I checked out the web-site, and the film is about 4 minutes long, and of fantastic quality; no film of Welles, but a quick shot of the cast in street clothes, then what looks like the last 4 minutes of a live performance with an audience, although at certain times the camera does close-ups, which means they either stopped the show and re-lit and put a camera onstage, or they did the close-ups and shots from on the stage after the performance. It's really a little movie of the performance, and so rare to see Blacks performing Shakespeare, and with great passion and verve. It must have been absolutely amazing in the 30's. In the show, they not only have sword-fights, but also use pistols to shoot at eachother, though McDuff still beheads Macbeth. In the 1982 BBC interview Welles says that this production was the greatest thing he had ever done, and that after the opening night performance, the audience came up on stage to be with the performers. An extraordinary event, and I still don't think there are many Shakespeare performances using Blacks today. I haven't seen the Fishbourne film of Macbeth, but I bet most performances of Othello are still done in blackface- though it seems incredible in this day and age that this is possible.
Last night I was watching a documentary by the National Film board of Canada called "Shylock"; a fascinating film about Shakespeare's character, it's genesis, the history of Jews in England, and the character's evolution over time from a melodramtic villain to a tragic character; as one commentator says: " Shakepeare wrote a character who burns a hole in the play." Orson makes an appearance in this documentary also, and his footage is exactly the footage that is found in "One Man Band" involving "The Merchant of Venice": excerpts from the 1969 tv production, and an excerpt from Welles' 1970's desert performance of the "Does not a Jew feel pain too" speech.
One commentator in the film talks about the fact that in Shakespeare's time, there were hardly any Jews in England (most having been expelled earlier) but there was plenty of racism: usery was limited to 10%, and if a lender asked for a higher amount, he would be called a "Jew". Interestingly, both Shaksepeare and his father were moneylenders; the father had actually gotten into some financial trouble, and lost everything, while Will himself took at least 2 borrowers to court for not repaying the full amount, interest included.
So it's with some ambivalence, if not repression, that Shakespeare wrote the character, so stereotypical in many ways, of Shylock, the moneylender. And although Shylock is a sterotype, he is a very human stereotype; it seems as though Shakespeare had the typical prejudices of the time, but at the same time could not help but write a character with depth and humanity.
As more Jews settled in England ( or should I say returned) gradually over the 4 centuries after Shakespeare wrote the play, the performances gradually changes toward the tragic and away from the "comical villain" based on a base stereotype: proof that changes in society affect interpretations of Shakespeare; the wonder, of course, is that the bard's plays not only withstand this revising, but they positively welcome it, and thus seem to be constructed out of eternal material.
Regarding blacks, it seems Shakespeare had, as he did with Jews, the same stereotype of them as did most English at the time: he believed them to be oversexed, dumb brutes. And, to a large degree, Othello typifies this: A military man, marries a white woman, and is so naive, simple and insecure that he believes on almost no evidence that she is cheating him. He goes crazy and kills her. However Shakespeare could not resist, as with Shylock, in exploding the stereotype by creating a deeply human character, and thereby universalizing the character's experiences and thoughts to the point that anyone can identify with and enter the character's mind.
And so 400 years later Shylock and Othello live on, as 2 of Shakespeare's most enduring creations, and remain characters who evlove and deepen with time, as performance styles and interpretations also evolve along with society.
And of course, our Mr. Welles made films of both, and directed the "Voodoo" Macbeth, and went to Brazil and filmed the "natives", and wanted to film the voodoo ceremonies in Brazil, and did several radio shows on the black soldier who was blinded by a beating after the war, and dated "non-white" women, and...cries when he does the Shylock speech in the desert.
A great old-fashioned Rooseveltian liberal.