The film Othello by director Oliver Parker, is based on the Shakespearean tragedy based on the Insecurities of one man, being played upon leading to his undoing at the hands of the one he most trusts, ? Honest Ago?. In this essay, we look at how this age old play is dealt with by the medium of film, reviewing the director? s ability to provide an effect caused by insight into the play? s mechanization and Interpretation of such affected by visual mastery. This analysis focuses mainly on techniques and devices used to achieve this and their effect.
The effectiveness of Parker? Choice of actors and actresses needs to be first questioned. Cognizant of the character Othello empty UN-reflective nature, he filled the void with sex and violence, traits embodied through actor Lawrence Bushfire’s stunning visual presence. The idea was to make the erotic relationship between Othello and Desman the emotional hinge of the play, and this aspect at least, was handled well by the American actor. Bushfire’s physicality and stilted American speaking of the lines make him the epitome of the alien “other” Inherent in the play? Racist nature. The casting for all of the other parts Is Just as creative, for example Desman is not portrayed as the blond-haired embodiment of innocence as has been the norm in traditional productions. Rather she is sensual and dark-haired, played by the actress, Irene Jacob. Although Shakespearean Othello says “she loved me for the pains I have suffered,” this Desman, speaking in heavily accented English, rather conveys the full measure of erotic chemistry that can precipitate a sudden elopement.
With this is mind, the audience already witnesses a hint of the contrasting value of he play, mirrored well and in fact improved by the film. The movie begins with the image of Othello lifting a black and white mask onto his face (the mask is appropriate ? Othello? Is a play about identity – both our conception of ourselves and the way we perceive others). This image Is also significant of the two faced god Janis, who Is linked to Ago. The symbol Is effective as It Is a mask of sorrow donned, signifying that It Is this ? Two-faced? Nature that causes this tragedy.
In the opening act of the play itself, Ago show of allegiance to the double-faced god mints primarily to the doubtlessness of Ago himself. However, there is another aspect of Sago’s allegiance to Janis which is quite evident especially in the film. This likeness is Ago? s being the guardian of doorways and thresholds ? A concept played on by Parker? s apparent concern with entrances, doorstep hesitations and lurking by windows, in attempts to give the film a thriller effect. It is very important to notice that Ago is repeatedly stationed on a threshold, between inside and outside, often ushering the characters in and out.
In the opening of the film, Ago and Ordering are men lurking (in the foreground) beside a door, apparently spying on Desman who is hurrying to some secret place to be wedded to Othello in the middle of the night. This Is also apparent In Act Ill, scene 3, where when Othello collapses on his bed when Othello wakes up with a start in the middle of the night, having dreamt of Desman and Cassia’s embraces, and leaves the palace for the beach. Unexpectedly Ago appears stealthily behind him, as if he had been lurking there, and remains for a while in the doorway of the palace with his eyes on Othello before joining him on the beach.
It is believed that from standing at the entrances of houses, at the doors, Janis is considered the patron of beginning and endings. So is Ago given the role of opening and closing most of the scenes. Parker utilizes this, having Ago linger behind the characters after leaving any place he is in. This gives Ago a diabolical, supernatural effect, as he seems to appear behind and aside characters out of some dark abyss. The director makes this even more apparent with his adoption of the significance of the soot in the play, after the villain has devised his plot.
The devilish Ago grasps a deed hot brand and smears his hands with soot, then places his blackened hand on the lens of the camera, with the effect of a black-out, saying “So will I turn her virtue into pitch, And out of her own goodness make the net, That shall enmesh ‘me all” Thus Ago appears as the absolute master of the gaze, of seeing, hiding and showing things at will; in so doing, he controls the physical and mental movement of characters, as well as the audience whose vision he may aid or obscure at will.
The soot he spreads over the “eye” of the camera also suggests the fact that the characters are overly blind. It also testifies to the fact that as the play progresses, night seems to spread over Cyprus (with literally a growing importance of night scenes) overshadowing all the characters, including the fair Desman, who becomes, in Othello very words, “begrimed, and black. ” This furthermore shows Ago as film director, and most of all as god of passageways, with the impression that he steps out of the dramatic universe.
The scheming mastery possessed by Ago is excellently captured and portrayed by the visual devices and symbolic imagery used by the director to make effective his interpretation of Shakespeare? s work. Very important is the use of camera focus, a device Parker liberally utilizes to make up for the scenes from the play he has omitted from the film. He particularly makes use of the technique of? Rack focus? , a device where one character? s face is blurred while another? s is in focus. This technique is used for dramatic and symbolic effect, significant for instance in the night after the fight scene where Cassia? Face is highlighted and Ago? s words muffle until inaudible and the view of he and Othello are unclear. This works to further emphasize Ago? s God- like persona and pervasive effect. By illuminating the faces of these victims, Parker is forcing us to concentrate on the effects of his words. Alternately Ago who is standing in the background comes progressively into focus, while the character in the foreground fades out, which produces a new backward ? Forward inversion. This is traumatized on several occasions.
As fore-mentioned, in Act II, scene 3, while Ago is reporting to Othello how the fight came about, the camera Othello in the background blur out, and vice versa. Later in the same scene, Ago omens into focus in the far background between Cassia and Othello to signify to Cassia that he has done his utmost to temper Othello anger. The device is again loaded with meaning when, in the vaulted armory, Ago who is at first sitting in the background starts making insinuations to Othello, whose face is screened by swords displayed on racks.
Ago is at first out of focus, seen as much as unseen, while his initial tacit suspicions of Adhesion’s apparent infidelity are shut out by Othello, yet seep through his closed ears to infect his mind. As Ago comes back into focus (before e walks over to Othello who has moved away from him at the first disclosure), one can assume that Sago’s poisoned words have already made their way into Othello thoughts. The same device will be at work at the end of the play, while Othello is reading the letter brought from Venice by Ladylove, to convey the double focus of the scene.
The focus keeps shifting from Othello who is perusing the letter and Desman in the background who is talking with Ladylove about Cassia, showing the build-up of intensity leading to the slap. This use of indirection and distortion of the gaze is a device utilized again by Parker, men when the characters arrive in Cyprus, Ago observes behind him without being seen, the courteous exchange between Desman and Cassia reflected on the blade of his knife, uttering the words: “Very good, ay, well said, whisper: in as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassia. The reflection is blurred and warped on the unpolished blade. This is very significant, as the image blurred on blade shows that Ago is unsure of the authenticity of this action, yet pounces upon it ? Seeing it through his blade signifying the violence he intends to create out of it. Once again his likeness to the two-faced god is apparent as he sees everything, before him and behind him, forward and backward. One of the most important signifier of Othello? s insanity is his obsession with images of Desman and Cassia having sex.
These images are combined by Parker to create a flashing sequence forming one of Othello nightmares. Whereas in the scene where Othello and Desman consummate their marriage, we see Othello black hand grasp Desman? s white one, during Othello disturbed visions, the camera instead shows us Cassia’s white hand over Adhesion’s. These images are particularly tormenting for Othello as his potent love for Desman and insecurities about his age and race result in a sense of unworthiness. His possessiveness of Desman is an important pioneer to his Jealousy which is predominantly sexual as he treats Desman? Beauty as the cause which inflamed his love for her but which he also believes to have tempted Cassia, thus leading to his madness. In conclusion, Fishbone and Jacob may not have been the ideal candidates for the portrayal of Othello and Desman respectfully, due to their lack of?. , they have nonetheless done well with their roles for the purpose they had been granted them ? To embody an erotic screen presence, as Parker intended to re-conceive the play as a sexual thriller. Saved by the acting genius of Kenneth Branch as Ago, as well as the indeed been a disaster.
Irene Jacobs sensuous Desman is an erotic match for Fishbone on the screen and Othello does not have to be crazed to imagine her making love to another man, especially after Parker inserts a scene in which Othello watches Desman dance with Cassia, with a look of sensual pleasure in her eye. All f this makes Othello Jealousy more believable. The director embodies this passion symbolically in Desman? s dance with fire, which she passes around first to Othello then hands to Cassias ? Suggestive of a nature prone to infidelity.
In his manipulative interchanges with Ordering, Cassia, and Othello, Parker through his screenplay fashions Ago to occasionally assume a seductive feminine demeanor, wooing them with yielding words and promises. This is predominantly shown in the scene after Othello arrival in Cyprus where the celebration of the Turkish fleet’s destruction has become a drunken orgy. In a cart rocking above them the camera reveals, without being overly graphic, that a couple is having intercourse while below a gleeful Ago embraces Ordering and deviously sets him on to further machinations.
This apparent nature is also implied in the body language between Fishbone and Branch suggesting dominance-submission, sadism-masochism. Thus, this possibly suggested aspect of homosexual attraction being the power behind Ago? s evil actions, by Shakespeare in the play, is also embodied into Parker?