Everyone has a demon or two that keeps them company on those long dark nights of the soul. Those demons might be feelings of inadequacy or of regret. Maybe it’s some perceived wrong that festers, rubbing at the soul like a grain of sand in a flip-flop. One can do little more than toss, turn, and thrash against these indefinable yet relentless tortures. When faced with such demons, some people seek the muted solace that can be found in a bottle or other carnal distraction, while some may choose to resort to more extreme measures like choking one’s newlywed wife to death. Not to get strangely specific about it… There’s an elegant simplicity to Othello. There really aren’t any winding subplots or parallel structures to follow. Even the characterization is pretty simplistic. There is no villain as thoroughly vile as Iago, and no soul as pure as Desdemona’s. Compared with the title characters of other Shakespearean tragedies, Othello is easily the least complicated. On a purely superficial level, it is the tale of a black man who has secretly married a white girl. But this isn’t Shakespeare’s Jungle Fever joint. While there is certainly a study of racism explicit in some passages of the text, the story, at its heart, is an uncomplicated depiction of jealousy in its many forms. Iago is jealous of Othello’s professional success. Cassio is jealous of Othello’s hot wife. Iago uses Desdemona’s friendship with Cassio to make Othello jealous. And it’s told using a relatively small cast. Compared to the cast of thousands in some of the other tragedies, Othello is barely more than a small ensemble piece. Originally staged in 1604, the play introduces Othello the Moor, who has had a really good year. Not only has he risen in the ranks to serve as General under the Duke of Venice, he has also just returned from his elopement with his new bride Desdemona, daughter of a Venetian Senator. Iago is Othello’s standard-bearer. He looks at his boss as being an interloping outsider, altogether unworthy of his rank. There’s nearly always a reason to hate on one’s boss, but Iago swirls his servile resentment and xenophobia into a truly vile brew. He sees the Moor’s secret marriage to the pretty white girl as an opportunity to sow a little chaos (and perhaps move himself up to an improved place along the chain of command). He orchestrates a plan to drive a wedge into this new marriage. Some interesting stylistic strokes exist in the text, the most notable being the way Iago slips out of iambic pentameter and into plain text whenever he’s being particularly villainous or otherwise mansplaining (is there a difference?). As a side note, it’s marginally fascinating to read this four hundred-year-old play from the lamentable perspective of living in post-Trump 21st Century America. As old as it is, the play begins with a bunch of Senators standing around bitching about “fake news” and ends with two women and a black man being the casualties of the political squabbling of some arguably racist white guy. The more things change, the more they stay the same, amirite? The story of Othello has seen some screen time, although not nearly as much as some of the other tragedies. Perhaps it was Hollywood’s historical reluctance to cast a black man in a lead role that kept Othello from the silver screen. Sure, there were a handful of productions made, most notably with Orson Welles in the title role (yeah, I know) and again with Laurence Olivier (I said I know, I know). It wouldn’t be until the late 90s that we would finally get a major cinematic production of a classical Othello with an actual black man in the title role. And even then, the movie was marketed as much as a Kenneth Branagh vehicle (he was Iago to Lawrence Fishburne’s Othello) as anything else. That’s not to say there weren’t a few eager attempts along the way… Catch My Soul (aka Jack Good’s Santa Fe Satan), 1974 I wanted to love this movie, and I very nearly did. Imagine stumbling upon an obscure rock opera from the era of Jesus Christ Superstar which transplants the story of Othello into a hippie colony in rural New Mexico. With Richie Havens as Othello, no less! OK, it’s a little weird that the guy from the 60s TV shows Secret Agent and The Prisoner directed it, but what the hell, right? Don’t misunderstand: Patrick McGoohan was an accomplished actor who had already played the role of Iago in another Othello film adaptation (1962’s All Night Long set against the Paris Jazz scene). Originally, Jack Good was slated to direct his own script (which was adapted from his own stage production), but producer Charles Fries tells the story on one of the release’s bonus features of how McGoohan bumped into Good in a Santa Fe bar and they hammered out a deal. Good stayed on as producer and writer while McGoohan took over the production. This often contentious collaboration may have been the core factor in the film’s uneven tone. McGoohan revealed in a mid-90s interview that he tried (unsuccessfully) to have his name removed from the picture in post-production when he learned that the recently-converted Catholic Good had gone behind his back to re-edit more religious content into the film. The movie is shot on location outside of Santa Fe, and it looks gorgeous, due in large part to cinematographer Conrad Hall. Hall’s credits at the time included In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among many others. The expanses of rolling glades and distant mountains give way to brash close-ups in appropriately jarring cadences. At times, it’s nearly impossible to keep from thinking one is watching a Spaghetti Western, rather than a hippie musical Shakespeare flick. By contrast, the camerawork during the two extended party scenes is chaotic and claustrophobic. Hall doesn’t miss a detail, and McGoohan uses these scenes as deft character studies. The actors chew greedily at their roles and many turn in outstanding performances. Lance LeGault lustily inhabits his Iago, having imported his performance from the stage production in London’s Roundhouse Theatre. He moves from scene to scene like a conniving ringmaster of his own private circus. LeGault got his big acting break as a stunt double for Elvis Presley and played minor uncredited roles in several of Elvis’ movies, beginning with Girls! Girls! Girls!. He was something of a mainstay of the television landscape of the 70s, with minor recurring roles on the original Battlestar Galactica, Dynasty (do I have to call it “the original Dynasty” now, or can we still pretend the CW remake hasn’t happened?), and Airwolf. But in my deepest heart, Lance LeGault will always be the A-Team’s ineffectual phallically-named foil, Colonel Rod Decker. At the villain’s side stands Susan Tyrell as Iago’s wife Emilia. Whether a choice on the part of the director or simply the feminist will of the actor, this Emilia is played much more complicit in Iago’s mischief than is typically played. There are times in the film when it’s almost as if Tyrell thinks she’s playing Lady Macbeth. She came to this production with a brand-spanking-new Supporting Actress Oscar for 1972’s Fat City. Tony Joe White is Deacon Cassio to the colony, and his sweaty, swampy voice is an integral part of this phenomenal soundtrack. He had never considered acting before being invited into this project and was reluctant to climb aboard a Shakespearean production. According to an interview in the bonus features of the disc, he only agreed after being assured that he wouldn’t have to say “a bunch of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ kinda talk”. The fresh-faced Season Hubley is Desdemona. Frankly, she’s pretty bland and doe-eyed through the first two-thirds of the movie. It isn’t until the last act that her character finally begins to shine through. This observation should not be construed as a condemnation of the actor’s performance, however. Desdemona’s role is miniscule in the original play until sometime in the fourth act. She just doesn’t have much to do other than wait around for Iago to convince Othello that she’s the cuckold queen. And then die. But that’s really Desdemona’s lot. Stand around, be sweet, and look pretty for a couple of acts, then develop a backbone just before her loving husband chokes her to death. This would be one of Hubley’s earliest film roles. As for the leading man, Richie Havens does not disappoint. He’s a towering, charismatic figure. One needn’t struggle to imagine him as the shepherd of a flock of hippies. By far the strongest feature of this film is the music, and Havens is at the center of it. But then, that guy could sing a page from the phone book and I’d probably buy the album (or at least download it). During the scene where Othello confronts Desdemona at the film’s climax, he sings his way through the literal words of Shakespeare’s “Put out the light…” soliloquy. Now, I’ve long found this soliloquy to be one of the weakest in all of Shakespeare. I find it low in substance and to lack the wit of many of the others. But when Richie Havens sings it as a lament? To a lesser talent, this scene might have bordered on laughable, but he completely sells it. Just as the film is not even remotely bashful about using Shakespeare’s original text for its dialogue and song lyrics, the title of the film comes from one of Othello’s lines in Act III, Scene iii: “Perdition catch my soul but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again.” It’s prophetic when Othello says it in the play, but that last bit about chaos could well describe some aspects of this production. It seems McGoohan maintained a fairly strict regimen which included opening the nearest wine bottle at 4:00 pm. Havens preferred marijuana, the potency of which was legendary. Producer Huw Davies shares a story in the “Making of…” featurette on the disc about how after Havens shared one of his joints with a cameraman, that cameraman was not seen again for five days. The set was riddled with illicit substances. Tony Joe White, in a separate featurette, talks about the cinema verite of the party scenes. According to him, local bikers were hauled in on the backs of trucks and let loose with booze and drugs to contribute to the Bacchanalia of these scenes while McGoohan stood by capturing it all on film. It’s quite effective, and I sort of wish I had been sitting in that biker bar in 1973 to have been granted the opportunity to participate in the revelry. Except, I was three years old at the time and probably a terrible light-weight, so it’s probably better that I wasn’t, now that I think about it. The film’s release did not go well. During an initial run in a handful of New York area theaters, it only lasted a week or two. According to Producer Fries, he sat in a New York City movie house on opening night with only the theater chain owner and a single row of nuns in attendance. The overt religiosity of Jack Good’s Catholicism, which I’m certain had been a source of great comfort for him personally, struggled to find resonance with filmgoers (except for the nuns). The film would find new life in reissue marketed as an exploitation film under the title Jack Good’s Santa Fe Satan, but even in that round, its success was limited to underground cult status and only lasted a couple of months on the drive-in circuit. To an exploitation film audience, the party scenes just don’t reach the orgiastic heights they seem to promise. In fact, the entire twenty-plus minute scene could bear the title Little Orgy That Couldn’t. You get that many hippies gathered together out in the desert with some drum-fueled music playing, it only seems natural that someone’s gonna lose his or her clothes. But, frustratingly, it just never happens. Still, the party is kickin’ and Iago gets to slither around the crowd and eventually commit some minor arson, so it isn’t a total loss. Maybe the success of Jesus Christ Superstar the year before the release of this movie had taken up too much spotlight for rock operas with heavy religious overtones. Whatever the case, the movie would eventually be tossed into a drawer somewhere and largely forgotten, save for references in cult film books and by nerdy Shakespeare film adaptation columnists. The finished package is an entirely unique way to experience Othello. Transforming the title character from a military leader into a wandering preacher is unconventional, but it makes sense in the context of the story Good was trying to tell. Desdemona remains the victim of her own kindness, true to the original play. Iago’s conniving manipulations tie the movie into a knot and successfully send Othello into a blind rage. Ultimately, it’s worth checking out. At the very least, I highly recommend giving the soundtrack a listen. The movie itself is at worst an obscure lost oddity, and at best a hidden treasure in the rough. And damn, but Richie Havens had some pipes. See larger image Catch My Soul (Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack) Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1967. A hippie commune secluded in the desert. This is the backdrop for Jack Good’sCATCH MY SOUL, the 1973 rock opera adaptation of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO. Long thought lost, CATCH MY SOUL stars folk singer-songwriter Richie Havens as a traveling preacher who on his journey happens upon the commune of the sinister Iago (Lance LeGault). When Othello woos and takes Desdemona (Season Hubley) as his wife, Iago clandestinely conspires against the preacher to ruin their romance and run him out of town.The only feature film directed by Patrick McGoohan (star of THE PRISONER, SECRET AGENT) and the brainchild of rock ‘n’ roll impresario Jack Good (SHINDIG!, OH BOY!), CATCH MY SOUL features supporting performances from Academy Award-nominee Susan Tyrrell as Emilia, swamp rocker Tony Joe White as Michael Cassio, as well as musicians Delaney & Bonnie. Despite exquisite visuals by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, AMERICAN BEAUTY) and Academy Award-winning editor Richard A. Harris (TITANIC, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY), CATCH MY SOUL lost its box office to the success of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and never saw a home video release in any format, only to become the stuff of legend. Etiquette Pictures proudly brings this missing piece of cinema history to home video for the first time, newly restored from its original 35mm camera negative.Bonus Features1. Scanned & Restored in 2K from 35mm Camera Negative2. “Drink the Wine, Eat the Bread” – Making-of Featurette3. “The Deacon Speaks” – Interview with actor Tony Joe White4. “True Soul” – Featurette on Conrad L. Hall5. Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot, Promotional Still Gallery6. Extensive Booklet Essay by Tom Mayer7. Reversible Cover Artwork8. English SDH Subtitles New From: $22.48 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.