This curio has quietly made it to DVD release after being pretty much unavailable for years. Patrick McGoohan might not be your first choice to direct a hippie rock opera, but here’s the proof it happened.
Richie Havens is the pastor Othello who has taken a new white (and rather geeky) wife Desdemona (Season Hubley). On the sidelines is the malevolent Iago (Lance LeGault), who identifies himself as Satan and plans to spoil things in the cause of white supremacy.
Cassio is a wastrel, a drinker, a trampy mumbler, played here by the fantastic soul singer Tony Joe White (his song Polk Salad Annie, later covered by Elvis, is seriously hot), and although he’s wasted a bit and not given full reign, it is fantastic to see him in his prime on film.
The songs are more gospel than rock in places, making this more akin to Godspell than Jesus Christ Superstar, and the score varies from a few memorable numbers to some cringeworthy pieces. However, as a musical, it just about succeeds on a sense of cheek and the forgiveness of the period in which it was made.
Where the storyline tries to shoehorn in Shakespeare’s verse (the bit about paddling the palm, Cassio’s reputation speech, etc) it does actually work well, but Iago is just too cartoon a villain, and without the conceit of Othello being a military general, I can’t really see Iago’s motivation for humiliating a fellow white man and women in the context of what’s causing him so much hate against the black pastor.
The DVD sleeve has all sorts of hyperbole about this being ‘exquisite’, ‘legendary’ and ‘a missing piece of cinema history’. If you go in expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. If you go in expecting anything like McGoohan’s other screen work, you might be a little bit confused. But if you are open minded about musicals, Shakespeare, and hippy culture, then give this a go.