Tom Volf’s four-years-in-the-research “Maria By Callas” is that rare thing in biographical documentary: a vivid perspective on a wildly overexposed cultural figure from entirely fresh vantages. Volf’s first inspired choice was to have the Greek-American opera singer’s life told in her own words, while drawing on television interviews, private letters, unseen memoirs and home movies, few of which have been seen before. (It’s akin to what Asif Kapadia did with his ravaging “Amy” and his earlier “Senna.”) The second choice is to present performances entirely—“Casta Diva” (“Norma”), “Love is a Rebellious Bird” (“Carmen”), “I Lived for Art, I Lived for Love” (“Tosca”), “Farewell to the Past” (“La Traviata”)—rather than in snippets. Volf’s passion for research pays off in every compelling minute of “Maria by Callas.” With Luchino Visconti, Jean Cocteau, Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, Rudolf Bing, Anna Magnani, Elsa Maxwell, Aristotle Onassis, Winston Churchill, Franco Zeffirelli, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Omar Sharif, David Frost, Edward R. Murrow, Jerry Lewis. 113m. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.