Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Otello at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Opera
Director: Franco Zefferelli
Starring: Placido Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Justino Diaz, Petra Malakova, Urbano Barberini
Rated: PG

In 1986, in one of their rare attacks of culture, the amazing team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus opted to produce and release (through their Canon Films company) Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of Gisuseppe Verdi’s opera Otello, which of course is based on Shakespeare’s play. Well, you don’t get much more cultured than that—and Zeffirelli was, of course, a wholly respectable name in film, in opera and in Shakespeare. Zeffirelli’s glossy, solid productions of opera on the stage were very well-regarded, as much for their look as anything else, which was also his doing, since he designed the sets. That, of course, meant that Zeffirelli would design the sets here, too. Culture and respectability is a hard parlay to buck, especially when you head up a company mostly known for titles like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). And Golan-Globus pretty much got what they paid for—along with two of the biggest names in music: singer Placido Domingo and conductor Lorin Maazel.

Zeffirelli’s film is big, sweeping and gorgeous to look at. Scarcely a minute of it is dull, and it offers at least the illusion of being a faithful, straightforward—and nicely cinematic—rendering of the opera. But Zeffirelli had a secret to his approach to the story, accentuating the gay subtext that can be found in the story as concerns Iago’s (Justino Diaz) reasons for causing dissent between Otello (Domingo) and Desdemona (Katia Ricciarelli). It’s all tastefully done—this, after all, is Zeffirelli—but it’s in there, as is a great deal of similar material evident in the interplay between the male characters and the way they’re photographed. Of course, you can ignore all this if you want, but it really does serve to give the film a fresh edge and makes this Otello an interesting take on the material, without actually altering it.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Otello

  1. I’ve always been meaning to watch this, but I’m not a fan of opera, or Zeffirelli to any great degree. I do like Othello though. Would you think a Shakespeare lover who doesn’t care for opera would enjoy the film?

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve always been meaning to watch this, but I’m not a fan of opera, or Zeffirelli to any great degree. I do like Othello though. Would you think a Shakespeare lover who doesn’t care for opera would enjoy the film?

    Oh, God, I don’t know. Here’s what I can tell you, I do like opera. I don’t much like this opera. I tend to view Zeffirelli as someone who relies a little too much on the “look-we’re-using-real-cobblestones!” approach (trying to impress the viewer with surface realism). And there’s certainly some of that here. And yet I did enjoy the film.

  3. Chip Kaufmann

    It’s hard to say. As Ken pointed out, the film is rarely dull and is anything but a filmed stage production. It is a film first, Shakespeare second and opera third which is why it didn’t do well back in 1986. Opera purists hated it and others were afraid to try it. If you like OTHELLO, my advice is to go for it.

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