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Shakespeare, Welles, and Style: Auteur Techniques in Othello (1951)


Othello is a 1951 Shakespearean drama produced, directed and adjusted by Orson Welles who likewise stars as the titular lead. It is also considered among the greatest acting efficiencies to be showcased by the auteur. In this essay, I will be analysing the tailored interpretation of the source product– Othello (The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) by William Shakespeare– by Orson Welles for the development of the film noir genre. [1] As an “auteur, Welles used novel cinematic techniques to create a transformed visualization of the text to accomplish filmic result and the richness of the visual produced in order to visually adjust an action-packed play. Of key interest, here, is an extract from Act V Scene II, which roughly translates to the scenes in the 1:16:16– 1:20:30 timeframe in the movie.

In this scene, Othello is on his method to his bedchamber, all set to confront his other half over her supposed unfaithfulness with the lieutenant Cassio. He considerably walks through the hall dispatching the candles on his method. In the bedchamber, Othello towers above the sleeping Desdemona while disputing to eliminate her. He bends down to kiss her one last time before he does the deed when she suddenly wakes and enquires about the strange presence. He informs her to prepare to die. Growing scared, Desdemona asks her partner why he implies to kill her, and Othello responds that she has betrayed to him with Cassio, corroborated by the “ocular evidence” of her handkerchief. Othello declines to believe her rejection of the charge, stating that Cassio has confessed but will speak say goodbye to (due to the fact that he is dead). Desdemona begins to weep for Cassio, which just drives Othello into more rage. He wrestles with her as she asks to be spared however Othello prospers in smothering his wife to death. [2] This extract is possibly the best example of direct adaptation of the source text. The discussion completely follows the source material accompanied by heavy modifying and interchanging cutting on action shots. This creates a sense of range– aesthetically communicated through the brief walk from the hall to the bedchamber, which goes on for the entirety of the monologue. On the other hand, there is heavy omission of non-noir parts of the play and major discussion along the rest of the movie which lays more focus on Othello than Iago and creates a character-driven plot. Using speed is utilized to create the suspense together with its primary function of placing the whole monologue in the exact same setting. The genuine triumph is the sensation of worry, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, anguish and fear, interacted through the liberal use of extremely contrasted chiaroscuro. The dark background puts the characters in focus that provide their lines with cooling gravity and somberness.

According to a press release by Carlotta Films, the suppliers of the latest modification of the original Welles motion picture, “For this 2nd adaptation, Welles appropriates the initial text to use a personal interpretation, selecting an innovative mise-en-sc? ne with baroque visual appeals. He takes the liberty of starting at the end of the play, and after that proceeds to a flashback that constitutes the rest of the movie. The precarious shooting conditions assist create an oppressive environment, close to insanity: Welles’s Othello is a whimsical stranger slowly pressed into an infernal down spiral by the repellent Iago. Allowing himself to make some cuts from the initial play, his Othello reveals itself as pure entertainment movie theater, with an excessiveness that is really Wellesian.” [3] As has been widely reported, the movie went through a series of monetary roadblocks while in production, which perhaps contributed to the use cut and paste modifying leading to a coarse visionary work of art bogged down by financial difficulties. Because the production was impeded with distribution disruptions, the target audience for the movie can not be determined and the shift from a standard Shakespearean adjustment points to an expanding target market. Upon the arrival of Othello into the bedchamber, the placement of characters in the frame is a sign of who is in power in this particular scene. The absence of the background, which at this point is a black mass, positions the characters in a vacuum where the audience is not offered any visual hints due to the extreme close-up angle. The framing is possibly indicative of Welles’s continuing experimentation with the film noir category as the surprise element in the scene is not completely specified in the source material and hence can be seen as a non-diegetic device utilized to additional Welles’s attempt at auteurship. Combined with the chiaroscuro components, this scene seals the movie noir element of this movie. The characters speak in hushed voices suggesting a personal and intimate mood for discussion.

The modulation practiced by Orson Welles’s locations severity on his delivery of the monologue which when contrasted with the surprised and womanly high-pitched voice of Desdemona produces a dark and strange plot. The characters remain in close proximity contributing to the dark intimacy of the scene. In specific, Orson Welles’s Othello has remarkable acumen of mise-en-sc? ne present in the entirety of the production. Each scene is crafted with punctilious detail, sort of like a puzzle of various scenes coming together to form a visually abundant output. This integrated with the odd placement of the source product– the film begins with the ending of the play– creates an intrinsic confusion for the audience who from the beginning can anticipate that the plot is not going to closely follow the source material. Making use of dive cuts offers both perspectives and offers the audience a sense of the series of various feelings being experienced by the characters on screen.

Welles’s positioning of the characters is likewise crucial. For the a lot of part Othello remains on the top left frame while Desdemona stays on the bottom right, which effectively keeps the power dynamics in balance and offers the audience lots of foregrounding hints. Expressions of bewilderment make for Desdemona’s contribution to the suspense of the scene. Integrated with the image of her clutching her gown in a stereotypically compromised lying position. These visual cues strengthen the styles of pessimism and fatalism, which are the overreaching themes provided in the Wellesian adjustment of an already dark Shakespearean disaster. Developing the thriller by gradually ending up the lights while walking through the significant arches of the fort produces a dark and menacing state of mind in the scene where audiences unaware of Shakespeare’s text can still predict that something dark is about to occur. The build-up is long and sluggish with cutting-on-action shots flitting in between the hall and the chamber, pre-empting the arrival of Othello into the bedchamber. There are elements of a horror movie with Desdemona questioning the strange existence and Othello all of a sudden emerging from the shadows to yield his presence, which remain in contention with the overall movie noir style of the motion picture.

Potentially, this might be an accidental foray into multi-genre film on Welles’s part. The general function of this film was perhaps to even more the auteurship of Orson Welles and to create a new platform for dark plots and darker cinematography in 1950s cinema. It also served a double purpose of transforming Shakespeare on movie and pushing the limits of adapted screenwriting. Throughout the making and distribution of this film, Welles was developing his film noir trope and audiences were presented to this brand-new genre of filmmaking in the preceding years. It was also speculated that Othello was a follow-up to Welles’s other movie noir work of art The Girl From Shanghai.


1. A TRAGIC, POETIC, AND VISUALLY SENSATIONAL WORK FROM THE DIRECTOR OF PERSON KANE A FILM BY AND STARRING ORSON WELLES PALME D’OR 1952 BASED ON THE PLAY BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE A CARLOTTA FILMS United States RELEASE carlottafilms-us. com ([ n.p.]: [n.pub.], 2014) 2. Brody, Richard, ‘Orson Welles’s Shattering ‘Othello”, The New Yorker, 25 April 2014 3. Crowther, Bosley, ‘Orson Welles revises ‘Othello’; scraps Shakespeare’s plot for visual impact’, The New York Times 1955 4. Othello, dir. by Orson Welles (1951) 5. Young, Toni, Shakespeare and the twentieth century: The picked procedures of the international Shakespeare association world congress, Los Angeles, 1996, ed. by Jonathan Bate, Jill L. Levenson, and Dieter Mehl (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998) 6. Orson Welles’ Othello [The original motion picture Rating]– original soundtrack|tunes, evaluations, credits(AllMusic, 1993). 7. Shakespeare, William, Othello (Wordsworth classics) (Wordsworth classics), ed. by Cedric Watts (London, UK: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company, 1992) [1] Shakespeare, William, Othello (Wordsworth classics) (Wordsworth classics), ed. by Cedric Watts (London, UK: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Business, 1992) 1. [2] Othello, dir. by Orson Welles (1951) [3] A TERRIBLE, POETIC, AND VISUALLY SPECTACULAR WORK FROM THE DIRECTOR OF RESIDENT KANE A FILM BY AND STARRING ORSON WELLES PALME D’OR 1952 BASED ON THE PLAY BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE A CARLOTTA FILMS US RELEASE carlottafilms-us. com ([ n.p.]: [n.pub.], 2014)

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