Take a Drink: whenever Welles expresses his awe of Shakespeare
Take a Drink: whenever he explains how his technique mirrors theme
Take a Drink: whenever Welles quotes or “misquotes” a writer
Take a Drink: for filmmaking workarounds and compromises
Do a Shot: if you keep waiting for the blackface to be addressed
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When it comes to discussing the last film of the great Orson Welles, there’s a bit of a debate as to jsut what that was. Besides the bevy of unfinished projects he left behind, The Immortal Story was his last work of fiction, but at a scant 60 minutes and playing on television before receiving a late theatrical release, maybe Chimes at Midnight would better qualify. The quasi-documentary F for Fake is held by some as his last work as well.
Acting-wise… let’s not speak of this.
However, the actual final film he ever directed, though, was Filming Othello, the first in a planned series of documentaries about the making of his greatest films for German TV. In it he discusses the motivations behind Othello, converses with two of the actors in the film, and finally films a Q & A after a screening of his classic film.
Filming Othello is first and foremost a fascinating insight into the artistic process of one of the greatest directors there ever was. He clearly reveres Shakespeare, and throughout the film discusses the themes of his work and the challenges and pleasures of adapting a great work of art with your own perspective and interpretations.
My interpretation of Downton Abbey will find its appreciation in time.
He’s also chock-full of awesome anecdotes (“Picasso was not frequently an enthusiast for the work of lesser mortals”) and production stories about the many problems he faced while making his film. After Citizen Kane, the poor man always had challenges and Othello was no different, with financing woes and constant geographical changes forcing Welles to keep continuity together in his head despite multiple delays and relocations. It’s a marvel that Othello was a coherent film at all, much less a masterpiece.
When at least the film was ready for Cannes, Welles and co. ran into a problem when they were asked to submit it for a particular country. Since its financing, shooting locations, and talent were from all over the world, Welles submitted it as a Moroccan film (Othello was Moorish, right?) and when it won the Palme, had to scurry to find a Moroccan-enough sounding song to play as the “national anthem”. When it comes time for these stories to end, Welles bows out, in the film as well as his career, on the perfect poignant note.
Filming Othello is barely a movie. The first part is basically just hanging out in Welles’s living room, followed by a few clips, a tipsy lunch conversation, and a Q & A session that was likely unrelated to the production of the film. Welles makes it a cohesive whole through pure strength of will, and that’s all.
That lunchtime conversation is pretty ridiculous. Welles was unabashedly a ham, and that’s part of the charm of the film, but his two acting and theater buddies here are kindred spirits, and the result is ham overload.
Is that even possible? You decide.
When you hear “Jealousy is the sea-sickness of passion” you know you’ve been swept off the Pompous Pretentious Precipe to flounder in the Day Drinking Sea.
Filming Othello may simply be a conversation with Orson Welles, but what better conversationalist? We, too, wish we weren’t looking back on your career, Mr. Welles, but looking forward to it.