The Biggest Tragedy in Othello was its Movie(s)

I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan. I was forced to read some of his plays in high school and then again while at university. Although I may not be his biggest admirer, I can still appreciate the gravity of his work and therefore understand why some people regard him as being one of the greatest writers in the English language! It has become a common trend in Hollywood to showcase his plays in the theatre of today: the cinema.

Although there have been many movies based on Shakespeare’s plays (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc), one stands out among the rest as being a remarkably bad remake. O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson, has finally taken the poetry out of Shakespeare. If you read any synopsis about this film the words “modern” and “update” are bound to crop up. Why does this bother me? It’s the same as taking the “old” out of “old-school”- it’s just PLAIN wrong! Some of you may disagree with me on this point but hear me out. Othello was written in 1604 and “O” was made in 2001 as a loosely modern adaption of the play. In plain English, Othello and his cohorts were transported from the banks of Cyprus to the locker room of an elite private school in the American South!  Wow, just writing that sentence probably made Shakespeare turn in his grave. I mean come on- doesn’t that just scream TV melodrama instead of theatrical masterpiece?! It’s like asking the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 to talk to each other in Shakespearean verse!

What does “modernize” mean anyway? To make better or to make worse (that is the question)! Instead of Othello being a General in the service of Venice he becomes Oadin, head of the basketball team at some private school. I wonder who made up the rest of the team. Could it be Hugo (Iago) and Michael (Cassio)? Well if ever there were a reason for Humpty Dumpty to fall off his wall, I think this is it. The icing on the cake comes in the form of Desi (Desdemona), played by Julia Stiles. Our daughter of the duke has had a makeover if ever there was one. Stiles is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but she’s playing a high school chick named Desi. Desdemona has been transformed from fair maiden to a hoodlum school girl all in one movie showing. Shall the halls of classic literature be thus desecrated?

And don’t even get me started on the movie’s dialogue. I mean let’s face it, “f***” is about the most descriptive word in the movie. In scene 1 of the play Iago says to the Duke:  “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.” In high school terms Iago’s speech would go something like this: “your daughter is getting tapped by this dude, O, and if she gets preggo it’ll be one weird looking baby.”  Ok, so even though that WAS NOT in the movie my point is that by dumb-ing down (aka modernizing) Shakespeare that is what you are going to get: a second rate movie.

In this case Shakespeare’s Othello should be completely disassociated with the movie “O”. I think it is safe to say that just like a Venetian army is worlds apart from a basketball team so is Shakespeare and the director of this terrible movie, Tim Blake Nelson.

What did you think of ‘O’ the movie?