Shakespeare by Jack Webb and Snoop Doggy Dogg
Release Date: January 01, 1970
Starring: Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett,
Julia Stiles, Martin Sheen,
Andrew Keegan, Rain Phoenix,
John Heard, & Elden Henson
Genre: Drama/Elizabethan Tragedy
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 91 minutes
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Executive Producer: Michael I. Levy & William
Producer: Eric Gitter, Anthony Rhulen &
Daniel L. Fried
Writer: Brad Kaaya
Address Comments To:Tom Ortenburg & Mark Urman, Co-Presidents
Lions Gate Releasing
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 966-4670
Fax: (212) 966-2544
Thus, for example, instead of Othello, there is Odin; instead of Iago, there is Hugo; and, instead of the fair Desdemona, there is Desi. Too bad, however, that the filmmakers also have decided to change the basic setting of the play, for this OTHELLO, this O, instead of being set among Italian aristocrats and military men, is set at a prep school for high school age students in the South, in contemporary times. The new setting is cleverly transferred, but it includes regrettable consequences that dilutes the depth and morality of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about love, jealousy and rage. It also means that Shakespeare’s wonderful, poetic language is missing, and that the scriptwriter and actors resort to more than 100 obscenities and profanities to get their points across, something which Shakespeare never had to do because he had real talent galore.
Mekhi Phifer from SOUL FOOD plays the title role in O. As Odin, he is the black star of a high school basketball team at a white boarding school in South Carolina. Michael Casio is Odin’s favorite scoring partner. This makes another player on the team, Hugo (Josh Hartnett of PEARL HARBOR), very jealous. Hugo is also jealous because his father, the team’s coach, treats Odin better than the other players, including Hugo, his own son. Hugo also is jealous of Odin’s passionate relationship with Desi, the pretty daughter of the prep school’s white dean. Hugo decides to convince Odin that Desi is having a passionate affair with Michael. This sets in motion a tragic, violent series of consequences, including drug use, murder and suicide.
O ultimately is a failure for several reasons.
First, unlike the original play, Odin and Desi, who are both 18, are not married. This makes Hugo’s destruction of their relationship, and Odin’s tragic fall from grace, much less of a dramatic tragedy. Furthermore, since they are not married, their immoral sexual relationship, and their relationship period, is not as deep and pure as in the play, or as the production notes for this movie say. Thus, eventually, Desi agrees to let Odin fornicate with her, though by that time in the story, Hugo’s hateful plot has worked its awful spell, and the fornication scene turns into a raw, painful example of art-house sensationalism.
Also, not only does O contain some scenes of underage alcohol use, there also is a point in the story where Odin turns to drugs, including cocaine use, to ease the pain that Hugo’s nefarious plot inflicts on him. Thus, while many people will focus on the violence that occurs in this movie’s high school setting, it’s the introduction of this kind of drug use which may be more damaging, even though the movie does not really endorse such drug use. Of course, the depiction of strong violence, drug use and underage drinking in a movie that may attract a youth audience is always a dicey business, even if the movie does not endorse such activity. That’s because hundreds of studies have shown that such visual material can cause actual violence and substance abuse use in real life, no matter what the context may be. Still, O does not appear to be endorsing violence and substance abuse. It does, however, seem to be endorsing sexual immorality and passionate love affairs among teenagers, who really should abstain from such activity until they get married and until they know what it is that God wants them to do in their lives, family-wise and career-wise. Thus, O not only dilutes the profound beauty of Shakespeare, it also dilutes the profound beauty of Shakespeare’s essentially Christian, moral worldview. This, then, is Shakespeare by way of Jack Webb and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Although the aesthetic quality of O suffers because of its new setting for a classic play, some of the acting is quite excellent. Mekhi Phifer as Odin and Josh Hartnett as Hugo deliver brilliant performances most of the time. They are hampered, however, by the movie’s inability to make it clear that Odin and Hugo are supposed to be close friends until envy and jealousy rear their ugly heads. Furthermore, as noted above, by lowering the depth and purity of Odin and Desi’s love for one another, the movie introduces a note of simple lust into the whole affair. This factor ultimately dilutes the beauty and the grand premise in the original play, which proposes that jealousy destroys love. The foul language in this movie – more than 100 obscenities and profanities – does not help this at all. In fact, it makes one long desperately for more writers and artists like Mr. Shakespeare, who never had to resort to such filthy language to speak profoundly and beautifully to an audience, and his words have lasted for more than 400 years!
O ultimately is a failure for at least two reasons, despite some marvelous acting by Mekhi as Odin and Josh Hartnett of PEARL HARBOR as Hugo. First, the school setting and the fact that, unlike the original play, Odin and Desi are not married dilute the dramatic power of Odin’s precipitous fall from grace. Second, the introduction of substance abuse, foul language and sexual immorality in such a setting dilutes the moral, Christian beauty in Shakespeare’s classic play