Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Orson Welles' "Filming Othello"

Someone has recently posted Filming Othello on You Tube in ten parts. Filming Othello, is, for better or worse, Orson Welles' last film. I saw the film at a revival house on the big screen and found it unwatchable. People fell asleep in the audience. So it was with trepidation that I clicked on part one of it on You Tube.

Othello (1952) was the beginning of the movie-making-as-adventure part of Welles' career, representing the better part of that career. Welles called it "hustle" filmaking but I think he enjoyed it to some extent: not that he enjoyed having to sing-for-his-supper and finance his own films, but that he could provide the fodder for tales he could spin about their making. The film has been dismissed critically by many: in Joseph McBride's critical survey of Welles he calls the movie "severely flawed," "self-absorbed and rhetorically diffuse." When the film was restored, it gained some new respect, however. I like it a lot.

Watching the opening minutes of Filming Othello, you see the elder Welles in full nostalgia mode. He notes the importance of the editing process. He says that a movie could be destroyed in the editing room ("savaged out of existence") and you wince a bit knowing that he is referring to so many of his own mangled works, particularly The Magnificent Ambersons. By the mid-70s when Welles' career as a director was in crisis, I think he enjoyed the moviola because he could spend countless hours creating movies comfortably on a shoestring and be entirely alone for much of their "making" as well. He began to make "Filming The Trial" about his 1962 film (but it was never finished).

Although he sets up a modesty about the merit of his Othello, you get the feeling that he did think highly of it, or at the very least was pleased he made (and completed) it, as he clearly believes that the source material is among the greatest dramas of all time.

Welles seems to have read much of the criticism of the film and has incorporated some of what has been written about it as his intent. To me, the best way to watch this doc. is as a college seminar on Welles' film, only that the professor giving the lecture is Welles himself.

I enjoyed watching Filming Othello much more this second time around, in parts. It's better to think of it as the television special it really was and to consider F for Fake his true swan song.

Here is the embed from You Tube to Part One (I think it will be removed one of these days so watch it soon; but then again I'm also sure the Criterion Collection Othello will come one of these days too, with Filming Othello on it)

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