Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video

By Lynda E. Boose; Richard Burt | Go to book overview

12

GROSSLY GAPING VIEWERS AND JONATHAN MILLER'S OTHELLO

Lynda E. Boose

From stage productions as well as the so-called film classics, audiences had been accustomed to seeing monolithic Othellos proportioned along the lines of the savage grandiloquence of the Burge-Dexter (Olivier) production or reverberrating with the sheer epic scope of the Orson Welles. Such expectations-which undoubtedly originate in a director's desire to accommodate the exotic hyperbole of this play's title figure-would seem, a priori, to have made even the idea of a made-for-video Othello oxymoronic. 1 But in 1981 Jonathan Miller's rendition, made for the BBC/Time-Life series, gave us just that-an Othello consciously domesticated to the medium of television's 21-inch expectations.

I would not argue that Miller's Othello is an ideal production. For one thing, although hearing Anthony Hopkins speak of “the cannibals and the Anthropophagi” may have resonated with new meanings for a post-Silence of the Lambs audience, the film's failure to cast a black actor in the title role combined with the attempt Miller makes in his broadcast introduction to justify conceiving Othello as a “white Moor” seems-to a 1990s American audience, at least-suspiciously like an attempt to erase the racial issue from the play. But despite even this substantial drawback, I would still argue that, for the ways that Miller's Othello manages to work with rather than (as is too often the case) against the medium for which it was made, it represents a noteworthy instance of transferring/ transforming Shakespeare to video. The Miller Othello has used the very constraints of the medium to generate some of its most inspired suggestions about not only the genesis of sexual violence and the complicity of the world coded in this play as civilized and normative (i.e., “Venice”) but, finally, about the relation between the bedroom tableau to which the play leads and its voyeuristic viewers-between the spectacle of sexualized death and we the supervisors who have, by the time the play ends, indeed demanded to “grossly gape” on it.


FILM STRATEGIES

There are three particular production strategies through which I propose to read Jonathan Miller's BBC-TV Othello:

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Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Plates vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Totally Clueless? 8
  • Notes 20
  • 2 - Race-Ing Othello, Re-Engendering White-Out 23
  • Notes 41
  • 3 - War is Mud 45
  • 4 - Top of the World, Ma 67
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Popularizing Shakespeare 80
  • Notes 93
  • 6 - Shakespeare Wallah and Colonial Specularity 95
  • Notes 102
  • 7 - Poetry in Motion 103
  • References 119
  • 8 - When Peter Met Orson 121
  • References 134
  • 9 - In Search of Nothing 135
  • References 146
  • Stage Performances of King Lear Cited 147
  • 10 - A Shrew for the Times 148
  • Films and Videos Discussed 168
  • 11 - Shakespeare in the Age of Post-Mechanical Reproduction 169
  • References 185
  • 12 - Grossly Gaping Viewers and Jonathan Miller's Othello 186
  • 13 - Age Cannot Wither Him 198
  • Notes 213
  • 14 - Asta Nielsen and the Mystery of Hamlet 215
  • References 224
  • 15 - The Family Tree Motel 225
  • References 239
  • 16 - The Love That Dare Not Speak Shakespeare's Name 240
  • References 267
  • Index 269
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