Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words introduces us to the Maria Callas that we all know - a devastatingly talented opera singer who became one of the opera world's biggest stars in the 20th century and a woman known to be extraordinarily difficult to deal with, a diva among divas whose preciousness seemed to only make her more appealing.
However, Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words goes beyond Callas's public image to paint a more wholistic portrayal of the woman who was pushed into her art at a young age by a dominating mother seeking refuge and redemption from a broken marriage. Maria confessed as an adult to having had an unhappy childhood, though after watching Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words one can't help but wonder if she ever found a single moment of happiness in her surprisingly short life.
Callas's extraordinary rise in the operatic ranks was accompanied by well-founded accusations of being difficult, though these at least partially started because of Callas's having reportedly fallen ill during a performance and become unable to continue - the press treated her mercilessly in accusing her of simply refusing to perform. It was a scenario that would play out more than once throughout her esteemed yet controversial career.
Maria by Callas, directed by Tom Volf, gives us extended glimpses into those seemingly charmed and high society times in Callas's life from a brief affair with filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini to frequent associations with the likes of Grace Kelly, Omar Sharif, and VIttorio De Sica to her long-term relationship with Aristotle Onassis, with whom she was believed to be in love but who suddenly left her without warning to marry Jacqueline Kennedy before eventually crawling his way back to her.
They would, however, never marry despite Callas's well known and long profession of a desire for domestic bliss.
The one thing she desired, at least it seems, is one of the things she never quite achieved.
Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words is an exceptionally involving film, a true must see for Callas fans and fans of opera, yet Volf's obvious affection for his subject matter occasionally gets in his way as the film's often extended scenes of Callas's performances are not only of a lesser quality film but also frequently disruptive of the film's otherwise brisk rhythm. While one would certainly expect films that are, at a minimum, over 40 years old to be lower in quality, far too much of this feature doc depends on these tapes and videos to drive home Callas's status as a legend.
At one point, I found myself mouthing "I get it already."
That said, these are minor quibbles for an otherwise immensely enjoyable and impactful film that finally gives Callas the opportunity to explain her life in her own words and amidst the glitz and the glamour of the life she lived it's simply extraordinary to watch. Being released in time for awards season, Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words will be given a limited theatrical release by Sony Classics and it's a film that demands to be seen in the theatrical setting with an appropriate sound system.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic