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Bryn Mawr Film Institute
824 W Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010
The vast majority of Orson Welles’s films tend to be as notable for their production troubles and post-release controversies as they are for their baroque storytelling and bold aesthetics, and his provocative take on Shakespeare’s indelible tragedy, OTHELLO, is no exception. Filmed beginning in 1949 over the course of an inordinately long production cycle in Morocco and Italy, the picture eventually premiered in 1951 and was given a European release in 1952, shortly after garnering the Gran Prix du Festival at Cannes. In 1955, Welles issued yet another, slightly longer version, which included the addition of Welles as a narrator and was primarily intended for a US release. Then, in 1992, seven years after his death, Welles’s daughter, Beatrice, released a putative “restoration” of the film that divided film critics and scholars for the alterations it contained, which some viewed as unfaithful to the director’s vision. (The seminar screening is a 2014 digital remaster of this version of the film.)
In this seminar, we will discuss OTHELLO'S cinematic qualities and legacy, as well as its tortured production and release history. Yet, above all, we will honor Welles best by keeping squarely in sight the brilliant, racially charged, Shakespearean original—a tale of jealousy gone mad—that inspired Welles as both director and lead actor. The complex gender and racial politics of Shakespeare’s source material will be considered, as will the film’s depiction of Desdemona and Welles’s choice to portray Othello the Moor in something approaching “bronze-face,” a move that would no doubt create a storm of contention were it to be adopted today. As a remarkably economical adaptation of a lengthy, challenging, and controversial play, OTHELLO remains a signal achievement in Welles’s filmmaking career and a milestone in the larger history of Shakespeare’s reinterpretation and reinvention through the ages and across diverse media.
Cinema Classics Seminars offer an entertaining and engaging way to learn more about some of the true classics of world cinema. Students meet in the 2nd floor Multimedia room for an introductory lecture before the film and a guided discussion after the film. The film itself is shown in one of our theaters. Your ticket for the screening, as well as popcorn and a drink, are included with your registration.