rights came up for renewal; I would bet that MGM let them lapse.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#25 Post by criterion10 » Thu Nov 21, 2013 9:15 pm

But, Women in Love was originally owned and released by United Artists. Wouldn't this still make it a part of the MGM library? Something like the Cronenbergs would be an entirely different example as MGM once licensed those out from a separate entity, and then chose to allow them to expire recently.

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