Wow. I mean, wow.

Othello opens with a funereal procession, heavy dramatic music playing. The shots are truly black and white, in that there are barely any greys: the figures are just black silhouettes set against a forbidding fortress. A man in a cage hangs overhead. This is a tragedy, there's no mistaking it, and when the title card comes up, accompanied by some -by now stereotypical- lute music, it's a jarring contrast.

This is how Shakespeare adaptations should be done. This is how theater adaptations should be done, period. Welles both enhances the theatricality here, and at the same time uses every tool and possibility offered by the medium of cinema. One breathtaking shot follows another: in some, the characters are dwarfed against the backdrop of the Essaouira fortress, insignificant and powerless, and in the next they can be seen looming ominously large, filmed from below, often set against a monochrome sky.

It's one of the most efficient and unencumbered Shakespeare production I've seen, too. Nothing feels rushed, and time is taken both for long silent passages and grand speeches, but the film lasts only 90 minutes and nothing seems superfluous. Many directors confuse respect for the source material for a prohibition against leaving anything out (I'm looking at you, Kenneth), but Welles gets to the essence here, to the core of this jealousy-driven story.

Then there's the voice. Has there ever been a deeper, more majestic, more thrilling voice than Orson Welles'? At some points, it literally sent a chill down my spine. Some might object to the blackface used in the movie, but I cannot imagine Othello now with anyone's voice but his.

I could talk on and on about this movie: the intriguing scene in which Rodrigo is murdered; the shots of Iago with the empty cage hanging overhead; the strangling of Desdemona; how this makes me want to go back to Essaouira. In the end, of course, the film's a mess: some of the text is very hard to understand, Rodrigo's motivation is never made clear, and I didn't find Iago at all convincing. However, it's a mess that's imminently fascinating every step of the way, and with more memorable shots than I could keep track of, shots that make you gasp in surprise and wonder, shots that remind you of why Welles is revered for more than just his hypnotic voice.

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