Othello

As Hutcheon points out, a performance of a play would generally not be considered an adaption, since the possibility of different performances is a part of the medium of the play.  There are some cases that could be said to blur the line, however, by deviating from the audience’s expectations as to how the play should be enacted.  For example, in the 1990s there was a race-reversed production of Othello, starring Patrick Stewart:
http://www.playbill.com/news/article/35752-Patrick-Stewart-Stars-in-Race-Reversed-Othello-in-DC-Nov-17

Whether this casting choice is significantly more “adaptive” than the choices that are ordinarily made in a production of a play could be debated.  In any case, I have focused only on adaptations that involve another medium in some way.

 
In addition to the Verdi, there is a 1999 opera adaptation by Daron Hagen with libretto by Paul Muldoon, entitled Bandanna.  It is set in 1968 on the US-Mexican border, and draws on both Othello and Otello.  A recording of the premier is available on VHS, but not held in NYC; NYPL has a CD of another performance from 2000.  There is also a pretty detailed Wikipedia page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandanna_%28opera%29

There was also a rock musical called Catch My Soul, originally starring Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago.  A cast recording is available on vinyl at NYPL.  The musical was made into a film in 1974 (see below).
 
There have been dozens of film and TV adaptations of Othello, some of which are available online:

• The 1909 silent film from Italy, directed by Ugo Falena, is here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsbY3cIF1RQ

• There was also a 1909 silent film from Germany, directed by Franz Porten.  It does not appear to be easily available.
 
• There was another Italian silent film in 1914, directed by Arigo Frusta.  It is held at the Library of Congress.

• A 1922 German film starring Emil Jannings is available at NYU and Columbia.

There is a 1930 film adaptation of Otello starring Manuel Salazar, available on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja1qzgbA6l8
 
• The 1952 film directed by and starring Orson Welles is available here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09NWcKA7JKw

• BBC produced a TV adaptation in 1955.  It is not readily available, but there is an article about it here:
http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/othello-bbc-1955/
• There was a 1955 Soviet adaptation starring Sergei Bondarchuk.  It is not available on DVD, but a VHS tape could be had through ILL.

Jubal is a 1956 Western with parallels to Othello.  It is available in full here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVTgDRmFnUs
The film is based on a novel called Jubal Troop by Paul Wellman.  From what I’ve been able to find, it’s not clear exactly how much the novel (as opposed to the film) has to do with Othello.  The novel is available at NYPL.
 
All Night Long is a 1962 British film starring Richard Attenborough, set in the London jazz scene.  NYPL has it on DVD.
 
• The 1965 film starring Laurence Olivier is available on DVD at Columbia and some of the smaller area libraries.
 
• The 1974 film adaptation of the rock musical Catch My Soul does not appear to be widely available, but there is some information about it online.  Here is a review from All Movie Guide which calls it a “train wreck”:
http://www.allmovie.com/movie/catch-my-soul-v86841/review

• BBC produced another version in 1981, starring Anthony Hopkins.  NYPL has it on DVD.
• Othello, the Black Commando is a 1982 adaptation in which Othello is a mercenary in Africa and Central America.  A VHS tape is available at the Folger.  YouTube has the first 27 minutes of it, but the video suddenly cuts off:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c643EpjD7l0

• The 1989 film with Trevor Nunn is available at Columbia.

• The 1995 film starring Laurence Fishburne is available on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYb30t4PNjU
• Kaliyattam is a modern Malayalam-language adaptation from 1997.  It is available on YouTube, but no subtitles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=st3zAR6cK7Y

O is a modern adaptation from 2001.  It is available on DVD at NYPL.

• There was a 2001 British TV movie written by Andrew Davies, and set in modern London.  NYPL has the DVD.  The first 15 minutes are on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1JKyvryCrc
 
Eloise is a low-budget Australian adaptation from 2002, set in modern Sydney.  It does not seem to be available on DVD, but here is the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxPnytJXK0g

Omkara is a 2006 Hindi film adaptation.  It is available on DVD at the GC library, as well as NYPL and elsewhere.

• Jarum Halus is a 2008 Malaysian adaptation.  It doesn’t seem to be available on DVD, but the trailer is on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rDWex2lsYQ

Othello, The Tragedy of The Moor is a 2008 TV movie from Canada.  There is a DVD, but it is not held by any library in the area.  Here is a very short trailer/ad:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYlw7cjz_jY

An adaptation called Otel·lo played the festival circuit this year.  Some info is available at the film’s Web site:
http://www.otello.cat/en
 
There is a 1985 graphic novel adaptation of Othello by Oscar Zarate, based on the original text of the play.  NYPL has it off-site.

There is also a 2009 manga version by Ryuta Osada.  Columbia has it.  The Web site is here:
http://www.mangashakespeare.com/titles/othello.html
 
Nabil Kanso created a series of 60 paintings loosely based on Othello.  You can view some of them here:
http://kanso.org/othello.html
 
Here is a video of a stage performance called Hip Hop Shakespeare: Othello Retold by the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company:
http://vimeo.com/8370585

Here is a video of James Earl Jones performing some lines from Othello at a White House event – maybe not an adaptation to another medium, but at least a re(/de)contextualization:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uihbX1ho2_k
 

The New York Times published a lesson plan for grades 6-8, in which students are asked to speculate about the plot of Othello based on character descriptions, and then given a synopsis of the play that they must adapt to a modern setting:

http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2001/08/31/thats-moor-like-it/?_r=0

It’s interesting that the students don’t read the original play at all.  Could such a lesson be considered an adaptation?

Finally, related to Shakespeare more generally, there is a Chicago-based troupe called the Improvised Shakespeare Company that performs improvised plays in a “Shakespearean” style:
http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/
 
Merry Wives of Windsor content will follow tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Othello

  1. Thanks for this Jeff. Amazingly comprehensive, of course. I was particularly interested in the Patrick Stewart “reverse race” production, and especially his comment: “it was the same time that it no longer became acceptable for a white actor to put on blackface and pretend to be African. One of my hopes for this production is that it will continue to say what a conventional production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice… To replace the black outsider with a white man in a black society will, I hope, encourage a much broader view of the fundamentals of racism.” So cf. Olivier’s black-face Othello; when exactly did Stewart’s comment become true? And, you’re all too young to remember, there was an outcry from Asian actors when Jonathan Pryce was to lead in Miss Saigon” though the role was a mixed Eurosian character. Other examples of race/ethnic based roles? Shylock is a clear one–Al Pacino?

    • I have done some pretty serious work on the musical FELA! (with the hopes of having an article published). This was a musical adaptation of the life of Nigerian political activist/musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. It was supposedly based on his life (in the plain facts way with some colorful additions), but a lawsuit from Carlos Moore, author of the authoritative biography of Kuti This Bitch of a Life and one-time supporter of the show, revealed that the show’s book was actually lifted from Moore’s biography.

      I had the opportunity to interview a few of the cast members who played Fela’s wives, and they noted that journalists often brought up the fact that none of them were of Nigerian descent, as if that somehow affected their “authenticity.”

    • In my Gothic class with Lyn Di Iorio (which a few of us Adaptaters are taking) we talked in our vampires session today about the Irishness of Stoker, Burke, and LeFanu. Lyn mentioned that Dracula had been read as Jewish (in large part because of anti-Semitic caricatures of the time – not unlike Shylock). I think it points to the between the lines racializing of certain characters – I’m wondering if we could map Bertha from Jane Eyre onto that, or even Heathcliff, both of whom are outsiders (and one of whom is pretty literally enslaved) and who might also be othered in another way. Verging back a bit to Professor Greetham’s question, I like the possibilities this kind of reading offers for an adaptation that is either close or more distant depending on how the character is interpreted.

      I also can’t help wondering what the gender flipping in Elizabethan theater has to do with all this.

  2. While I’m at it, I’ll comment on the musical Catch my Soul. I found a song from the original soundtrack on YouTube: http://youtu.be/87TrQyoTQR4. It’s not really a surprise why this didn’t fly on Broadway despite the star draw of Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, I would (with some hesitation) posit that funk hasn’t been successfully brought to Broadway at all…any exceptions that may have slipped my mind?

    The YouTube clip was captioned with “Art house blaxpoitation of William Shakespeare poem [sic] Othello with black Othello!.” There are so many things wrong with that sentence, but I’ll focus on just the first part…”art house blaxpoitation.” Clearly, the poster believes that the appropriation of gospel and funk by musical theatre is a form of exploitation for the purposes of “high brow art.” Class and race are both at issue here. But really, musical theatre as a genre has been “blaxploiting” since its initial appropriation of jazz rhythms and song forms. Does the term “blaxploitation” have chronological limitations?

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