Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
In sharp contrast to the veritable torrent of Hamlet adaptations, it’s somewhat surprising that a Shakespeare tragedy as popular as Othello has so few major film versions. The first is Orson Welles’s 1952 adaptation, featuring the man himself in both the title role and the director’s chair. The most recent, oddly enough, at least as far as explicit-made-for-film versions, is 2001’s O, a modern update that you may or may not consider a true film adaptation of the play. Sure, there are a ton of films that fall in the middle ground. Do filmed theatrical productions count? Do modern updates like O count, and if so, do we consider films that have an even more tenuous link to the play?
Why do we care? might be the actual question on your tongue right now, but if you’ve ever enjoyed Shakespeare at all you’re probably aware of the fact that no two adaptations of the same play are ever the same. How has Othello changed from the first film adaptation to the most recent version? Is there anything that remained from the Welles version, working its way in to the Shakespeare tale such that O becomes an adaptation of both? If this is interesting to you, then this article will explore all of that; if you’re not interested, this article will still explore all of that.
Ah, Matt Jamison. He’s not the main character of The Leftovers. He’s not the one most directly affected by the Sudden Departure, nor is he the one who’s lived most nobly in its wake, nor is he a handsome shining studly hero with a constant grimace (see: Kevin Garvey; John Murphy). But anyone who’s seen last season’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter” knows that Matt Jamison was the most passionate character in the whole of the show, the most tragic, and now that we’ve had another Matt-centric episode in “No Room at the Inn” it’s safe to say that those characteristics carry over into the second season.
We’ll talk about the cyclical writing involved in Matt’s stories, but first: Christopher Eccleston. There’s a lot of strong acting in The Leftovers, with Kevin Carroll’s John Murphy being the particular standout in season two. Eccleston is the veteran to Carroll’s newcomer, but the scenes between the two of them in “No Room” absolutely crackle. And for the duration of the episode Eccleston exudes an easy sense of identification with his character; he’s so natural as Matt that if more people watched The Leftovers Eccleston might stop being “the guy from Doctor Who” and start being “the guy from The Leftovers“.
I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?
Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.
Graham Greene only wrote The Third Man as a novella in order to better understand the tone and characterizations before committing the story to screenplay, so in a way Carol Reed’s film adaptation can’t really be considered an adaptation at all. It was Greene himself who penned the screenplay, although Reed and Orson Welles are said to have had strong influence on the resulting film, and the novella version of The Third Man was never intended to be published. Eventually it was published, paired with the even shorter novella The Fallen Idol, and so today we have further insight into the development of the story.
Reed, who helmed a few other Greene adaptations including The Fallen Idol and Our Man in Havana, understood the novels of the author in a way that few other directors can claim. The atmosphere of The Third Man is masterful, with the long shadows of hidden still-hunters creeping along Viennese landmarks and midnight cafés. The famous sewer scene still echoes today, just as the voices of the police echoed throughout the subterranean columned halls as they hunted the elusive Harry Lime. As a whole the film and the novella share the strongest aspects of atmosphere and characterization, which is why film clubs still pore over Reed’s film while a few doors down the hallway a literature course picks apart Greene’s book.