Maria Callas
in
Pier Paolo Pasolini's
Medea


In 1969 the world's greatest opera diva Maria Callas made her first
and only venture into the world of film when she played the lead role
in Marxist director Pier Paolo Pasolini's Medea.

Together Pasolini and Callas created a hypnotic cinematic experience
and a powerful ideological tale of the clash of two cultures.

And without Callas singing a note.




CALLAS
Maria Callas: A Biography.
Excerpts from an interview with Kenneth Harris, 1970.
"Callas: A Life for Sale" by Michael White.


PASOLINI
Pier Paolo Pasolini: An Overview.
"Pasolini's Impossible Desire" - a review of Naomi Greene's, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy by Michael J. Bayly.
"Why was Pasolini Murdered?" - a review of Pasolini: An Italian Crime by David Walsh.


MEDEA
"Myth and Marx" - excerpts from Italian Cinema: From Neo-Realism to the Present by Peter Bondanella.
"Medea: Myth and Reason" - excerpts from Pier Paolo Pasolini by Stephen Snyder.
"Medea: Tropism of a Transplanted Race" by Molly Haskell.


THE MAKING OF MEDEA
"Medea and Callas" - excerpts from Pasolini Requiem by Barth David Schwartz.
Excerpts from Maria Callas Remembered by Nadia Stancioff.
Excerpts from Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend by Arianna Huffington.




Nobody should be surprised that Callas can act
and magnificently so, but that Pasolini should evoke such a performance
from her in a film debut is a credit to him. Little more than a presence
for the first half of the film (though your eyes never leave her),
when she emerges from the landscape to express every emotion
of great tragedy, she is incredible.

Bernard Law
Gannett News Services
October 1971.


"Pasolini ravishes the eye" (Derek Elley) in Medea,
a free adaptation of Euripides featuring the first-ever film performance
of opera diva Maria Callas. She stars in the title role as the high priestess
who betrays her father's kingdom to help Jason plunder the Golden Fleece.
Later, when Jason abandons her for another woman, she exacts a terrible revenge.
Pasolini transforms the classical drama into the ideological tale of the
clash of two diametrically opposed cultures, with Medea representing that
which is ancient, sacred, and agrarian, and Jason representing the modern,
profane, and bourgeois. As Peter Bondanella notes, the film can easily
be read as a parable for disastrous encounters between
the Third World and Western civilizations.

Cinémathèque Pacifique.


Pasolini's most bizarre exploration of Freudian themes through Marxist eyes
... a mixture of social anthropology and ritual theatre, with every incident given both
a 'magic' and a 'rational' reading. Its splendours crystallise in the casting of Callas
as Medea ... her extraordinary mask of a face bespeaking extremes of emotion.

Tony Rayns, Time Out.


Not only an engagingly original synthesis
of the director's personal views on the human condition,
but also a highly successful cinematic spectacle.

Peter Bondanella.


Maria Callas is extraordinary as Medea in Pasolini's
reworked version of Euripides' drama, told in majestic cinematic tableaux
with a spectacular array of gorgeously costumed figures.

British Film Institute.


Powerful, visually ravishing film about the mythic characters Medea and Jason;
arguably Pasolini's most underrated film. Pasolini draws a monumental performance
from Maria Callas, who uses her few lines of dialogue to great effect. Simply by using
her face and body, Callas suggests - with a subtlety unexpected from an opera diva -
Medea's immense range of emotions, from heartbreaking tenderness to volcanic rage.
We are fortunate to have her performance on film.

Jim's Film Website.


The only movie made by Maria Callas, Medea nevertheless contains not a note
of the great diva singing. And yet her presence is stunning, with a face (often seen in close-up)
that cuts across the frame like a great phenomenon of nature. This raw, mostly wordless take
on the Greek classic is a characteristic film from the influential Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini:
intellectually sophisticated yet almost primitive in its feel. The weird, jagged locations
and Pasolini's elliptical style contribute to the sense of violence already in the story,
and the visual approach (realized by Gangs of New York production designer Dante Ferretti)
brings in African masks and pagan rituals. If it's not quite satisfying as a treatment of the
original Euripides play, it succeeds as a blunt experience in its own right.
And tantalizingly suggests what Callas might have done
had she opted for a movie career.

Robert Horton.


Medea is probably one of the most abstract films ever produced by Pasolini.
Although in broad outline it follows the plot laid down by centuries of oral tradition and specifically
the version given in Euripides' synonymous play, the film is in many ways concerned more what it means
to be a myth, and how myth becomes a vehicle for people in a given culture to understand and deal with
their own life experiences. . . . Pasolini's Medea is not his easiest film to watch.
But it is probably one of his most penetrating and most universal in ultimate appeal.
This universality is made implicit by the use of Noh theater music, whose underlying
and elevate one into the universal. This the film achieves wonderfully.

The Blog Without A Name.


This is Pasolini's Medea, not Euripedes and it is not easy viewing.
Its wild, African/Middle Eastern score with the nasal bleating of women's voices
in near pre-historic sounding rhythmic chant adds further to the element of being
"out there" this film produces: This is about as far away from popular cinema as one can get.
Medea doesn't easily compare to films of any other style or genre; not even with
some of Pasolini's other work. But, if you can succumb to its hypnotic, mesmerizing pace
at once both frenetic and static - you will realize this is as about as close to a hallucinatory
experience one can achieve without the use of an illegal substance.
Granted, not everyone wants that experience.

G.P. Padillo


For his cinematic representation of Medea (1970), Pasolini privileged the work
of anthropologists such as Frazer, Lévy-Bruhl, and Eliade over the Euripidean masterpiece,
which he reduced to an ambivalent role insofar as it provided him with access to the archaic world
but also stood, in his understanding of the written word, as a traditional narrative convention
separate from reality. In the course of the story, Pasolini's Medea undergoes a transformation from
a mythical to a realistic character, and in the process the inarticulate sounds and barbaric music of Colchis
are replaced by the words of Euripides set in Greece. Despite this dramatic change,
Pasolini shows that ancient myth continues to inhabit a part of us that we cannot get rid of,
as revealed in the two centaurs that reside within Jason.

James J. Clauss
Bryn Mawr Classical Review.


Attired in a long, clinging embroidered robe, decked with ropes of barbaric ornaments
falling to her feet, [Callas gives] a hypnotic performance such as one rarely sees even attempted nowadays,
and [one] endowed with true magnetic power. It is a virtuoso corporeal and psychological triumph . . .
It can be said that in this new Medea there is contained acting of a supreme dramatic achievement,
which will rank the film as a rare work of cinematographic art.

Genet, "Letter from Paris,"
The New Yorker
February 21, 1970.



CAST
Maria Callas as Medea
Giuseppe Gentile as Jason
Laurent Terzieff as the Centaur
Massimo Girotti as King Creon
Margaret Clementi as Glause
Sergio Tramonti as Apsyrtus
Annamaria Chio as the Nurse

CREW
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written by Pasolini, based on Euripides' play
Produced by Marina Cicogna and Franco Rosellini
Cinematography by Ennio Guarnieri
Production Design by Dante Ferretti
Art Direction by Nicola Tamburo
Costume Design by Piero Tosi
Edited by Nino Baragli
Music by Elsa Morante and Pier Paolo Pasolini


NOTE: These pages documenting Maria Callas in Pasolini's Medea are currently under construction.
To contribute articles, images, or artwork, contact Michael Bayly at CallasAsMedea@hotmail.com