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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
"O"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2364  Tuesday, 16 October 2001

From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 07:31:46 -0400
Subject:        "O"

I know I'm late on the bandwagon, but I went to see "O" and I wanted to
pitch in my 2 cents.  For me, I was less worried about the "criticality
of Shakespeare's language," and more worried about if it would be worth
seeing.  One thing's for certain, the Shakespeare brand has market
appeal.  He receives writing credit for something like 30 film
productions in the last 3 years, but in all fairness, that includes a
movie called "Midsummer Night's Cream."

"O," Miramax's basketball/high school version of Othello certainly is
the darkest of the Shakespeare adaptations out there for the youth
demographic.  In it, the Othello's story has been transplanted to an
all-white high school, where he is the only black student, the hero of
their highly touted basketball team and the boyfriend of Desi Brable,
the dean's daughter.  Hugo, the Iago character, is the coach's son, who
plots O's downfall and propels the story to its tragic end.  In terms of
plot and story, the movie remains generally parallel to the play; even
some small details, like the handkerchief and the over heard
conversations, that had always seemed somewhat contrived, remain so.

On the other hand, some broader issues seems to have a taken a different
direction.  Race, for example: aside from the visual aspect of seeing a
young dark-black man in the midst of a pale preppy private school world,
race hardly ever gets brought up at all.  One might have expected the
dean, as father of Desi, to feel the same discomfort as Barbantio in
Shakespeare's play, but O's blackness never gets the same attention.
Violence and battle, more or less missing from the play, gets more
prominent use in several fistfights.  Thanks mostly to the drowning of
the Turkish fleet, Othello sails smoothly into Cyprus, but "O" delivers
the goods; we see him several times on the basketball court and in one
particularly harrowing moment, his rage and jealousy finds its outlet on
the court as he shatters a backboard, like a raging Shaquille O'neal.
The movie also feels compelled to provide more overt motivations for the
characters.  Iago's notoriously "motiveless malignancy" is replaced with
Hugo's clear jealousy arising from his father's preference of O over
him, both as a basketball player, and to some degree as a son.  The film
opens with a voice-over soliloquy on the nature of jealousy delivered by
Hugo; it is a curious twist when we find that Hugo's jealousy and not
O's may have been the focus of his words.

(This may just be a characteristic of all modern adaptations.  In "Ten
Things I Hate About You," one of Julia Stiles other bard-oriented
efforts, the film-makers felt compelled to link Kate's shrewishness to
the loss of her mother.)

In the old Italian tale of the Moor and his evil ensign, it is the
ensign who kills Desdemona beneath a collapsed ceiling and the moor must
be tortured to reveal his role in the crime.  The critical consensus
seems to be that by changing the story to Othello's free confession of
strangling Desdemona himself, Shakespeare tried to make the story more
tragic and Othello nobler.  Instead of considering how Shakespeare
treated his source, I think it is just as interesting to consider him as
the source, and to view a film like "O" looking at how race or
motivation are viewed in our time, reconsidering how Shakespeare viewed
them in his.  The themes of Othello, love, race, jealousy, hate, have
always been contemporary, if not timeless, but I can entirely imagine
that students, intimidated by Shakespeare, might see characters they
recognize and identify with in "O".  Love, hate, and jealousy portrayed
in the context of high school social politics should make the hows and
whys of the tragedy all that more understandable.  As entertainment, for
students, Shakespeare fans or just in general, "O" is worth it.

In the meantime, we best brace ourselves for more.  If I read
www.imdb.com correctly, we are headed for Richard the Third as an Latino
in East LA, Julius Caesar as a skinhead, Macbeth as a lesbian, and
another Midwestern Lear.  Think I'll just settle in with Bob and Doug
McKenzie at the Elsinore Brewery.

jimmy

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