Above, Orson Welles and Micheál MacLiammóir playing Othello and Iago in Welles’s film from 1952. Below, Suzanne Cloutier plays Desdemona. There’s a very good post about the film at The Sheila Variations.
Visually, this is an incredibly rich film. Ideas of montage and expressionist image composition were no longer new by the 1950’s, and they’re not used for novelty in the film. As Othello falls prey to the suspicion planted by Iago, the compositions become more dramatic within each shot, and so do the changes in composition within some shots as action transforms them, and so also the contrasts in viewpoint and composition from shot to shot. In the most highly charged scenes successive shots don't so much add to our sense of where the actors are as repeatedly unsettle it.
Watching the film last night, I felt a connection between this agitated fragmentation, dislocation, between this and something I’d noticed in a film we’d watched earlier in the week, From Russia to Hollywood, a documentary on two Russian actors and teachers of acting, Michael Chekhov and George Shdanoff.
The documentary was a bit amateurish in parts, but I found much of the content interesting. To illustrate the number of Hollywood actors taught by the pair, the film included lots of clips of dramatic high emotion Hollywood acting from different films by different actors, and seeing so many together I began to hear a common quality to several of the actors’ delivery in some of the more emotionally heightened scenes.
Though the various scenes were filmed more conventionally than Welles’ Othello, the delivery of the dialogue had the same fragmented edited quality to the ear as Welles’ images presented to the eye. I don’t mean that the dialogue was literally edited as in having been cut and assembled by a sound editor, but that it already sounded that way as it came out the actors’ mouth within a single shot. Shifts in timing and emphasis in the delivery were as sharp as if they’d been cut and spliced.
Images copyright © the estate of Orson Welles. More below the fold.