UK, 1987, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by: Robert Altman, segment Las Boreads.
Bruce Beresford, segment Die Tote Stadt.
Bill Bryden, segment E Pagliacci.
Jean- Luc Godard, segment Armide.
Derek Jarman, segment Depuis Le Jour.
Franc Roddam, segment Liebestoud.
Nicolas Roeg, segment Un Ballo in Maschera.
Ken Russell, segment Nessun Dorma.
Charles Sturridge, segment La Virgine Degli Angeli.
Julien Temple, segment Rigoletto.
Teresa Russell, Jackson Kyle, Marion Peterson, Valerie Alain, Buck Henry, Beverly D'Angelo, Gary Kasper, Anita Morris, Elizabeth Hurley, Bridget Fonda, James Mathers, Linzi Drew, Andreas Wisniewski, Amy Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Spencer Leigh, John Hurt, Sophie Ward.
Aria was devised by British producer and director, Don Boyd. He was impressed by the films which showed words and images illustrating music, in the Fantasia style. In the 1980s, MTV was also emerging. He thought it would be an achievement to have a Fantasia-like film with ten arias, illustrated by images.
He contacted a number of directors, including Federico Fellini who had to withdraw because of illness, to film various segments. He gave them complete freedom to do as they wished. They were also able to go to the RCA catalogue to choose the arias they wanted to film.
The majority of the directors are British. Robert Altman brings an American perspective, Jean-Luc? Godard a French, Bruce Beresford an Australian.
The Altman segment looks like something from Ken Russell, a re-creation of theatre in 17th century France, where the aristocracy mix with the inmates of an asylum. Bruce Beresford’s aria is the most operatic, somewhat static but brief in its presentation of Erich Maria Korngold’s aria? Jean-Luc? Godard has a very different episode, set in a gymnasium. Franc Roddam takes Wagner and a young American couple going to Las Vegas to commit suicide. Nicolas Roeg’s story is set in 1931 in Vienna, with the visit of King Zog of Albania and an attempt on his life. Charles Sturridge draws on personal experience of a christening and has a young child stealing a car and pursued by the police. Julien Temple, who has a sensibility which is able to mock as well as celebrate opera, has a comic story, to the melodies of Rigoletto and Woman is Fickle, in a seedy motel in America. The outstanding segments are those by Ken Russell, bringing his imaginative creativity to Nessun Dorma, a dream of a young woman who, it is revealed, has been injured in a car accident. Derek Jarman’s finale piece is very moving, an old woman remembering her past, Amy Johnson playing the old woman, and home video footage of Tilda Swinton and Spencer Leigh for the flashbacks to the happiness of her life. There is a connecting segment directed by Bill Bryden with John Hurt as a gentleman, going into a church, going into a theatre, pursuing a young woman, being made up and finally singing the aria from Pagliacci.
1.The idea behind Aria, Don Boyd’s creativity, words and images mirroring opera? An MTV, Fantasia, for classic opera?
2.The instructions to the directors, their complete freedom? Their reputations, styles, ten minutes or less? Story, characters, action, music? The directors writing their own pieces? The reliance on images rather than words (except for the Julien Temple story)?
3.The RCA list, the choices of arias, the preponderance of Verdi, Puccini, Lully, Wagner, Korngold?
4.The linking story: John Hurt and the variety of characters, in the hat and cape of the 30s, going into the church to pray, going to the theatre, the makeup, seeing the young woman, her disappearance, his becoming Pagliacci, his performance to her, his death?
5.The themes: history, politics, love, sexuality, suicide, road accidents, age, art, religion, children, morality?
6.The Nicolas Roeg segment: history, Europe between the wars, 1931, the status of Vienna, the king from Albania, going to the theatre, the masked ball, the glimpses of the assassins, conspiring, undercover, going to the theatre, the group and individuals? The king, his relationship with the woman, her mother, in the theatre? His leaving, the shots, his firing back? Embracing the young woman? Using Teresa Russell as the young king?
7.The Charles Sturridge segment: religion, black and white, the statue of the Madonna, the shrine, the devout child praying? The boy, his love for cars, looking at the cars, taking the car? The girl driving, his being too small, the box under his feet? The police? The accident? The children watching the television? The theme of the aria, The Force of Destiny?
8.The Jean- Luc Godard segment: the gymnasium, modern, the men and the women, the men and the exercise, developing their muscles? The women doing the menial tasks? The males as statuesque? The women touching them? The women as statues, naked, erotic? The intention of doing living tableaux? Living art?
9.The Bruce Beresford segment: the singers, the room, naked, operatic?
10.The Julien Temple segment: the humour, mockery of the pretensions of opera, Rigoletto? The cast and their image? The sick wife, the protestations of the producer, his going out, her going out, driving? The Madonna Motel? The kitsch, the variety of rooms and themes, the Neanderthal Room? Its messiness? The rooms, the two couples, the sexual encounter, their being filmed? The husband and the girl, his behaviour? The dance, the band, the Elvis impersonator singing Verdi? The wife and her lover, his attention to the other women? The single take for the dance room sequence? The clash, the valet, spilling of the contents, the mixing of the videos, the valet looking on with a smile? Each playing the video, the shock? The touch of French farce, kitsch style?
11.The Robert Altman segment: the 17th century, costumes and décor, the theatre, society, the inmates from the asylum, the music, the performance on stage, the audience behaviour, the madness, playing with the wigs, the busts, chaos? A type of French Hogarthian sequence?
12.The Franc Roddam segment: Wagner, the death wish? The desert, the police holding up the car, the racism? The lights of Las Vegas, the young couple, driving, the chapels, the motel, their love, the breaking of the bottle, the broken glass, the bath, their killing themselves – and the drabness of Las Vegas in the light of day?
13.The Ken Russell segment: the visual imagination, using Nessun Dorma, the Asian background, the focus of attention on the jewels, the queen and her servants, beauty, immortality? The transition to the accident, the realism, the ambulance, taking the woman to the hospital, the man and his concern, at the hospital, the equipment, the reviving of the patient, new life?
14.The Derek Jarman sequence: old age, the woman as young, the home video, the joy, the man, the ship, the memories? A celebration of age, living?
15.The cumulative effect – and whether the experiment of making a Fantasia/MTV film of operatic arias worked or not? The images evoking the music?