Tom Volf's MARIA by CALLAS is perhaps one of the most respectfully and delicately made films about Maria Callas, her sublime voice and her genius, to play on the big screen; and films there have been many. Volf exhibits a deep understanding of Callas and he defers completely to her, thus the title, “Maria” the person, “by Callas” as presented by the myth or as she is often called, La Divina. The documentary uses performance footage, personal photos, interviews, Callas’ own writings and correspondence, and homemade movies to let the great soprano speak for herself. As it turns out she was only human, but a complex one with a heavenly gift and an abandonment for it that came at no small price.
Callas was a legend in her own time— this is one of the only times one can write that and it’s not a cliché. Every time Maria Callas stepped on the stage, she changed the world. Her voice and persona have stood the test of time, the only voice and presence that rivals Callas’ is that of her contemporary on the side the world, Umm Kulthum, an Egyptian singer of incredible prominence. What Callas had in introspection, Kulthum made up for with her star power, but that’s a different documentary.
MARIA by CALLAS is an intimate look at Callas’ life, but by no means is it complete, but no single film about Callas could ever be. Volf misses some key events and significant experiences, like Callas’ time teaching at Juilliard. Over the decades, the myth has disproportionately overshadowed Callas’ humanity in a Frida Kahlo sort of way. Everyone thinks they know her, and can or want to identify with her, and project on to her, when in reality it’s misplaced adoration, even if it’s well deserved. MARIA by CALLAS is a refreshing look at the person and the singer. More importantly, the documentary serves as an antidote to the bloated and misunderstood persona of Callas that has emerged ever since Maria became Callas, and has often been propagated by lesser artists. Callas inspires everyone, singers, fashionistas and designers, moviemakers, writers, etc., most of the time it’s positive other times it’s like Terrence McNally’s awful play, “Master Class”. In the play McNally strips Callas of her genius and intellectual dignity, and depicts her as an eccentric and insufferable diva who pathetically pines away for an underserving man, complete with emotional breakdowns and temper tantrums. Nothing could be farther from the truth according to MARIA by CALLAS; it’s good to let La Divina put things in context for herself. McNally’s play references Callas’ time at Juilliard but viewers should really seek out the CDs and book with transcriptions from her classes, they provide brilliant insights into her thinking on music, beauty, art, and are remarkably humbling because she truly was an artist without equal, and she was candid, and funny; strict but encouraging.
MARIA by CALLAS is a treat, just to see her performances on the big screen is worth it! But to see her in a quieter light is beyond compelling.
PG for mild thematic elements, some smoking and brief language
Monday December 17 2018 5:30 PM (113 Minutes)