Aria (Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Bill Bryden, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Franc Roddam, Nicholas Roeg, Ken Russell, Charles Sturridge & Julien Temple / United Kingdom, 1987):

Not a bad idea -- an anthology film based purely on the dichotomy between image and sound, with the sounds coming Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, et al. Each of the ten filmmakers gets an operatic piece and, predictably, the least interesting ones turn them academic by using music illustratively -- thus Bruce Beresford's rendering of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt as a straight duet, or Julien Temple's use of Rigoletto to adorn a series of traveling shots in a mechanically choreographed farce. By contrast, Jean-Luc Godard structures Lully's Armide as a sly update of the "Ain't Anyone Here for Love?" Jane Russell number from Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a very funny, limpid contemplation of the flesh and a mini tour de force on the power of dissonance (rather than harmony). Along the same lines, Robert Altman plants his camera naturally facing the wrong way during an 18th-century theatre performance of Rameau's Les Boréades, one long reaction shot with the lenses fixated on the groping, garishly rouged-up and probably syphilic asylum inmates jeering from the aisles. Less explicable is Nicolas Roeg's use of Un Ballo in Maschera for a Von Sternberg parody, complete with a Trilby in drag (Theresa Russell in military uniform and mustache, as the Austrian monarch), though Ken Russell's segment is at least consistent with the director's customary defacement of the visual and the aural -- Nessun Dorma is reduced to elevator muzak for splashy hallucinations and oozing wounds. Elsewhere, Derek Jarman locates the serenity of old age in Depuis le Jour, Charles Sturridge sets an impressionistically joyless joyride to La Virgine Degli Angeli, and Franc Roddam crayons in the braiding of sex and death from Liebestod, kinda timid after Buñuel's use in L'Age d'Or and Wuthering Heights. For the finale, John Hurt dons greasepaint and lip-synches I Pagliacci to a deserted theater, a bit of self-reflexive karaoke that only reminds the viewer that, no matter what music plays, the bit is only as good as the fellow at the mike.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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