Othello


1h 19m 1922

Brief Synopsis

In this silent film, a famed general is led astray by jealousy and an evil underling.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Silent
Release Date
1922

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1

Synopsis

In this silent film, a famed general is led astray by jealousy and an evil underling.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Silent
Release Date
1922

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1

Articles

Othello (1922)


Filmmakers of the silent era faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge when adapting the works of William Shakespeare to the screen. How can one possibly retain the beauty of the Bard's prose without congesting the film with endless title cards? Because a non-dialogue Shakespeare film seems like a contradiction in terms, very few silent adaptations of his plays have stood the test of time.

The 1922 German production of Othello has fared better than most, due largely to the combined talents of actor Emil Jannings and Russian-born director Dimitri Buchowetzki (The Swan [1925]).

Returning in glory from a military victory, the valiant Othello chooses to promote Cassio (Theodor Loos), rather than another loyal underling, Iago (Werner Krauss). The film signals this choice may have dreadful consequences, as it characterizes Iago as "a soldier devoid of faith in honor, beauty and virtue -- whose serpent's soul covets a place in the sun beside his general." True to his character, Iago responds by orchestrating Cassio's downfall, convincing Othello that his bride, Desdemona (Ica von Lenkeffy), is having an affair with the newly-promoted Cassio. Multiple murders follow as Othello is unhinged by jealousy as a result of Iago's devilish and complex machinations.

Some Shakespearean silents are noteworthy because they provide glimpses of celebrated stage actors, such as Sarah Bernhardt (Hamlet [1900]) or Frederick Warde (Richard III [1912]). But these actors were simply transposing their stage performances to the screen, at a time when few filmmakers understood the unique physics of screen acting. By 1922, the art of screen acting had evolved considerably, and few performers had such a command over this unique cinematic science than Emil Jannings.

Like many other actors and directors of the German silent period, Jannings received his dramatic education under Max Reinhardt, the influential theatrical director most notable for exploring the scenic qualities of a play, from grand-scale epics to darker, more intimate dramas. After achieving international acclaim in Germany in the mid-1920s, Jannings was recruited by Hollywood, where he starred in Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command (1928). But it proved to be a short stay. When the movies started to talk, Jannings, like many other émigré actors, returned to his homeland rather than wrestle against his native tongue beneath the newly-implemented microphone.

In Othello, Jannings provides a dose of the grand theatre one expects of such a primal tragedy, but manages to maintain a grip on the more delicate expression of inner turmoil that would become his trademark. Second only to Lon Chaney in the frequent depiction of the tortured soul, Jannings repeatedly endured hardship, humiliation and crippling jealousy in such films as The Last Laugh (1924), The Blue Angel (1930) and Variety (1925), and it was the physical manifestation of this crushing inner tension that elevates his performance as the Moor of Venice.

And like Chaney, Jannings was occasionally guilty of playing his role too largely. For example, when he lays hands upon the handkerchief that signifies Desdemona's infidelity, he stuffs it in his mouth as if to tear it apart with his teeth.

Many a fine actor have followed in Jannings's footsteps -- Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier and Laurence Fishburne among them -- portraying Othello to great acclaim. But none has done so without benefit of voice, or the immortal words that seem to define the character of the Moor, "intellectual, tender, lofty; warlike, heroic, impetuous" (according to an intertitle of the Buchowetzki version).

Handicapped by the absence of the spoken word, the film attempts to one-up Shakespeare by exploding the drama beyond the parameters of the Elizabethan stage, enacting its drama within huge, elegant sets and frequently surrounding the principal characters with a cast of hundreds. On one hand, the frequent cutaways to the masses have a spectacular purpose. However, Douglas Brode, author of Shakespeare in the Movies, finds deeper meaning in this device. "However unconsciously, this adds a populist theme that has precious little to do with Shakespeare's conception, yet speaks volumes about the pervading mood in post-WWI Germany, when this interpretation was produced."

Iago is one of the stage's most deliciously villainous characters, and in Buchowetzki's Othello, he is portrayed by Werner Krauss. Best remembered today as the demonic carnival master in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Krauss makes Iago a purely diabolical figure. In Shakespeare's text, the character's hunger for Othello's downfall was fueled not only by the Moor's favor for Cassio, but the suspicion that Othello had slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. Brode writes, "This reduces Iago to the level of a petty villain... rather than the Moor's dark doppelganger. Such a storytelling approach transforms the piece from domestic tragedy into romantic melodrama. On the other hand, Iago's private life with Emilia is given far more time and attention here than in any other film version."

Director: Dimitri Buchowetzki
Screenplay: Dimitri Buchowetzki and Carl Hagen Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Cinematography: Karl Hasselmann and Friedrich Paulmann
Production Design: Fritz Kraenke and Karl Machus
Music: Piano score composed and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis
Cast: Emil Jannings (Othello), Werner Krauss (Iago), Ica von Lenkeffy (Desdemona), Theodor Loos (Cassio), Lya De Putti (Emilia), Ferdinand von Alten (Rodrigo).
BW-80m.

by Bret Wood
Othello (1922)

Othello (1922)

Filmmakers of the silent era faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge when adapting the works of William Shakespeare to the screen. How can one possibly retain the beauty of the Bard's prose without congesting the film with endless title cards? Because a non-dialogue Shakespeare film seems like a contradiction in terms, very few silent adaptations of his plays have stood the test of time. The 1922 German production of Othello has fared better than most, due largely to the combined talents of actor Emil Jannings and Russian-born director Dimitri Buchowetzki (The Swan [1925]). Returning in glory from a military victory, the valiant Othello chooses to promote Cassio (Theodor Loos), rather than another loyal underling, Iago (Werner Krauss). The film signals this choice may have dreadful consequences, as it characterizes Iago as "a soldier devoid of faith in honor, beauty and virtue -- whose serpent's soul covets a place in the sun beside his general." True to his character, Iago responds by orchestrating Cassio's downfall, convincing Othello that his bride, Desdemona (Ica von Lenkeffy), is having an affair with the newly-promoted Cassio. Multiple murders follow as Othello is unhinged by jealousy as a result of Iago's devilish and complex machinations. Some Shakespearean silents are noteworthy because they provide glimpses of celebrated stage actors, such as Sarah Bernhardt (Hamlet [1900]) or Frederick Warde (Richard III [1912]). But these actors were simply transposing their stage performances to the screen, at a time when few filmmakers understood the unique physics of screen acting. By 1922, the art of screen acting had evolved considerably, and few performers had such a command over this unique cinematic science than Emil Jannings. Like many other actors and directors of the German silent period, Jannings received his dramatic education under Max Reinhardt, the influential theatrical director most notable for exploring the scenic qualities of a play, from grand-scale epics to darker, more intimate dramas. After achieving international acclaim in Germany in the mid-1920s, Jannings was recruited by Hollywood, where he starred in Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command (1928). But it proved to be a short stay. When the movies started to talk, Jannings, like many other émigré actors, returned to his homeland rather than wrestle against his native tongue beneath the newly-implemented microphone. In Othello, Jannings provides a dose of the grand theatre one expects of such a primal tragedy, but manages to maintain a grip on the more delicate expression of inner turmoil that would become his trademark. Second only to Lon Chaney in the frequent depiction of the tortured soul, Jannings repeatedly endured hardship, humiliation and crippling jealousy in such films as The Last Laugh (1924), The Blue Angel (1930) and Variety (1925), and it was the physical manifestation of this crushing inner tension that elevates his performance as the Moor of Venice. And like Chaney, Jannings was occasionally guilty of playing his role too largely. For example, when he lays hands upon the handkerchief that signifies Desdemona's infidelity, he stuffs it in his mouth as if to tear it apart with his teeth. Many a fine actor have followed in Jannings's footsteps -- Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier and Laurence Fishburne among them -- portraying Othello to great acclaim. But none has done so without benefit of voice, or the immortal words that seem to define the character of the Moor, "intellectual, tender, lofty; warlike, heroic, impetuous" (according to an intertitle of the Buchowetzki version). Handicapped by the absence of the spoken word, the film attempts to one-up Shakespeare by exploding the drama beyond the parameters of the Elizabethan stage, enacting its drama within huge, elegant sets and frequently surrounding the principal characters with a cast of hundreds. On one hand, the frequent cutaways to the masses have a spectacular purpose. However, Douglas Brode, author of Shakespeare in the Movies, finds deeper meaning in this device. "However unconsciously, this adds a populist theme that has precious little to do with Shakespeare's conception, yet speaks volumes about the pervading mood in post-WWI Germany, when this interpretation was produced." Iago is one of the stage's most deliciously villainous characters, and in Buchowetzki's Othello, he is portrayed by Werner Krauss. Best remembered today as the demonic carnival master in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Krauss makes Iago a purely diabolical figure. In Shakespeare's text, the character's hunger for Othello's downfall was fueled not only by the Moor's favor for Cassio, but the suspicion that Othello had slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. Brode writes, "This reduces Iago to the level of a petty villain... rather than the Moor's dark doppelganger. Such a storytelling approach transforms the piece from domestic tragedy into romantic melodrama. On the other hand, Iago's private life with Emilia is given far more time and attention here than in any other film version." Director: Dimitri Buchowetzki Screenplay: Dimitri Buchowetzki and Carl Hagen Based on the play by William Shakespeare Cinematography: Karl Hasselmann and Friedrich Paulmann Production Design: Fritz Kraenke and Karl Machus Music: Piano score composed and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis Cast: Emil Jannings (Othello), Werner Krauss (Iago), Ica von Lenkeffy (Desdemona), Theodor Loos (Cassio), Lya De Putti (Emilia), Ferdinand von Alten (Rodrigo). BW-80m. by Bret Wood

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