RED VELVET FILM FINDER
Mary T. Cristel
MARY T. CHRISTEL taught AP Literature and Composition as well as media and film studies courses at Adlai E. Stevenson High School from 1979 to 2012. She has published several works on media literacy including Seeing and Believing: How to Teach Media Literacy in the English Classroom with Ellen Krueger (Heinemann) as well as contributing articles to Teaching Shakespeare Today with Chris Heckel-Oliver (NCTE), Teaching Shakespeare into the Twenty-First Century with Anne Legore Christiansen (University of Ohio), For All Time: Critical Issues in Shakespeare Studies (Wakefield Press), and Acting It Out: Using Drama in the Classroom to Improve Student Engagement, Close Reading, and Critical Thinking with Juliet Hart and Mark Onuscheck (Routledge). Ms. Christel has been recognized by the Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for promoting media literacy education.
Introducing Ira Aldridge
Ira Aldridge (Sustained Theatre, 2010, 6:14)
Concise biography of Aldridge includes excerpts from savage reviews of his early performances in England and from his own writings. We learn of the Senegalese persona that Aldridge created for himself and his celebrated tour of England after substituting for Kean in London. Eke Chukwu portrays Aldridge.
Exploring Actors and Their Roles
Othello: Representation of Race (2013, 55:51, NR)
Prepared by the National Theatre in the UK, this piece examines how two white actors and how two black actors portrayed Othello, from 1964 to 2013: Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, David Harewood, and Adrian Lester.
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999, 90/118min, NR)
This documentary traces the life and achievements of Robeson as a trailblazing actor and as a civil rights activist. Two versions of this film are available. The shorter version aired on PBS as part of the American Masters series; the longer version is available here.
A Double Life (1947, 104 min, NR), directed by George Cukor, starring Ronald Coleman
An actor who plays Othello onstage finds that the Moor’s jealousy spills over into his own life with tragic results in this quintessential, and entertaining, 1940s melodrama.
The Dresser (1983, 118 min, PG) directed by Peter Yates, starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay and (2015, 105 min, NR) directed by Richard Eyre, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellan
Ronald Harwood’s play examines the relationship between a senile and tyrannical actor-manager referred to as “Sir” and his devoted yet manipulative dresser, Norman. The drama follows Sir’s struggles to keep his touring company afloat as they perform ragtag productions of King Lear and Othello, among others, across Britain during the thick of WWII. Harwood himself was the dresser for actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit. He examines the difficult shift in power within that British entertainment stalwart, the touring company, which brought entertainment and culture to the hinterlands. Not only did younger actors want to replace the actor-managers who monopolized the great Shakespearean leading roles, but emerging actor-playwrights yearned to replace Shakespeare’s plays with their own.
Stage Beauty (2004, 120 min, R) directed by Richard Eyre, starring Clare Danes and Billy Crudup
Based on Jefferey’s Hatcher’s play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, this film dramatizes the period in British theater history as men and boys who exclusively played the female roles transitioned to women appearing on stage during the reign of King Charles II. Charles’s mistress Nell Gwyn in no small way encouraged the change to fulfill her theatrical ambitions. Acclaimed male interpreters of Shakespeare’s great female roles found themselves no longer accepted in their signature roles. The film follows Ned Kynaston, who famously portrayed Desdemona, as he enjoys stardom and celebrity in Thomas Betterton’s company through his fictionalized reversal of fortunes, when his dresser Maria replaces him onstage in his signature role. As Red Velvet addresses issues of race in performing Shakespeare’s Othello, here Hatcher’s script addresses women artistically and lawfully claiming the opportunity and the right to play the women’s roles, large and small, on the eighteenth-century stage.
Shakespeare Wallah (1965, 122 min, NR), directed by James Ivory
A British family theater troupe tours India performing Shakespeare’s work as Bollywood films gain popularity and supplant colonial entertainments. Ruth Prawer Jhabavala’s screenplay is based on the life of actor/manager Geoffrey Kendal and his family who toured as the Shakespeareana Company. Kendal plays the actor/manager, Tony Buckingham, in the film. His daughter, Felicity, plays a version of her sister, Jennifer, who married an Indian man connected with the nascent Indian film industry. The film explores Shakespeare’s cultural importance and influence outside of Western culture, which is evidenced further by the contemporary Indian film suggested in the next section.
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales - Othello (1992, 25 min, NR) Ambrose Video
This twenty-five minute condensation of the play provides the perfect overview of the characters and plot, so students understand references to Shakespeare’s tragedy in Red Velvet.
Shakespeare Uncovered: Othello series two (2015, 55 min, NR)
Actor Darian Harewood poses the question, “Could you kill the person that you love?” as an entry point to examining the tragedy of Othello. Most relevant to seeing a production of Red Velvet, Harewood discusses how he prepared for the role. In addition to a recap of the play’s plot and an introduction to the central characters, the program traces the history of black actors playing the role and the critical reception those performances in the UK and US. This is a program that screens easily and effectively in excerpts.
Othello: Performance History of the Title Role (2013, 5:16, NR)
Prepared for the National Theatre production of Red Velvet, featuring Adrian Lester, this piece focuses on the cultural and artistic importance of Ira Aldridge, Paul Robeson, and Willard White portraying Othello on stage.
Othello (1995, 125 min, R), directed by Oliver Parker, starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh
This popular theatrical film sets the story in its Renaissance time period and provides lush production values as well as engaging performances from Fishburne and Branagh. Its two-hour running time makes it classroom friendly, though its R-rating for “sexuality” probably makes it suitable for more mature students.