Saturday, September 14, 2013

Medea (1969)

 WHO: Pier Paolo Pasolini directed this.

WHAT: Given that it is the only feature film in cinema history to feature an acting performance by opera legend Maria Callas, it may be odd that Medea was directed by an avowed opera non-fan such as Pasolini. But according to the author of the biography Pasolini Requiem, Barth David Schwartz, the two were perfectly in sync in not wanting to use Callas as a singing diva, but as a forceful and beautiful visual presence. Conflicts in stylistic approaches were soon smoothed over, as Schwartz writes:
Consistent with his style from the time of Accatone, Pasolini wanted to shoot Callas' face in long, slow close-up. She was used to the opera audience at a distance and begged him not to. He won. She might have been convinced to sing at some length. He asked only that she sing a short lullaby, in Greek, to Medea's baby son. She agreed but asked that it be omitted when she saw the rushes with sound track.
Music lovers might be disappointed with a Medea starring Maria Callas but not her singing voice. But Pasolini chose wonderfully striking recordings made around the world to create a haunting musical soundtrack for his mythic tale. Tibetan Mahakala chanting, a Bulgarian womens' choir, Persian santoor music, and (I think) Indonesian Kecak chants are among the borrowings made by Pasolini, complimenting the Spanish and Mexican-influenced costuming and the film locations in Syria, Turkey and Italy to reclaim Medea as not merely a Greek myth but a global one.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight at the Castro Theatre and at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on Saturday, October 12th.

WHY: Although a 4:00 separate-admission showing Mamma Roma precedes it, this evening's screening of Medea is being called the "Opening Night Film" in a two day celebration of Pasolini at the Castro (which is also hosting a party and a 9:30 screening of The Decameron) and the Roxie (which tomorrow shows the last three films directed by the Marxist, gay, communist before his tragic and controversial 1975 death), and a large-scale prelude to the full Pasolini series starting at Pacific Film Archive this Friday and running through the end of October.

Complete retrospectives of major filmmakers have become rare in the Bay Area, even at the PFA, so this weekend celebration is worth the attention, and all the new articles and overviews written on Pasolini and linked by David Hudson today. As he says, Major stuff.

HOW: Medea, and nearly everything else playing in the Pasolini season, is screening from a 35mm print. At the Castro it will be introduced by frequent Pasolini actor Ninetto Davoli, as will most of this weekend's screenings.


  1. Hey Brian: Marxist Communist is kind of redundant. As Fritz Lang said to Harry Cohn about the title Human Desire: What other kind is there?
    A thread could be started on films featuring opera stars who don't sing, including the De Mille silents with Geraldine Farrar.

  2. I think I meant to say "Marxist, gay Catholic". Oops!

    Fun idea for a thread, which would also have to include Caruso's appearances in films by director Edward José.