Without a doubt, the generation of today has a certain way of looking at things and it comes out distinctly when they’re, for instance, watching something that was made several decades before they were born. Othello, the 1965 film based on the National Theatre’s staging of the classic tragedy by William Shakespeare, appealed to some and put off some. The late film American critic Pauline Kael, I read in Wikipedia, found the Olivier’s Othello appealing and chided the major studios for not investing in the project. Similarly, fellow American critic John Simon, who is currently the drama critic for Bloomberg News, found Olivier to have played “this misconceived Othello spectacularly, in a manner that is always a perverse joy to behold.” [Wikipedia]  

The false deep voice of Olivier reminded me of Darth Vader and wondered if James Earl Jones took some tips from him. Nonetheless, I was drawn to that deep voice. However, his unnatural complexion, which looked like he fell in to a vat of ink, disturbed me a bit but I kept quiet. My students were more vocal.

“Ink, Miss? They painted him!” he remarked loudly, the look of incredulous coloring his face and his voice.

Then the modern critics were on a roll. It’s suppose to be a dramatic scene but when Roderigo, played by Robert Lang, entered in his China doll- page boy hair cut, raucous laughter emanated throughout the room. It was too gay for them just like when Othello was twirling the rose in his hand and tapped Iago twice on his chest with it. They were rolling on the floor laughing out loud. Then someone shouted Avatar when, in one shot, Olivier’s face shone like the blue hue of the Avatar characters and, oddly enough, his eyes suddenly became yellow. Another round of laughter went through the classroom.

More laughter shook the students when Olivier wailed and flourished his arms about before the body of his wife whom he smothered to death. I think my students thought he was doing a dance – and in a death scene! I’m one with them on this one – the swaying arms were camp.

Then they delivered the clincher remark that reduced the late British actor, director and producer into a cookie. That Baron Laurence Olivier was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century and that his career as a stage and film actor spanned more than six decades were simply glossed over. Aside:  Olivier is possibly not happy with my students’ reaction to one of his works.

“Miss, Oreo, double stuff,” cheekily chirped the one who noticed the unnatural inky hue of Othello earlier on. This remark sent everyone into side-bursting fits of laughter.

The screen showed Olivier/Othello entering his bedroom dressed in a white silky tunic that contrasted greatly with his dark color. And, to think, the scene was the climax of the play: he had made up his mind to kill Desdemona, thinking he was saving her soul from her indiscretion.

Iconoclastic, I tell you.


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