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Comparing Tim Blake Nelson's Version of Othello to That of Geoffrey Sax

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Along with Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, Othello is one of Shakespeare's four greatest tragedies and consequently a pillar of what most critics take to be the pinnacle of Shakespeare's dramatic art. The Bard's controversial play has been remade for television and the silver screen quite a few times, with many different adaptations. In more recent years, many filmmakers have re-contextualized his works, into a number of more modern settings, in an attempt to make his work more accessible to contemporary audiences. Perhaps the most talked about adaptations are those by directors Tim Blake Nelson and Geoffrey Sax, who have each produced their own renditions of the play, which reflect their interpretations of the play's central themes, the driving force of the plot. Despite obvious drawbacks in both modernized versions, Tim Blake Nelson's adaptation seems to be more successful in depicting Shakespeare's tragedy. The following paper will analyze both films, comparing and contrasting the two productions, describe in detail the creative decisions made by both directors to modernize the play, and conclude with why Tim Blake Nelson's "O" triumphs as the better interpretation of the Bard's Othello, the Moor of Venice. Each of these contemporary versions, involve very different characters, plots and settings, yet maintain the central themes of the Bard's play. "O" is a retelling of Othello, the Moor of Venice, but instead of the action taking place on a battlefield, it is all played and fought over a basketball court. Nelson's film takes the violent, gripping and emotional tale of love, friendship and betrayal into a teenage environment, where it is only intensified and more passionately displayed. Odin James, parallels the character Othello, as the only black player on an all-white team basketball team, the Hawks. With unmatched basketball skills, a disposition liked by everyone, and the love of the Dean's daughter, Desi, Odin is a powerful leader and is destined for a promising future in basketball. ...read more.


For example, Nelson includes the scene in Act I of the play in the film, where Hugo and Roger inform the Dean of his daughter's relationship with Odin. Likewise, he includes the party scene where Michael gets drunk and loses his title. The scene where Odin listens in on Michael and Hugo's conversation is also included. Each of these events is similar to those from the text. Nelson has chosen the film to have a direct relationship with the play and follows its events in chronological order. Clearly, both directors have taken a different approach to convey Shakespeare's themes and ideas, through their unconventional settings and styles in which the dialogue is delivered. Overall, all of the conflicts and concepts are still present, but each director has given their story a twist. One example is the symbolic handkerchief which is present in both movies, but in two different forms. In "O", Nelson chose the handkerchief to be a scarf, that was given to Odin by his mother and meant to be given to someone special. Odin chooses to give it to Desi, as a pledge of his love, however when Desi drapes this scarf around Odin's neck later on, he pushes it to the ground. This symbolizes the carelessness Odin applies to his relationship with Desi. Later, Hugo manipulates Odin into thinking that Desi has given this scarf to Michael, and pushes him to suspect her fidelity, which leads him to strangle her to death. Sax has symbolically represented this handkerchief as a golden robe, given to John by Desi, instead of from John to Desi. In this version, Michael Cass, Desi's personal guard is seen wearing this symbolic robe by John. John uses this robe as evidence to suspect his wife of adultery and gives to Jago to be examined. What one finds to be intriguing about this robe is the fact that is gold - gold suggests a sense of royalty. John feels that this royalty is being passed over to Cass. ...read more.


Sax use of music helps us identify with the character present in each scene. For example, in the scene where John exits from his speech to the rioting crowd, heroic, patriotic music is played, to give us sense of John's character and his commitment to the job. In scenes where Jago talks with other characters, the music is the complete opposite - often eerie and low. The music played in the background, depicts each character in relation to the plot of the story. Sax also incorporates another effective technique in his production with the use of music, that Nelson has not. At times in the production, music overlays the dialogue articulated by the character. One example is the scene where John begins to notice Michael and Desi's relationship. We see Michael and Desi together talking but we cannot hear what they are saying. Instead a soft, uneasy music is played. In a way, this allows us to understand what John is thinking. The outside world is muted out and the uneasy music gives us a sense of the suspicions in John's head. Many feel that the poetry of exceptional drama cannot be communicated through film, but one must not forget the poetry of television. Without doubt, probably the most memorable thing from any of Shakespeare's plays, is not the plot or the characters, but rather the dialogue - after all, Shakespeare is arguably the most quotable author ever to write in the English language. However, the same effect can be conveyed on the silver screen, with simple lines delivered with feeling, such as those in both "O" and "Othello." However, the decisions made to modernize the play in "O", manage to be more successful in generating appeal to a contemporary audience. When you have all the cinematic elements in place - lighting, camera work, sound effects - anything is possible. Let me conclude with Simon Leake's review on "O", which offers a daring contemporary perspective of a familiar story, and it succeeds both as a powerful modern drama and `as a testament to Shakespeare's insight into human weaknesses.' ...read more.

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