(2017) Documentary (Sony Classics) Maria Callas, Fanny Ardant, David Frost, Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters, Elvira de Hidalgo, Joyce DiDonato, Aristotle Onassis, Omar Sharif, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Rudolf Bing, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Bernard Gavoty, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean Cocteau, Brigitte Bardot, Vittorio De Sica, Catherine Deneuve, Grace Kelly. Directed by Tom Volf
Maria Callas’ star has faded. Even to people my own age she’s just a name that may or may not be familiar and to those younger than myself, not even that. Those who remember her may remember her as the epitome of the operatic diva, a woman whose talent made her a household name and whose lifestyle made her a legend.
When diva behavior is caricatured with furs, an adoring sycophantic entourage and small dogs, they are really discussing Callas who developed the persona for real. However, she was more than just a caricature and Volf uses interview footage – much of it unseen since it first aired – and the diva’s own words through letters and an unpublished autobiography to paint a portrait of the artist.
Born in New York to Greek immigrants, she was sent (unwillingly) to Athens to study operatic singing and after the war became a rising star, a star that blazed in the 1950s and early 1960s. She famously had a long-term affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis who would then in a shocking turn of events (at least to Callas) marry the widow of the former U.S. President, Jacqueline Kennedy. The betrayal devastated her, although she apparently continued a romantic relationship with him after he married Jackie.
Her life was a lonely one despite the wealth and fame; she had a love-hate relationship with the press and with her relationship with Onassis a defining moment for her, she would not marry again (she did marry an Italian impresario but the marriage ended when she felt he exerted too much influence over her career). That she was bitter is obvious through her words here.
This is an intimate look at an artist who has largely been forgotten, which is the nature of fame; it is indeed fleeting. How many famous people who dominate the headlines now be remembered in 50 to 70 years? For many, the answer will be not at all.
The movie glosses over a lot of the less pleasant aspects of her life, and tends to be unwilling to identify various people talking to and about Callas, so you may find yourself having to Google images of some of these folks. The filmmaker presents Callas as a woman who was largely imprisoned by her fame and gave more to her art and to her lover than she received back from either, a viewpoint that I think is a bit condescending. From everything I’ve been able to find out about the woman, she was very much in control of her life and her career; she was strong-willed and temperamental to the point that people tended to walk on eggshells around her.
I don’t think this is a complete view of the opera star, although watching her rapturous expression as she is singing an aria may well tell you everything you need to know about her. The film also tends to gloss over some of her less admirable qualities, as well as to the very obvious weight loss which may have contributed to the vocal issues that plagued her later on in her career, which only the opera fan may notice from her performances here. Still, this is an excellent introduction to her work and her life and maybe even to her personality as well.
REASONS TO SEE: A must for opera fans and history buffs. Some wonderful archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Skips over the less wonderful aspects of her life.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some vague sexual references, mild profanity and mild adult thematic content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature film by Volf.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Sling TV, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews, Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: La Vie en Rose
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Front Runner
(Columbia) Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Luke Wilson . Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock and Wichita return ten years after the hit movie, reuniting with the original writers and director. In the time that has passed, the zombies have begun to evolve, leading to a whole new set of rules. Meanwhile the snarky family bicker with one another as they travel from the American heartland to the White House, meeting up with human survivors and celebrity zombies along the way.
Dolemite Is My Name
(Netflix) Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps. Rudy Ray Moore made a reputation in the 70s as an African-American comic who was always willing to push the boundaries. His alter ego, Dolemite, was a rapping pimp Kung Fu master, and the character – considered too risky for any major studio – would become a defining figure of the Blaxploitation era
(Well Go USA) Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Becky. The latest in the oeuvre of anarchic and prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike is this wild tale of a boxer and a call girl who fall madly in love but are caught in the crossfire of a Yakuza drug smuggling scheme over the course of one night on the mean streets of Tokyo.
Lucy in the Sky
(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz. An astronaut returns home following a transcendent experience in space but soon begins to feel that her life is meant to be lived up there. As the yearning grows stronger, her connection with reality begins to disintegrate.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
(Disney) Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley. The Princess Aurora’s impending wedding to Prince Phillip causes strife between her and her godmother Maleficent. A great war is looming between humans and fairies and the two women may find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict if they aren’t careful.
(Abramorama) Neil Young. Young and his legendary back-up band Crazy Horse make their first album in seven years. Their journey through personal pain, age and stubborn refusal to compromise shows at their core an undying passion for the music that binds them together.
(Warner Brothers) Bruce Springsteen, Patty Scialfa. Springsteen, who co-directed this film, performs songs from his latest album live.
See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Documentary/Concert Film
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Waterford Lakes (Saturday Only)
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements, alcohol and smoking images, and brief language)
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
(Sony Classics) Roy M. Cohn, Joseph McCarthy, Barbara Walters, Donald J. Trump. One of the most notorious lawyers who helped shape the House of Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, worked for the Nixon White House and helped get Donald Trump elected.
ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:
Along Came the Devil 2
An Ideal Husband</em
Cotton Club Encore
ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:
Pain and Glory
ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:
ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:
My People, My Country
SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:
Lucy in the Sky
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Zombieland: Double Tap
(2012) Documentary (EntertainmentOne) Carol Channing, Harry Kullijian, Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller, Loni Anderson, Bruce Vilanch, JoAnne Worley, Rich Little, Angela Lansbury, Bob Mackie, Tommy Tune, Tippi Hedren. Directed by Dori Berenstein
There are names and then there are Names. A lot of younger people aren’t that familiar with the name of Carol Channing but to those of my generation and before, she is virtually synonymous with Broadway. She originated the roles of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and more notably, Dolly Levi in “Hello, Devi.” In both cases her signature roles were handed off to other actresses for the film versions, Marilyn Monroe for the former, Barbra Streisand for the latter.
These days she is pretty much retired from the stage although she does make appearances from time to time; for example she does a show number at the Kennedy Center Honors with Chita Rivera and Angela Lansbury (which begs the question why hasn’t she gotten one yet) and a number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for a benefit.
Still, she’s recognized as the Ambassador of the Great White Way; while she’s taking a stroll pointing out the various theaters she’s been onstage in, she is seen by members of the chorus line of “Next to Normal” out taking a break between performances and is shown the reverence and love that those who love Broadway understand that she deserves.
Channing (who was 90 when this was filmed – she’s 91 now) is an ebullient force of nature, one who tells stories with genuine wit and warmth and has lots of stories to tell (such as of her first screen kiss from none other than Clint Eastwood). She’s one of those people you can’t help but like after spending just five minutes with her, and that personality shows through here.
There was a lot about her I didn’t know – about her support for gay rights causes and for other liberal touchstone causes. She has been a tireless worker in helping young actors survive the often brutal financial realities of life as a struggling actor, and for the furtherance of theatrical preservation. The more you see here, the more you like and respect her.
She hasn’t always had it easy. Not much is said about her marriage to her third husband of 42 years other than that the marriage ended abruptly and but before the divorce could become final her ex passed away. There have been allegations that it was a loveless marriage in other sources, but none of that is discussed here. Instead, the focus is on her fourth marriage to Kullijian, whom she met at Aptos Middle School in the San Francisco Bay Area and who turned out to be the love of her life, although sadly he passed away one day shy of his 92nd birthday in December 2011. However it’s obvious that they have an easy familiarity that comes from time and simpatico.
This is less of a documentary than a tribute; Berenstein really doesn’t linger too much on the unpleasant aspects of Channing’s life and rarely asks insightful questions. Not that a Mike Wallace-like approach would have been preferable but a look at the person behind the persona would have been welcome.
I still liked the movie a great deal however and wound up really falling in love with the subject a little. She may not be your cup of tea in terms of her life on Broadway, but nonetheless she’s great fun to spend an hour or so with. “Always leave ’em wanting more” is an old show business saying and it’s very true here – I wanted to spend more time with Carol Channing after the movie was done. I just wanted to get to know her better than the filmmakers allowed me to.
WHY RENT THIS: Gives you a glimpse into an amazing woman who’s had an incredible career.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Focuses overly much on “Hello, Dolly” and not enough on maybe her thoughts about certain aspects of her life.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing here your kids haven’t heard or seen before. There is some smoking and a few mildly bad words here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Channing appeared on Nixon’s enemies list, which she later claimed as “the highest honor of her career.”
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD is packed with ’em, including a Barbara Walters interview, a look at the opening night of “Hello Dolly” and much more.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,740 on an unknown production budget; probably lost money.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ahead of Time
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Desert Flower