Aria | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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The idea must have seemed like a natural to producer Don Boyd: invite ten filmmakers to select an operatic aria and make a short film interpreting the music independent of the opera's original story line. The results are decidedly mixed, but the best segments are worth waiting for. To take them in ascending order of preference: Bill Bryden provides an uninteresting "wraparound" using Leoncavallo that links the various segments; Nicolas Roeg's use of Verdi in depicting a plot to assassinate King Zog of Albania in Vienna in 1931 (with Theresa Russell as Zog) is disappointingly pointless, and Bruce Beresford's matching of a "love duet" and Korngold seems equally thin. Robert Altman's view of the audience at the opening night of Paris's Ranelagh Theater in 1734 (where a Rameau opera was premiering) is ambitious but sluggish, and Franc Roddam's version of a young couple's suicide pact in Las Vegas to the strains of Wagner is thoughtful but corny. More experimental sections by Charles Sturridge (lyrical black-and-white shots of children playing hooky, used with Verdi) and Derek Jarman (an elderly opera singer on stage in 35-millimeter recalls her romantic childhood in Super-8, all to a Charpentier aria) are arresting but rather unsatisfying. Ken Russell's surreal depiction of a car-crash victim's fantasies of her wounds becoming jewels in a lush ritual done to Puccini, seems to benefit from Russell's previous experience in matching music to action. But the best in the bunch are undoubtedly Jean-Luc Godard's Lully and Julien Temple's Verdi. The former, an admittedly perverse nonnarrative depiction of amour fou in a body-building gym, beautifully composed and adroitly mixing music and sound effects, shows the most intelligent match of sound and visuals. Temple's film, perhaps the only movie ever shot in the bad-taste splendors of California's Madonna Inn, combines a bawdy sketch involving double adultery with a virtuoso use of long takes and virtually continous camera movement; an adroitly timed series of near misses in the crossing trajectories of two couples puts Big Business to shame, and the underrated Temple is as impressive here as he is in Absolute Beginners. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 1 through 7)

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