Venice film fest's centennial tribute to Orson Welles

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Aug 20, 2015 15:48 IST
American great Orson Welles is known for his films like Citizen Kane and his Shakespeare series that include Macbeth, Othello and The Merchant of Venice.

That master whom we call Orson Welles would have been 100 last May, and the Venice Film Festival will honour the director on September 1, a day before the 11-day cinematic event on the island of Lido (off Venice) begins. Indeed what a wonderfully fitting tribute to a genius with the festival marking the start of its 72nd edition even before the actual unspooling of movies gets under way.

Two of Welles' Venetian masterpieces -- inspired by Shakespeare and digitally restored -- The Merchant of Venice (1969) and Othello (1951) will be screened on September 1. The Merchant of Venice was thought to have been lost, but by some strange providence, it was found and turned into a sparkling new print.

At Venice, this writer has always been reminded of this poignant play about mercy and justice and avarice. The Rialto Bridge is but one strong reminder, and The Merchant of Venice talks about it in its opening pages. In Act I, Scene III, Shylock the Jew asks: What news on the Rialto? Solanio poses the same question in Act III.

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For many centuries, the Rialto has been the financial and commercial centre of Venice. Today, it is also known for its markets that sell an alluring variety of curios and other goods. More importantly, the Rialto is also renowned for its bridge across the Grand Canal that has motor-boats and gondolas sailing past in scenic splendour.

The world premiere of the new copy of The Merchant of Venice (reconstructed by Filmmuseum München and Cinemazero) in colour brings to life the dramatic plot, culled from a newly discovered script. Welles began working on this in 1969, but did not complete.

In 1982, Welles claimed that the negative of The Merchant of Venice was stolen in some mysterious way. But thanks to a sensational find by Cinemazero, the film will now come to life at Venice.

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The Merchant of Venice is the last Shakespeare movie by Welles. Conceived as a part of an American television serial, the work was shot on location in Venice, Asolo, Rome and Trogir on the Dalmatian coast. It graphically portrays 17th century Venice and the key elements of Shakespearean times.

Once Welles had declared: "My own dream part is Shakespeare's Jew. It happens I'm a Christian (not that it matters), but I've always felt a special sympathy for Shylock, and I've wanted to communicate that sympathy to a loving audience."

Watch rare Orson Welles interview here:

Othello, of course, as we know was the Moor of Venice, who, consumed by raging jealousy, kills Desdemona. The original, full-length version of Othello -- restored by Cineteca Nazionale in Rome -- is an Italian version, with dialogues written by Gian Gaspare Napolitano and supervised by Welles himself.

The film was to have been part of the Venice Competition in 1951. But Welles withdrew his work at the last minute saying that it was not ready. A new shorter version in English was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1952, and won the Grand Prix. Now, this rare Italian version finally comes to the Lido.

The festival runs till September 12.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Venice Film Festival for well over a decade, and he will be back on the Lido this September.)

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