The Venn diagram overlap of Shakespeare and the elaborate scrap-fabric quilts pieced together by early American settlers is Orson Welles's Othello, a film pulled together from everything and nothing. This Othello took nearly four years to make: Welles began planning it in the summer of 1948, and it debuted at Cannes in 1952. It was filmed in fits and starts, in at least four locales in two countries, as Welles's finances were alternately drained dry and replenished. Several Desdemonas came and went. Because so much of the movie had been shot on the fly, at different times in different places by different cameramen, Welles assembled it largely in the editing room, cleverly stitching one sequence to the next to impart the illusion of continuity. Othello came together in defiance of any unifying principle beyond the scrappy vision of its director. It's a work of seat-of-the-pants grandeur.
Even if it isn't one of Welles's greatest films, the stark beauty of its compositions alone make it a standout. Welles locates the humanity in Shakespeare's characters by finding the proper visual setting for each: A rejected wife is dwarfed by the vast, chilly emptiness of the marital bedroom; an embittered underling schemes and fumes as sinister black flags ripple in the wind around him, as ragged and tatty as the hair of witches. How did Welles take such a seemingly delirious clash of visual patterns and synthesize them into such an expressive, visually vibrant whole? That's one of the great mysteries of his genius, and a splendid new, velvety-crisp restoration is as good an excuse as any to bask in it.