"Poignant Snapshots of Famous American Opera Singer"
What You Need To Know:
The best parts in MARIA BY CALLAS are the uncut performances that allow her singing to shine. The movie works as a great portrait of Callas’ character and inner life but falls short of being a cohesive story about details. There is some immoral content involving her affair with Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, which led to her marriage being annulled. Ultimately, however, the movie points to Callas’ resilience through struggle. She even points to God to give her strength. Thus, viewers of MARIA BY CALLAS are left with a positive message of hope, especially when she says, “God has always been my guide, and I know that we will get through this crisis too.”
MARIA BY CALLAS is a documentary following legendary American opera singer Maria Callas through her singing career and personal life in the 1950s to 1970s. It’s a unique style of documentary told completely in Maria’s own words through letters, TV interviews, newspaper clippings, and other pieces of discovered footage. The movie is mostly footage of her singing performances and interviews. Although there’s some thematic material in her affair with Aristotle Onassis, there is little content to caution audiences away from seeing the movie besides personal interests.
Stringing together the story of Maria Callas’ career through found footage must not have been an easy task for Director Tom Volf. He manages to tell a linear story that’s framed by a specific TV interview of Callas with English journalist and talk show host David Frost. The spirit of the era is kept alive as Volf made no efforts to update the 8mm and 16mm footage, sometimes with frames on the side and visible scuffs. The whole aesthetic lends an artistic and romantic air to the story, which is fitting since Volf is an avid fan of Maria Callas who’s eager to pass her story on to another generation.
The movie mainly focuses on Maria’s various performances, with several montages of backstage footage set to her own singing on stage. While it is a unique glimpse of never-before-seen footage of the world-famous opera star, these montages drag the pacing of a 113-minute movie that could have easily been no more than 90 minutes. The movie’s best parts are when the editing stops, and they simply display Callas’ rare talent without distraction. It’s an excellent introduction not only to her talent but to the art of opera for a new generation that might not be as familiar with opera and with Maria Callas. Watching those scenes highlights what a star she truly was.
The unique method of using only Callas’ own words to tell her own story is admirable and interesting to watch at first. It points out that Volf is a true fan and wants to give Maria Callas an opportunity to speak about her own life. Regrettably, the movie loses its footing when it tries to tell this story in a coherent, linear fashion. Volf only had a specific amount of footage after all, so it seems that many key pieces of the puzzle are missing. Although the movie spends a considerable amount of time on Maria’s love affair with Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, the details get muddled and confusing toward the end. The chronology is tough to follow, and in the end, the movie is a much better portrait of her as a character than it is a linear story of her life. It works as a great introduction to who she was and her struggles and talents as a performer, but will ultimately leave viewers wanting more context.
The most interesting parts are also the most personal parts. For example, the movie covers Maria’s struggle with nerves, stage fright and not wanting to be famous at all. She discusses the difficulty of being an authentic artist. Consequently, throughout her interviews there’s a theme of struggle, hardship and overcoming. In one interview, she reveals a prayer she prays every day, “God give me what you want but give me the strength to overcome it.” Later in her life, she seems to speak more freely about God, saying that “Christianity says you must forgive” in reference to her long and torrid love affair with Onassis.
It’s unclear, however, the role that faith actually played in her life. The movie references her attempts at divorce due to her extramarital affairs. However, ultimately viewers are left with a positive message of hope through Callas’ words such as, “God has always been my guide, and I know that we will get through this crisis too.” She also comments on how futile attempts for glory are in life and seemed to have rather wanted a simple life rather than fame and riches. It’s a fascinating look at someone who apparently “had it all” and yet still went through personal and artistic struggles.