Maria Callas' life story is told through her own words in intimate, loving portrait of fame

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Maria Callas narrates her own life story in "Maria By Callas," a fascinating and loving documentary about the 1950s Greek-American opera sensation. 

"The Tigress," as Callas was called, was a no-nonsense diva and a stratospheric talent, and the performances collected here showcase her magnificent gifts.  

Writer-director Tom Volf uses archival footage of Callas and splices it with interview footage of the star, her own writings (narrated by Joyce DiDonato in the voice of Callas) and home movies that make her feel present and alive as she looks back at her life. (Callas died of a heart attack in 1977 at age 53.) 

With Callas herself doing the talking, there's no room for outside voices to contextualize her story. That would have painted a more well-rounded picture, but Volf is aiming for intimacy, and he gets it.

You feel Callas' heartbreak, for example, when her romance with Aristotle Onassis suddenly ends when he takes up with Jackie Kennedy. In the movie's telling, she was sideswiped by the sudden courtship and never quite recovered, and Volf lets viewers feel her pain. 

Volf is clearly infatuated with his subject, and he distances himself from criticism of Callas, even as she ran hot and cold and was given to performance cancellations, sometimes even mid-show.

He clearly feels for her as she was hounded by the press, and her run-ins with the paparazzi are oddly reminiscent of the TMZ bombardments faced by modern stars. 

"Maria by Callas" tells Callas' story as part triumph, part tragedy. "Destiny is destiny," Callas says, "and there is no way out." No one else could have said it better.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Maria by Callas'

GRADE: B

Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some smoking and brief language

Running time: 119 minutes

 

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