Desi "was a ho": ocular (re)proof and the story of O.
While it might be tempting to attribute Desdemona's passivity to the ubiquity of the damsel in distress motif in contemporary melodrama, not all silent movie heroines are silenced; Asta Neilsen (Hamlet, 1921), Francesca Bertini (Cordelia, 1910; Juliet, 1912), and Theda Bara (Juliet, 1916) are just a few of the strong women who find voices on the soundless screen. (2) In the 1922 Othello, Ika yon Lenceffy's Desdemona is stifled by the film's self-consciously expressionist visuals and its tendency to treat her, not as a character in her own right, but as the site/sight of conflict between Werner Krauss's Iago and Emil Jannings's Othello.
Tim Blake Nelson's O (2001)--a present-day retelling of Othello which offers a restored version of the Buchowetzki film as a bonus in the two-disc deluxe DVD edition--presents a similarly muted yet highly conspicuous Desdemona figure in the form of Desi Brable (Julia Stiles). (3) Relocated to a contemporary setting--an American high school--and divorced from Shakespeare's early modern language and culture, O seems to offer the possibility for an exploration of postmodern gender dynamics and an examination of violence as a reaction to female sexual and lexical expression. Nelson's film seems deliberately constructed to critique patriarchy and its emphasis on whiteness, wealth, and women as subordinates. Yet, regardless of its intentions, O repeatedly reinvokes patriarchal values through its cliched representations of race and sex and its overaccentuation of the visual.
Scholars such as Barbara Hodgdon and Frederick Luis Aldama have delved into the ways that O "loads the representational deck, relying on strategies that approach, even as they also work to overturn, familiar [racial] stereotypes," but few critics have dealt with how the adaptation/update reinforces gender stereotypes. (4) Instead of taking up Gregory M. Colon Semenza's call for fuller analysis of the film's "complex, problematic" (5) female characters, critics have been content to simply label O an example of"Shakesploi" (6)--a term for late twentieth-/early twenty-first-century teen-centric versions of Shakespeare which offer "dumbed down" versions of the plays for a young mall-going audience. However astute Richard Burt's insights into "girlene" cinema are, they do not fully explain O--a film that self-consciously stages class and gender conflict, and does so without the knowing wink of Jawbreaker (1999) or Never Been Kissed (1999). (7)
Other critics have tended to eschew analysis of the film's presentation of the Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca equivalents and instead point to Stiles's portrayal of Desi in the context of the actress's depiction of other Shakespearean heroines in contemporary adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You, dir. Gil Junger, 1999) and Hamlet (dir. Michael Almereyda, 2000)--adaptations that feature purportedly pluckier, feistier, more individualistic, and more intellectual versions of Shakespeare's women. (8) This appraisal of both early modern female characters and recent cinematic revisions of these characters is simplistic, relying as it does on a teleological vision of female representation which supposes that today we inhabit a postfeminist universe where "super-dainty Kate" (9) becomes kick-ass Kat, and "sweet Desdemon" (10) transforms into the self-assured Desi. In reality, Desdemona is not simply a patriarchal patsy and Desi is not a girl-power icon.
As in Shakespeare's play, the women of O inhabit a world that is hostile toward their sexuality and their ability to denigrate male reputation through infidelity. Yet, this retelling of Othello privileges the visual while simultaneously devaluing the vocal, creating a text markedly different than Shakespeare's--and one with radically different implications for the portrayal of women. As Eamon Grennan rightly observes, in Othello, "The speech of the women ... occupies a pivotal position in the play's moral world," with Desdemona's speech taking on particular significance in this "play about voices, [which operates as] an anatomy of the body of speech itself, in all its illocutionary variety." (11) Desdemona is an oral and aural force in Shakespeare's tragedy, and it is the interpretation--and misinterpretation--of her speech that propels the action. Yet, unlike the voluble heroine of the play, O's Desi--and the other female characters in the film--are more often seen than heard, and are forced to endure more surveillance than Othello's bride, Iago's wife, and Cassio's paramour--exposing them and their sexuality to greater speculation by Odin (Othello), Hugo (Iago), and the audience. While Nelson seeks to expose the destructive potential of the male gaze, the scopophilic nature of contemporary film in general, and the overreliance on image in this film in particular, further fetishize and objectify the women of O, opening them to ocular reproof by all.
"O, fie upon thee, slanderer!" (12)
Much of the critical attention paid to O has concentrated on its depictions of gun violence, and especially on the ways the film invokes the specter of late twentiethand early twenty-first-century school shootings in the United States, such as the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April 1999. (13) This tendency to read Nelson's movie through the prism of Columbine is natural given that Miramax--the original distributor of O--decided to shelve the project, which was in post-production at the time of the massacre, because of fears that audiences and Washington legislators would not see Shakespeare in the grisly final scenes of the film, but would instead see Columbine perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. (14) Nelson's admission that it was the spate of "shootings [in the late 1990s] that interested me in making this film" has also promoted such interpretations. (15)
O and Othello are, at their centers, texts concerned with violence specifically inflicted on women by men engaged in homosocial competition. However, the mi sogynist nature of that brutality in O is suppressed by a critical focus on "teen violence" as "a combination of inextricably linked social and psychological factors" such as "race, social status, and materialism" that does not acknowledge sexism. (16) With its concentration on adolescent bellicosity on the basketball court and in the halls and dormitories of Southern preparatory school Palmetto Grove Academy, O attempts to reposition Othello in a modern context while still maintaining the martial and masculinist character of seventeenth-century Venice and Cyprus. Yet, as James M. Welsh is right to point out, "Shooting hoops instead of Turks is a less than subtle difference." (17) Changing the geographic and temporal locus creates a variety of unsubtle differences as well, many of them related to the film's highly self-contradictory presentation of race, especially its deployment of African American stereotypes and its invocation of black-on-white domestic violence, such as the most famous modern example of the crime--the alleged murder of Nicole Brown Simpson by her ex-husband, athlete and actor O. J. Simpson. (18)
One of the primary differences between Othello and O, however, is how violence-and especially violence against women--is exhibited to the audience. Sara Munson Deats observes that Shakespeare's play "depicts a society that authorizes violence as a solution to problems, particularly those involving male honor and male shame," but she also points out how Othello presents "patterns of spouse abuse remarkably similar to those appearing in numerous statistical profiles of [modern] conjugal crime." (19) Similarly, O consciously depicts a culture which sanctions antagonism and aggression, though they exist in the ritualized forms of school cliques and team athletics, and presents teen dating violence in a manner consistent with recent studies on the topic which show women aged 16 to 24 most likely to face abuse from a romantic parmer. (20) But because Shakespeare's play is self-consciously aural as well as visual, and because the reader or theatergoer's perspective is not limited to a single character's point of view, the verbal and physical mistreatment that Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca endure is contextualized and condemned, even in a society that institutionalizes female inferiority; these women function as individuals who exist apart from male constructions of them. In contrast, O's women are representative, pictoral, existing as images in the male characters' consciousnesses. Regardless of Nelson's intentions, because the film sets up one primary point of view--that of Hugo Goulding (the Iago character, played by Josh Hartnett)--the audience is forced to see the women through his eyes, and as he tells Odin midway through the film, "You know, sometimes I see things that aren't really there," something he declares "a weakness." It becomes "a weakness" of the film itself as Hugo's-and Odin's--warped vision of femininity stands as the only vision of femininity, and agency and speech are erased until nothing--0--of them is left.
Both O's and O's are omnipresent in the film. Eric C. Brown painstakingly tracks "the film's near obsession with the visual and aural properties of '0"' (21) as sound, as literal shape, as character name, as absence, and as narrative trajectory--pointing out the ways that dramatically and visually O comes full circle. (22) While acknowledging that the "sexual dynamics of the letter 'O' are pervasive in the film," Brown does not read the aggressive sexuality inherent in the very first "O" the viewer sees. (23) In its opening frames, the film slowly fades in from a series of shots of hazy, unfocused, white shapes on a black background to a clearly delineated dole of doves perched on a ledge beneath a round skylight, a kind of oculus focused on the darkened heavens. Accompanied by the muted strains of Verdi's Otella, the disembodied voice of Hugo Goulding declares, "All my life, I always wanted to fly; I always wanted to live like a hawk. I know you are not supposed to be jealous of anything, but to take flight, to soar above everything and everyone: now that's livin'." (24)
Hugo's monologue--and its visual backdrop--establishes one of the film's most ubiquitous motifs: the hawk contrasted with the dove. Not only does the hawk figure as a symbol of Odin "O" James (the film's Othello, played by Mekhi Phifer) and the mascot of the Palmetto Grove Academy basketball team, but because of its association with virility and physical competition, the hawk also suggests a violent masculinity. The doves in O are a more problematical emblem to interpret. Traditionally associated with love, peace, constancy, femininity, and even the Holy Spirit, (25) the dove appears to be a fitting antithesis to the predatory male hawk, intimating that female amity will be consumed by destructive masculinity in the film. And, by and large, this is an accurate characterization of what happens in Othello and O; however, it is important to analyze how the doves are represented in the opening scene of the film in order to comprehend the complexity of the symbol.
After a series of dissolves which show the doves from distorted angles--thereby disorienting the viewer and denying a logical and coherent space for the birds to inhabit--the camera slowly pans down, revealing the birds perched upon a shadowy circlet of masonry beneath darkened, but reflective glass. The chiaroscura produced by the use of blue filters and low light renders an arresting image: a gaping-toothed maw. What is more, the visual echoes of the birds in the window are not simply reflected but refracted, giving the viewer the impression that this "O" is an orifice populated by several sets of jagged teeth--an image strikingly similar to both a hell-mouth and a vagina dentata, a figure representing the castrating power of the female genitalia. (26)
Though most likely an inadvertent allusion in the film, a similar figure of devouring femininity appears in the play Othello. As part of his wooing, Othello stimulates his paramour's imagination with tales "of the Cannibals that each other eat"--and he informs her father and the senate that "these things to hear / Would Desdemona seriously incline" (1.3.157, 159-60). Othello also refers to fantasies of female consumption while lamenting a man's inability to control his wife's sexuality: "O curse of marriage! / That we can call these delicate creatures ours / And not their appetites!" (3.3.299-301). Disorderly and destructive by nature, female carnality makes a true union impossible; men can only "call these delicate creatures" theirs (my emphasis). (27) Iago's wife, Emilia, refutes this claim by a kind of inversion, telling Desdemona:
'Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs, and we all but food: They eat us hungerly, and when they are full They belch us. (3.4.108-111)
What becomes clear is that Emilia and Othello's visions of the sexes--though each focuses on the consumptive quality of female-male relationships--really do differ. Emilio presents male sexuality as consuming until glutted, while Othello explains female sexuality as depraved and unquenchable. It is Othello's presentation of feminine sexuality--or rather Iago's presentation ventrioloquized through Othello--that predominates in O. It is telling, therefore, that the initial image of the toothed "O" is revealed during Hugo's monologue; his distorted vision becomes the audience's vision and his narration becomes the soundtrack to accompany both.
The director draws attention to the contrast between male and female narratives in the soundtrack when Desdemona's final aria from the operatic version of the story, Otello, is brusquely brought to a halt by a scene break which features a quick cut to a close-up of Palmetto Grove's avian mascot as well as a shift from '[Ave Maria" to West Coast hip-hop artists, Roscoe and Kurupt, rapping about using "my AK" and "my 9 [millimeter]" in "We Riddaz." (28) In essence, Hugo--and the film--silences the female voice, leaving behind the unintended visual echo of a carnivorous femininity, then controlling it through the utilization of an intensely masculinist soundtrack (29) and a shift to O's chosen field of battle: the basketball court. In this arena, women are literally on the sidelines, and their voices and bodies are absorbed into the crowd while men like Odin, Hugo, and Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan) work as a team yet maintain their individuality.
Othello is concerned with martial values, with personal valor, and with the question of whether it is possible to be a soldier and a lover; however, while the threat of attack by the Turks initiates Othello's removal to Cyprus, when act 2 begins the enemy has already been destroyed, and so there are no battles to be staged. O, on the other hand, stages a number of skirmishes--three games and a slam dunk competition, as well as various practices--which help to reinforce the notion that this is a man's world where women are, at best, spectators, and at worst, the objects of speculation. In these stylized "warfare" scenes, women are vastly outnumbered, with cheerleaders and the players' girlfriends constituting the most obvious female presence. Their voices are rarely individuated in the scenes, and, instead, they simply blend into the crowd's roar or are muted by the male hip-hop artists on the soundtrack.
The suppression of Desi's voice is most evident during the Southeast regional high school slam dunk contest; while the chanting of the entire audience is removed to place the focus on the rhythmic pounding of Odin dribbling the ball on the court, the close-up of Desi--repeatedly mouthing "O, O, O,"--highlights the way that she is silenced by Odin's penetrating stare and the destructive power of his dunk, which shatters--"rapes"--the backboard. (30) When O's cocaine and jealousy-fueled fury erupts, leading him to not only shove a young ball boy but to hoist the basketball hoop over his head, Desi simply gapes in amazement, her mouth forming an incredulous "O."
While Desdemona and Emilia in Othello are not only allowed to speak for themselves but are even permitted to defend themselves and their sex, Desi and Emily (the film's version of Emilia, played by Rain Phoenix) are rarely given the same opportunities. When Iago accuses his wife of being too loquacious, Desdemona declares, "O, fie upon thee, slanderer!" (2.1.125). And when Iago jovially lists the faults of women, Desdemona not only refutes his points, she denies his right to instruct his wife on her spousal duty: "Do not learn of him, Emilia, though he be thy husband" (2.1.173-174). (31) Further, Desdemona not only stands up to her father, telling Brabantio that her duty now belongs "to the Moor my lord" (1.3.205), she also informs the Duke of her desire to "live with" Othello, even in a time of war (1.3.265). In contrast, O's Desi is significantly less voluable. In fact, though present in many of the early scenes, Desi does not speak until the moment she is asked about the nature of her relationship with Odin--and this is more than ten minutes into the film's ninety-four-minute running time. When Desi does speak, it is not with the passion and force of her theatrical progenitress. Having been told that Odin has raped his daughter, Desi's father and head of the school, Dean Brable (the film's Brabantio, played by John Heard), asks for a meeting with O, Coach Duke Goulding (a version of the Duke of Venice, played by Martin Sheen), and Desi. After O declares, "IfDesi says that I did anything even close to wrong to her, I'll leave the goddamn school, okay," Desi appears in the coach's office. Coach Goulding ushers her in, saying, "Come in, sweetheart"; she is shown a seat, while all the men in the scene remain standing around her. Leaning in, Dean Brable asks his daughter to explain the nature of her relationship with Odin:
DEAN BRABLE. Honey, we've never had any secrets before, right? [Desi nods in agreement.] So, I just want you to tell me the truth. Did Odin ever harm you? Force you to do anything you didn't want to do? Anything at all?
DESI. [Pauses] Odin and I have been together now for four months.
DEAN BRABLE. Together, wha, wha, what does that mean 'together'?
DESI. Dad, that's none of your business.
DEAN BRABLE. I asked you a question.
DESI. And I said, it's none of your business.
Desi's responses to her father's queries seem strong, calling as she does for privacy and for individual identity separate from her parent. But, on closer inspection, not only are her replies less forceful than they initially appear, thanks to various editorial, textual, and performance choices, but also Desi's commitment to Odin and her strength of character are made dubious. In the opening moments of the exchange, the camera moves from a medium shot--in which Odin, the Dean, and Desi are in frame--to a dose-up of Brable, who gently asks, "Did Odin ever harm you? Force you to do anything you didn't want to do?" As he continues--"Anything at all?"--the camera shifts to a close-up of a stoic Odin. Nelson and editor Kate Sanford do not give Desi a reaction shot during her father's lines, so the audience is denied a view into how this young woman feels about the horrible charges being leveled at her boyfriend. In fact, when the camera does move in for Desi's close-up, Stiles's deep breath before flatly and meekly stating, "Odin and I have been together now for four months," offers little clarification on how to read the scene. Further, Desi's deflection of the question about her consent does not eliminate the possibility that Odin has forced her into a sexual affair; what is more, it does not stress her own agency in the relationship.
Whereas Othello's Desdemona is manifestly "half the wooer" in her romance, Desi is not presented as an equal partner in the early stages of the courtship with O (1.3.191)--quite the contrary, in fact, since in a later scene, Desi informs the audience that Odin was the pursuer; unlike the initially oblivious Othello of the play, "The second sentence out of [O's] mouth was, 'Do you have a boyfriend?'" This notion of O as the more aggressive and more invested partner is evident throughout the remainder of the scene in the coach's office: Odin wants to make it clear that "what [he and Desi] have is beautiful," while Desi makes no claims about the romance beyond its four-month duration. Where Desdemona sues for the chance to accompany her husband to Cyprus--"if I be left behind ... a heavy interim shall support / By his dear absence. Let me go with him" (1.3.272, 275-76), Desi does not utter another word after "it's none of your business," as Duke Goulding shepherds her from the room, saying, "Let's give them [the Dean and Odin] a chance to talk." What is ironic is that Coach Goulding declares "this is a family matter" and suggests "Maybe we shouldn't be discussing it here" right before ushering Desi out, intimating that she has no voice in her own family. The filmmakers suggest the paternalism of all the men present in this scene, offering a critique of these individuals who are physically and psychically encircling Desi--Odin among them. But this critique is blunted both by the camera's circumscription and the script's redaction, so that Desi becomes the object of inquiry and the subject of the conversation, not a participant in either.
Desi is similarly silenced and marginalized later in the film, when she and Odin meet for a romantic assignation at the Willows Motel. Their first real sexual encounter begins tenderly, but once Desi becomes more assertive, straddling her lover and repositioning herself to enhance her own pleasure, Odin begins to view his girlfriend, and the coition, differently. He not only lapses into a dark fantasy in which Desi is unfaithful, he also imagines himself disappearing from the current scene, replaced by Mike Cassio--his friend and teammate. Odin reacts violently to this erasure of power, first by reclaiming his spatial primacy through inverting their positions on the bed, and then by demonstrating his mastery of her body through forced sexual intercourse. Odin is deaf to Desi's repeated cries to "Stop" because she is no longer a participant in the scene but an object to be controlled.
Remarkably, after Desi has been sexually abused, she makes excuses for Odin's mistreatment of her, telling Emily, he "may not be a saint, but he's never done anything even close to that before"--echoing O's own words when he responded to Dean Brable's accusation that he raped his daughter. But when O enters the scene and questions his girlfriend--"you'd never give out no love behind my back now, would you?"--Desi is horrified and tries to defend herself. Unfortunately, "Are you kidding me?! That's really shitty!" is not a sufficient response to the particularly knotty rhetoric of the query posed to her; what is more, as earlier she initially deflects the question as opposed to refuting the veracity of the claim at its heart. She does respond, but by using a kind of defiant and emasculating means of expression to which the men of the film react badly: "That is not what I meant. What the hell is wrong with you? ... If you wanna ask me if I'm cheating on you, get some balls and ask." Desi asks O to leave, but she has unknowingly issued a challenge, and there will be bloody consequences because she finally demands the respect she does not demand earlier: "You're the only person I've ever been with and you're the only person I wanna be with. And if you want to be with me, don't ever talk to me like that again, ever."
By using her voice to declare Odin's effeminacy and her own agency, Desi is aligning herself with other female characters who evaluate the men of O, and who therefore offer the potential for humiliation and emasculation. At the slam dunk contest, three of the five judges are women--and while all of them ultimately award Odin a perfect score, he expresses a hostile bravado toward the female official who tells him, "You have one minute to do three dunks" and that he can "throw out the two lowest." His brusque retort, "I'm only doing one," operates as a show of his own virility that defies her implication that he might need more than one try to get a winning score. A similar kind of judgment and resistance occurs when Hugo and Odin are challenged by their female English teacher because of their inattention to her lesson on, ironically enough, Macbeth. When it becomes clear that the boys are not listening to her lecture on how Lady Macbeth "purposely uses this maternal imagery to get [Macbeth] into doing this dirty work," the teacher asks: "would either of you care to name one of Shakespeare's poems for me?" Brown suggests that "this query implies a broader scholastic ignorance" (32) of the students, and Semenza argues that the "question implicitly conveys a common assumption in mainstream America about the cultural illiteracy of teens." (33) While this line may be a self-referential joke about the audience of this film being uninformed about the source material, the gender implications of the question should not be ignored. After all, the teacher is instructing these students about a woman's rhetorical power, about her ability to use her feminine wiles to control a man. The "mischievous trickery in the question" is its potential as a show of power; the teacher asks a question beyond the scope of their lesson in order to embarrass Odin and Hugo, thereby highlighting their lack of knowledge and her own expertise. (34) Semenza's tongue-in-cheek question--"would '# 130' have been a correct answer?"--gets to the problematic nature of the teacher's query which seems designed to flummox the boys and gain their undivided--and chastened--attention. (35) Hugo, who is getting "another 'A' in English," despite his inability to connect the Bard with The Rape of Lucrece, wins the power-play by performing for his classmates: "I thought he wrote movies." With no witty retort, the teacher resorts to petty patronization: "Perhaps you two should pay attention. That way, after you've won this nationally televised championship, you'll have something more profound to say than--." The film silences her attempts to mock Hugo and Odin's superficiality by abruptly cutting to the dialogue in the next scene and Emily's interrogation of Desi about Odin's "rough" treatment of her at the Willows. The shift from the classroom to the girls' bedroom, and to a discussion of the rape, suggests that the threat of violence always trumps a woman's ability to be "on top"--whether on the basketball court, in a classroom, or in a bedroom. It also points to Nelson's acknowledgement of the male adolescent's desire to stifle all potential for female critique.
Perhaps this is why Desi utters only two lines during her death scene: "What time is it?" and "Odin." While this directorial choice does highlight men's fears about the female voice--and does echo sentiments expressed by Othello in 5.2-Desi is denied any agency at the moment of death and Odin is presented as having all of the physical and rhetorical power as he whispers "Go to sleep." Desi is never given the opportunity to pray, to answer O's accusations, or to beg for mercy as in Shakespeare's play. Odin simply moves from embracing her to strangling her, all the while charging her with crimes she is unable to refute. He has judged her and found her guilty of infidelity. Or, more accurately, he has gagged her before her speech or perceived sexual offenses diminish his reputation as "player" and "playa."
This idea is further reinforced by two of the seemingly more playful male-female interchanges. Early in the film, Desi and O take off their clothes and lie naked in bed because Odin "just likes feeling your skin next to mine." When Desi teasingly responds to Odin's boasting about his "player skills," with "Oh, ladies and gentlemen, he's getting a little cocky," O laughs and counters with, "Hey, hey, don't be sayin' 'little' and 'cocky' in the same sentence when it comes to me--especially when you know the deal." The exchange reads as nothing more than good-natured banter at this stage in the narrative, but it seems more ominous in the context of O's subsequent assault on his girlfriend at the motel. He silences her perceived jests about his potency by using it as a weapon against her.
Hugo and Emily enact a similar gender conflict that is superficially playful. Though he has shown her nothing but contempt throughout the film, Emily picks up Desi's absentmindedly dropped scarf--the film's equivalent of Othello's handkerchief--and brings it to Hugo, who, like Iago in the play, has been hoping to use the token as part of his stratagems. When Emily enters Hugo's dorm room and announces, "I have something for you," Hugo--just as Odin does in the "Little Cocky" scene--engages in word play as he dully observes, "You have things for lots of guys." As well as suggesting a sense of sexual attraction, the reference cannot help but invoke the ubiquitous Shakespearean pun on "nothing" as "no thing" or no penis;36 Hugo's contention that she has multiple "things" implies Emily's promiscuity. After Emily presents the scarf to Hugo, he says, "You're amazing," as he begins to kiss her and lay her back on the bottom bunk. Hugo's smiling at her and showing her the first positive attention she has received from him in the film causes Emily to note, "All this time, I've been looking for romance, and all I had to do was steal something." What is ironic is that the stolen token becomes a prop in their night of "romance." Hugo places the scarf over Emily's face, "draping it like a shroud" before "forcing [it] into her mouth." (37) The act of covering her visage serves to obliterate her individual features, to make Emily simply a body to be used; her gagging eliminates any possibility of the kind of verbal resistance O encounters at the Willows. It is obvious that it is not Emily but the scarf that Hugo is having intercourse with; he even uses the same verb, "borrow," when discussing what he plans to do to the scarf and to Emily--a verb associated with the temporary possession of objects, not people. As well as being a fetishized item, the scarf also behaves as a sheath--a prophylactic that acts as a barrier between Emily and Hugo. Constantly imagining her as a whore and her body as unclean, Hugo constructs Emily as potentially contaminating. His earlier portrayal of all white girls as "horny snakes" not only equates young women with lust and manipulation but with poison and infection, invoking as it does a literary tradition that holds that "the poison of asps and dragons is more curable and less dangerous to men than the familiarity of women." (38) The scarf is then a protective barrier that allows him to bed her safely and a means for "closing off vulnerable exposure" through her speech and her womb. (39) Like Othello's handkerchief, "There's magic in the web" of the scarf (3.4.73).
"You should watch your girl, bro'"
The curtailing of female speech occurs so frequently in O that Desi, Emily, and even Brandy (the film's version of Bianca, played by Rachel Shumate) are offered far fewer opportunities to establish their characters and voice their thoughts and feelings than in Shakespeare's play. Instead, the women of O operate as bodies to be observed and scrutinized. In some ways, this is not surprising; after all, early modern theatergoers were as much auditors as spectators, whereas contemporary filmgoers might more accurately be described as movie-watchers. Because of its very nature, film is scopophilic, but O is especially focused on the anxiety of the male gaze. (40) Desi in particular faces almost constant observation and examination from myriad judging eyes: the lovesick Roger (O's Roderigo, played by Elden Henson), the manipulative Hugo, the suspicious Odin, and even the envious Emily, not to mention the viewers priW to scenes that the other characters in the film are incapable of seeing. Desi is persistently displayed to spectators on and off the screen, but because she is unaware of their gaze, she cannot explain her actions to others.
In the disturbing scene in which Desi and Odin's first sexual liaison turns into a date rape, the lovemaking becomes violent because Odin--who is watching himself have sex with Desi in an O-shaped mirror--not only envisions his paramour copulating with Mike, (41) but also because he constructs a mental video-montage from all of his previous surveillance of Desi. Since Desi cannot see into the mirror or into O's mind, she cannot control the narrative being constructed about her. Significantly, Desi's eyes are closed throughout much of the scene as she gives herself over to the pleasure, and so does not perceive that her position atop Odin--and her moaning "O, O, O" as she nears climax--are greeted with rage by her lover. Odin fails to comprehend that the name "O," and the sound of bliss, "O," are entwined: that for Desi, he is pleasure. What is more, what Desi does say in the film is used to confirm Odin's distorted picture of her. Desi's pre-coital declaration, "I want you to be able to do anything. I want you to do what you want with me... I want you to have me however you want," becomes the basis for Odin's post-coital accusation that because Desi was "all hot and shit.., all freaky and stuff" at the Willows, she is a whore disguised as a virgin. Nelson appears to stage this scene as a way of highlighting how women's sexual experience becomes a weapon that can be used against them. But the graphic nature of the scene, and O's status as the point-of-view character, encourage us to see Desi as he sees her. (42) Desi's willingness to let O do what he wants to her means that he will, but he will blame her for it and for conforming to the picture he has envisaged.
Desi's openness to Odin becomes a sign of her sexual availability or more accurately, a sign of her voraciousness. As Hugo says when attempting to stoke the fires of Odin's jealousy: "White girls are snakey. Alright, they're horny snakes. They act like we're the ones who want sex all the time, but they're just subtle about the way they go after it." It is not surprising, then, that immediately after Odin reaches orgasm, and the "hate luck" (43) ends, the scene cuts from Desi's wounded white body (44) to a dose-up of the white doves of the film's opening. Remarkably, the tilt of the shot and the placement of the birds make some of the doves appear headless, as if the teeth of the vagina dentata have been blunted or knocked out by violent force. Odin has deranged this particular "horny snake." By relying on his own faulty vision as well as on his misreading of her speech, O has transformed Desi's submission into domination--a domination that he cannot abide, so it must be nullified by rape and ultimately, murder.
Emily too spends much of her time under surveillance by the film viewer and the characters on-screen. Hugo watches, waiting to find evidence of her faithlessness; so, when Michael offers Emily a hug as a casual form of greeting, Hugo declares, "Mikey gets more kisses from my girl than I do." Whereas in Othello, Cassio does actually make a "bold show of courtesy," Mikey's welcome is more subdued; Hugo may believe he sees "kisses," but none take place in the audience's view (2.1.1 1 0). In essence, Hugo does not need to watch or hear Emily to know what she is doing; he is that confident in her disloyalty.
Emily, on the other hand, is presented as decidedly unsure of herself and her boyfriend, which causes her to observe others--most notably Hugo, Odin, and Desi. Whereas Hugo claims that his distrust, his need to surveil, is "a weakness," for Emily it actually is a weakness because it provides her neither security nor power, only isolation. Like Iago in the play, the thoughts and attentions of O's villain are focused on plotting, not on the needs and wants of his romantic partner, so like Emilia, Emily is marginalized. In the film, Emily is frequently presented as an isolated onlooker who is either scanning the scene for Hugo or jealously viewing Odin and Desi. Since she shares a room with Desi, Emily is often put into the position of making herself silent and invisible--but also deaf through the use of headphones--so she does not interfere with the couple's romantic assignations. O, in fact, brings Emily gifts to keep her quiet and distracted--a CD, Harlem's Finest, for instance--and she must cover her face and body with her comforter to keep from seeing O and Desi "naked in bed" (4.1.7). During these scenes, Emily's face registers both resentment of her exclusion and her longing for the kind of intimacy from which she is being barred; she becomes the kind of judgmental and potentially dangerous watcher that Odin becomes later in the film. And, in view of this apparent bitterness, Emily's theft and subsequent conferral of Desi's scarf look like a more sinister act of betrayal than it does in Shakespeare's play, especially since it seems to confirm the deceptive and selfish vision of women that Hugo represents. The price she plays for her betrayal--and for her inability or unwillingness to see Hugo's villainy--is death.
Like Othello's Emilia, Emily is murdered when she reveals that her partner is responsible for the false claims about Desi's infidelity and the misdirection of the scarf. Yet Emily's exchange with the men is brief and her death comes swiftly with a gunshot to the belly--she has no dying words to her boyfriend or Odin; she is simply dispatched as Desi was dispatched. When Emily finally affirms Desi's innocence, informing Odin that Desi and Mike were never discovered in flagrante delicto and were never even rumored to have been involved, both Odin and Hugo seek to overpower Emily. In a moment eerily reminiscent of the scenes on the court, Emily blocks Odin and shoves Hugo, defending Desi's body and her reputation while the men talk trash about the slain woman. After deluding herself and covering up for Hugo, Emily three times declares, "You gave that scarf to Michael!" as Hugo tries to bully her into lying by warning her to "Tell the truth!" As on the previous two occasions when Desi repeats "O" three times in quick succession--during her building orgasm before the rape and at the dunk contest before shattering of the backboard--Emily is silenced by a show of devastating masculine force. Hugo's anxieties about Emily's speech, and its potential to undo him, can only be assuaged through an act of sadism which eliminates the emasculating threat45--the literal stopping of her mouth which carries out the implicit menace contained in their earlier encounter when Hugo gagged Emily with Desi's scarf. Like Odin, Hugo has had to move from viewer to actor in order to maintain control over his woman.
Of the three central female characters in O, only Brandy manages to survive this destructive male power--just as Bianca does in Shakespeare's play--and yet, she too undergoes a visual and oral assault similar to Desi and Emily because of the nature of her character's adaptation. Though the film is punctuated with scenes depicting drug dealing, shooting up and snorting, date rape, and ultimately gun violence, it chooses not to present Brandy as a call girl--the modern equivalent of Othello's seventeenth-century courtesan. Instead, Brandy is simply a sexually active high school girl, "a slut" whom Mike mocks for her availability. The Cassio of Othello speaks disrespectfully of Bianca to Iago, referring to her as "monkey" and "bauble," and joking about how she "hangs and lolls and weeps upon me, so shakes and pulls me" (4.1.140, 146, 150-151), but O's Mike shows even greater contempt for Brandy by reporting more intimate details of their encounters--informing Hugo that "Ah, man, I was in the library yesterday; she took me in the back," and "Yeah, and check this out: she said, down the road, even if she's with somebody, even if she's married, she'd do me until the day she dies." Certainly, this is the kind of locker room talk--though this takes place in Hugo's dorm room--one might expect from adolescent males engaged in posturing behavior, but within the context of the rest of the film, and the earlier presentation of Brandy as "slut," this exchange comes across as raunchier, and the portrayal of women coarser, than in Shakespeare's play.
When Cassio refers to Bianca as a perfumed "fitchew" or polecat--a slang term for prostitute--and chastises her for "this haunting of me," it is clearly about saving face in front of Iago (4.1.156, 157). In the early modern period, having a relationship with a harlot beyond that of customer and client was considered seriously injurious to a man's reputation. In fact, when the lecherous Lucio of Measure far Measure is forced to marry the prostitute he has impregnated--instead of being executed for slandering his sovereign--he declares that "Marrying a punk . . . is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging" (5.1.545). (46) Cassio is clearly obsessed with his standing in the community, as is shown in his exchange with Iago after Othello has dismissed Cassio from his post after being caught drunk and brawling:
Reputation, reputation, reputation! I, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation! (2.3.256-58)
Having already suffered from the shame of his demotion and his inability to hold his liquor, Cassio cannot afford to be seen as attached to Bianca, even though when the two are alone, Cassio does show her affection, calling her "most fair Bianca," "sweet love," "Sweet Bianca," and reassuring her that he wants to be with her and no one else (3.4.180, 181, 190). While this may simply be an effort to flatter her and keep her pliant, Cassio's public abuse of her does not dampen her admiration of him, and so sweet talk hardly seems necessary to continue the relationship. It therefore appears that Cassio's fondness is genuine.
In O, it is difficult to come to the same conclusion. In all of the scenes featuring Brandy before Mike refers to her as "a slut," she is presented as a character who views and is viewed by others, but who does not speak herself. Before we see her, Brandy is simply referred to as "that girl"--the young woman that a tequila-fueled Mike is going off to find at a party. When she actually does appear on-screen, she is listening as Mike tells her about his success on the basketball court. She then shifts to a hapless bystander as Roger starts a fight with Mike--one that ends with Roger bleeding from an abdominal wound from a broken bottle. Brandy's next appearance is oddly similar. Here, however, she and Mike are being viewed from above by a godlike Hugo who observes and plots from the balcony. The camera is his point of view and so we, and he, peer down at Michael as he holds Brandy's hand and talks to her--though his speech is suppressed by the film's score and by Hugo's distance from the couple. When Brandy becomes aware of the surveillance, her face changes, registering a discomfort with the intrusive gaze. She then silently mouths her assent to Mike leaving to meet with Hugo. Though she cannot see it from her vantage point, Hugo is giving Mike Desi's stolen scarf and informing his friend he should give the token to Brandy. She appears nonplussed, alienated, looking up at two men who have turned their backs to her so that they can confer about her. Nelson depicts her as small and vulnerable as she sits in her school uniform peering up at them. She is not the practiced courtesan who is familiar with the insults that Bianca has undoubtedly had to bear. And what is more, because her relationship with Mike is public--and we have been given no sense of anything about her past--Brandy offers no obvious threat to Mike's reputation, which marks his later ridicule of her as casual and, therefore, more callous. Because the filmmaker has not permitted Brandy to speak for herself, the audience only has Michael to speak for her--and he reduces her to her sexuality. When Brandy finally does get to talk in O, she comes across as shrill and crass: "what the hell do you think you're doing, giving me something you got from some other bitch?" Her subsequent scenes show her watching, following, left behind--an unwitting witness to the carnage. Though she does serve as the herald who informs the dorm that Hugo "killed Michael," she again turns into a noiseless onlooker in the final moments of the film, only present as one of the survivors of the "school shooting." Brandy is not accused of the attempted murder of Michael Cassio--as Bianca is in the play--but neither is she given the chance to confront the allegation that she is a "strumpet" as Bianca is. Mike's claim that "She does follow me everywhere" is shown to be true: this is how she discovers that he has been shot. The rest of his assertions about her, therefore, may also be true. And she is offered no opportunity to refute them.
"I feel like I can dose my eyes with you"
In Othello, the title character makes demands for "ocular proof" that he never actually receives since he is unable to see Desdemona and Cassio "naked in bed." What Othello gets instead is a sidelong glance at a handkerchief and alleged aural confirmation of his wife's infidelity through eavesdropping. In 4.1, Othello, who has withdrawn in order to overhear Iago and Cassio's conversation about Desdemona, listens as Cassio describes the "bauble" who "hangs and lolls and weeps upon [him]" (4.1.146,150). Though in reality Cassio is speaking of Bianca, Othello imagines that his former friend "tells how [Desdemona] plucked him to [Othello's] chamber," providing the Moor with sufficient evidence of his wife's crime (4.1.152). When Bianca enters to return the handkerchief she determines "is some minx's token," Othello has already convinced himself of Desdemona's adultery; in this case, hearing is believing. And while most modern editions of the play provide a stage direction that indicates Bianca returns the handkerchief to Cassio, neither the First Folio (1623) nor First Quarto (1622) offers any such direction, suggesting that Othello's line--"By heaven, that should be my handkerchiefl"--may be nothing more than a reaction to hearing about the "piece of work" Cassio found in his chamber (4.1.161). Even granting an implied stage direction in Bianca's speech does not mean that Othello actually sees the article since he employs the rather equivocal phrase "that shouM be my handkerchief" (my emphasis). Further, when Iago asks "And did you see the handkerchief?." Othello responds with "Was that mine?"--indicating that he is unable to verify his property until Iago authenticates it: "Yours by this hand" (4.1.181-83). As happens frequently in the play, it is sound rather than sight which spurs Othello toward tragedy.
The opposite is true in O, as the corresponding scene in the film shows. Consumed by doubt and clouded by cocaine and alcohol--all provided by Hugo--Odin should be susceptible to Hugo's lies about Michael and Desi. But when Hugo informs O that "they're fuckin'" and "they call you 'the nigger,' man," Odin is incredulous, declaring, "Desi wouldn't say nothin' like that, man." O is almost immediately provided with more auditory evidence of Desi's infidelity as he stands on the balcony just outside Hugo's dorm room listening to Hugo and Mike discuss Brandy. As in the source, Odin believes he is hearing about Deft, hearing her referred to as "a slut," but unlike in Shakespeare's play, Odin barely reacts to the news that his lover is apparently unfaithful. While it is not surprising that Brad Kaaya's script does not provide any dialogue for the character to speak--after all, asides frequently read as artificial contrivances to audiences more disposed to naturalistic performance styles (47)--it is surprising to see a dose-up of Odin not responding to the betrayal or to Mike's observations that "the ghetto just popped our of [Odin]" and that "the nigga's outta control," especially considering the fact that Odin is high because Hugo wants to keep him unbalanced and irrational. Suspicion turns to horrified belief and murderous rage only after Odin sees the reflection of the scarf in the glass of the balcony door--a kind of ocular proof made more powerful by its invocation of the round mirror in the motel room at the Willows. It is this image--of the scarf blended with the picture of Michael on top of Desi--that finally prompts a broken O to ask Hugo, "How are we going to kill this motherfucker?" What Hugo offers is a story of how the two will carry out the murders of both Mike and Desi. It is presented as a kind of grainy fantasy in which Hugo and O masterfully manipulate those around them. Notably, the Desi in this daydream is shown in a childlike fashion--her wavy blond hair in a ponytail, her body decked out in her schoolgirl's uniform--so that she is unthreatening while also vaguely titillating, evoking images of Britney Spears and Japanese manga.
"The reality of the murder does not conform to Hugo's vision of the scene, as Emily and Brandy's unwillingness to be silent complicates matters. They ultimately do what the male characters fear all women will do--open the men to gossip and public judgment. Only Desi is easily mastered and muted, but even her slaying deviates from the fantasy which minimizes her sexual power. Instead of being in her uniform, Desi is dressed in an off-white slip or nightgown, and her hair is long and loose. Because of the Southern setting of the film, it is hard not to see "Maggie the Cat" of Tennessee Williams's steamy play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (48) Desi's clothing signals sexual availability and a woman decidedly more alive than "monumental alabaster" (5.2.5). Where some might see a flock of doves, Odin sees a hell mouth ready to consume and destroy him--and other men--if it is not sealed up: "she must die, else she'll betray more men" (Othello 5.2.6).
In Othello, Desdemona is murdered once her husband believes he has seen the "ocular proof" of her adultery, though in reality, there is no proof, ocular or otherwise (3.3.405). In O, we see what Odin sees--a mirage of Desi without form and without voice. Rarely speaking, but ubiquitously observed, Desi operates as a creature of Hugo and Odin's making. In the film, then, Desi is "a ho" because she appears to be % ho," because she looks to be a "snaky" white girl greedy for sexual pleasure. Seen through Odin's or Hugo's eyes, Desi and the other women of O are open to ocular reproof because they exist to be viewedand reproved, to be "loved not wisely but too well," and finally to be encircled in their winding sheets--femmes couvertes of a different kind (5.2.387).
(1.) There are a great many texts which discuss the legal status of married women as little better than children. See Margaret Loftus Ranald, "'As Marriage Binds, and Blood Breaks': English Marriage and Shakespeare," Shakesepare Quarterly 30.1 (1979): 68-81 ; Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1995); and Natasha Korda, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
(2.) For a discussion of silent film Shakespeare and its leading ladies see Judith Buchanan, Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse (Cambridge: Cambridge University, Press, 2011) and Kenneth S. Rothwell, A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television (Cambridge: Cambridge University, Press, 2004).
(3.) Tim Blake Nelson, O (Lionsgate Films, 2001), DVD, 2002. All quotations from the film are my transcriptions from this DVD.
(4.) The quote is from Barbara Hodgdon, "Race-ing Othello, Re-engendering White-out," in Shakespeare the Movie II: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video, ed. Lynda E. Boose and Richard Burt (New York: Routledge, 2003), 100. See also Frederick Luis Aldama, "Race, Cognition, and Emotion: Shakespeare on Film," College Literature 33.1 (Winter 2006): 204-05.
(5.) This suggestion that there should be further study of O's female characters comes up at the tail end of note 34 in Gregory M. Colon Semenza, "Shakespeare After Columbine: Teen Violence in Tim Blake Nelson's O," College Literature 32.4 (Fall 2005): 99-124.
(6.) Richard Burt, "Te(e)n Things I Hate about Girlene Shakesploitation Flicks in the Late 1990s, or Not-So-Fast Times at Shakespeare High," in Spectacular Shakespeare." Critical Theory and Popular Cinema," ed. Courmey Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks (Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 205.
(7.) Burr offers close readings of several films that invoke Shakespeare, including Jawbreaker, The Rage: Carrie II, Never Been Kissed, and 10 Things I Hate About You (all released in 1999)--the last two are actual adaptations of As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew, respectively. Burr comments on the neutering of the source material through a tendency to suppress queer and feminist aspects of the text, which ultimately results in conservative conclusions.
(8.) See Victoria L. Reynolds, "Feminism and Celebrity Culture in Shakesteen Film" (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 2008); Robert L York, "Smells like Teen Shakespirit, Or the Shakespearean Films of Julia Stiles," in Shakespeare and Youth Culture, ed. Jennifer Hulbert et al. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 57-116; and Elizabeth A. Deitchman, "Shakespeare Stiles Style: Shakespeare, Julia Stiles, and American Girl Culture," in A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance, ed. Barbara Hodgdon et al. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 478-93.
(9.) The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris, The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series (London: Thompson Learning, 2003), 2.1.188.
(10.) Othello, 3.3.60. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of the play are taken from the RSC Othello, ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (New York: Modern Library, 2009).
(11.) Eamon Grennan, "The Women's Voices in Othello: Speech, Song, Silence," Shakespeare Quarterly 38.3 (Autumn 1987): 276, 275.
(12.) Othello, 2.1.125.
(13.) While Columbine was one of the most high-profile instances of school violence, it is only a single example. Between 1996 and 2001--the years between the start of production and the release of O--there were a significant number of shootings across the U. S.: Moses Lake, Washington (February 1996); Scottdale, Georgia (February 1996); State College, Pennsylvania (September 1996); San Diego, California (August 1996); Bethel, Alaska (February 1997); Pearl, Mississippi (October 1997); West Paducah, Kentucky (December 1997); Jonesboro, Arkansas (March 1998); Edinboro, Pennsylvania (April 1998); Fayetteville, Tennessee (May 1998); Springfield, Oregon (May 1998); Richmond, Virginia (June 1998); Littleton, Colorado (April 1999); Conyers, Georgia (May 1999); Mount Morris Township, Michigan (February 2000); Lake Worth, Florida (May 2000); Santee, California (March 2001); El Cajon, California (March 2001). More recently, there have been a growing number of shootings at universities, including the massacre at Northern Illinois (where I was teaching in February 2008) and the bloodiest incidence of school violence, the murders and woundings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia (April 2007). For a comprehensive list of US school shootings, see the PDF, "Major School Shootings in the United States Since 1997," available on the website for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/pdf/school-shootings.pdf.
(14.) Semenza, 99-100.
(15.) Tim Blake Nelson, "Cast and Crew Interviews," O, DVD.
(16.) Semenza, 111.
(17.) James M. Welsh, "Classic Demolition: Why Shakespeare is Not Exactly 'Our Contemporary' or, 'Dude, Where's my Hankie?'" Literature/Film Quarterly 30.3 (2002): 225. Welsh's pithy remark zeroes in on one of the more problematic issues raised by the change of period and venue. Othello's presentation of religious and racial conflict between the Christian Venetians and the Muslim Turks in the early parts of the play resurfaces in more subtle ways as Iago manipulates the other characters' fears about difference. Race and the politics of race are certainly part of the milieu of high school, college, and professional sports where predominantly white team owners, managers, and coaches actively recruit a high percentage of African-American players. And, indeed--as in Othello--the prestige and financial gains associated with participation in sports potentially provide young men and women of color educational and social opportunities historically denied to them. O offers the potential for an exploration of the political implications of Odin's status as the only person of color on his team, but the film fails to fully engage in an examination of racism, instead only gesturing at it. What is more, the film's satirical portrait of the Southern obsession with sports further highlights the ways that basketball is not war, regardless of how seriously the fans, coaches, and players approach athletics--a move which belittles those players who view basketball as a means to a better life. For a discussion of European xenophobia and its influence on Othello, see Virginia Mason Vaughan, "Global Discourse: Ventians and Turks," in Othello: A Contextual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 13-34. See also Lawrence Danson, "England, Islam, and the Mediterranean Drama: Othello and Others," Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 2.2 (Fall/Winter 2002): 1-25; Emily Carroll Bartels, Speaking of the Moor: from Alcazar to Othello (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); and Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). For an exploration of the politics of race in relation to sports, and especially basketball, see Sport: Sport andPower Relations, ed. Eric Dunning and Dominic Malcolm (London: Routledge, 2003); Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and Afiican Americans in Contemporary Sports, ed. David J. Leonard and C. Richard King, (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Reuben A. Buford May, Living Through the Hoop: High School Basketball, Race, and the American Dream (New York: New York University Press, 2008); and Tamela McNulty Eitle and David J. Eitle, "Race, Cultural Capital, and the Educational Effects of Participation in Sports," Sociology of Education 75.2 (April 2002): 123-46.
(18.) In the film, the Othello character's name is Odin James (O. J.).
(19.) Sara Munson Deats, "From Pedestal to Ditch: Violence Against Women in Shakespeare's Othello," in The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Life and Literature, ed. Sara Munson Dears and Lagretta Tallent Lenker (New York: Insight Books, 1991), 81, 84.
(20.) See Jay. G. Silverman, et al., "Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Abuse, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality," Journal of the American MedicalAssociation 286.5 (2001): 572-79; and Christian Molidor et al., "Gender and Contextual Factors in Adolescent Dating Violence," Prevention Researcher 7.1 (2000): 1-4.
(21.) Eric C. Brown, "Cinema in the Round: Self-Reflexivity in Tim Blake Nelson's O," in Almost Shakespeare: Reinventing His Works for Cinema and Television, ed. James R. Keller and Leslie Stratyner (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2004), 73.
(22.) One of the film's taglines is "Everything Comes Full Circle."
(23.) Brown, 77.
(24.) MI quotations from O are my transcriptions.
(25.) Frank B. Gill, Ornithology, 2nd ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1994), xxii.
(26.) The myth of the toothed womb has a long history and appears in cultures across the world from India and Europe to various Native American tribes as a way of describing the male fear of internalized female genitalia. See Jill Raitt, "The Vagina Dentata and the Immaculatus Uterus Divini Fontis," The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48.3 (September 1980): 415-431; Solimar Otero, "'Fearing our Mothers': An Overview of the Psychoanalytic Theories Concerning the Vagina Denture Motif F547.1.1 ," The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 56.3 (1996): 269-88.
(27.) Recently, a variety of critics have taken up the topic of appetite--and more specifically Desdemona's appetite--in Othello. In "Iago's Clyster: Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process," Shakespeare Quarterly 55.2 (Summer 2004), Ben Saunders explores the ways that Iago presents Desdemona as a creature who sexually gorges herself until sick with excess; see 153-55. Loomba points out the ways that racial stereotyping impacts the presentation of appetite in Othello, with Desdemona's Venetian heritage and her desire for the Moorish Othello marking her as whorish even as her general deportment seems to contradict this categorization; see 97-103. Perhaps the most extensive exploration of "disordered female appetite" can be found in Gail Kern Paster's Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 17-134. In her chapter, "Love Will Have Heat," Paster delves into the ways that characters such as Brabantio, Iago, and Othello construct Desdemona as humor'ally imbalanced and therefore prone to craving exotic narratives and romantic partners, as well as being disposed toward sexual insatiability.
(28.) Kurupt and Roscoe, "We Riddaz," on O: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture, Antra, 2001. The transcriptions are mine.
(29.) There is a great deal of provocative and enlightening scholarship on gender and hip-hop culture, especially on common negative representations of women and positive but violent presentations of men. See bell hooks, "Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?," Z Magazine (February 1994), n.p.; Bakari Kitwana, "Where Did Our Love Go? The New War of the Sexes," in The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003), 85-120; Gwendolyn D. Pough, Check It While I Wreck: Black Womanhood, HipHop Culture and the Public Sphere (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004).
(30.) This dunking scene comes close on the heels of the scene in which consensual sex turns to assault when O's fantasies about Desi's infidelity make him want to punish her. Hodgdon points to the smashing of the backboard as another kind of rape (103).
(31.) Desi does talk back to Hugo, but in an abbreviated and less witty form: "Could you stop being a sarcastic asshole just once?"
(32.) Brown, 79.
(33.) Semenza, 109.
(34.) Brown, 80.
(35.) Semenza, 110.
(36.) For a discussion of the pun--including the sense of"no thing" as lacking a hymen, see Patricia Parker, "Othello and Hamlep. Dilation, Spying, and the 'Secret Place' of Woman," in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, ed. Russ McDonald (Ithaca, NY: Comell University Press, 1994), 105-46.
(37.) Brown, 78.
(38.) Abbot Conrad of the Premonstratensian Community at Marchthal in 1272, quoted in Margaret Hallissy, Venomous Women: Fear of the Female in Literature (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), 89. For a further discussion of the poisonous or serpentine woman myth, see Hallissy and Norman Mosley Penzer, Poison-Damsels and Other Essays in Folklore and Anthropology (London: Sawyer, 1952).
(39.) Brown, 79.
(40.) See Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 833-44.
(41.) This same technique is employed in Oliver Parker's Othello (1995). Laurence Fishburne's Othello is plagued by a dream about Desdemona (Irene Jacob) writhing naked with Cassio (Nathaniel Parker)--both laughing at him and his cuckoldry.
(42.) This scene operates very much like the equivalent scene in Parker's Othello. Russell Jackson astutely comments on the problematic nature of images which depict Desdemona's imagined infidelity because their presentation also potentially validates Othello's irrational fears in the minds of viewers. See The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, ed. Russell Jackson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 28.
(43.) In her review of O, Village Voice film critic Amy Taubin uses this term. "Character Flaws," The Village Voice Online, August 28. 2001, http:/ /www.villagevoice.com/2001-OS-28/film/character-flaws/.
(44.) See Deitchman, 491, for a discussion of Desi's/Julia Stiles' whiteness.
(45.) See Mulvey, 840.
(46.) The quotation is from Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen's edition of Measure for Measure (New York: Modern Library, 2010).
(47.) Many late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century filmic adaptations have opted for a less theatrical and ostensibly more modern imaging of Shakespeare's works. In Shakespeare: From Stage to Screen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Sarah Hatchuel points out that directors such as Kenneth Branagh, Oliver Parker, Trevor Nunn, and Michael Hoffman have chosen "to film Shake speare in a more accessible way by finding a relationship of immediate support for the story and characters in order to clear away the effect of strangeness produced by Shakespeare's language" (27). L. Monique Pirtman's Authorizing Shakespeare on Film and Television: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Adaptation (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) explores the ways that televisual and cinematic adaptations of the plays are caught in a double-bind between the authority of the original text(s)--and author(s)--and the director's (re)envisioning of the source material. Pittman notes that adaptors frequently reclaim authority over their creations by claiming a "need to reinvigorate the Shakespearean text" or "Offering an edgy alternative to elitist theatrical production" (2). O's transformation of Shakespeare's language into contemporary parlance, its transplantation of the setting to a Southern prep school, and its presentation of plausible young people align the film with Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000) and other more naturalistic renderings of Shakespeare. Notably, Michael A. Anderegg's Cinematic Shakespeare (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) suggests that erasure of "nonnaturalistic devices, including soliloquies, asides, nonlocalized spaces.., can be destructive to Shakespeare" since "too much detail can bring the drama down to earth" (33). The literalizing of the scarf in the "overhearing" scene and the presentation of Odin as high on cocaine and alcohol not only bring the story "down to earth," but shut down possibilities of ambiguity in the text---especially in relation to the female characters.
(48.) Williams's 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play focuses on the marriage between the sultry Maggie and the impotent former football star, Brick Pollirt. The 1958 film version, starring Elizabeth Taylor, features the iconic image of Taylor in an off-white full slip.
Dee Anna Phares, North Central College
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|Author:||Phares, Dee Anna|
|Publication:||The Upstart Crow|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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