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Aria Reviews

A grand idea with bland results, ARIA is an omnibus film that combines the talents of 10 directors and 8 composers but ends up with very little to show for it. It's more a showcase of brilliant packaging than of filmmaking, providing only a few segments of any real interest. In what is easily the most inventive episode, Godard, excerpting Lully's "Armide," continues to experiment in modern sound construction and classical imagery. Without a conventional story line, the episode takes place in a gymnasium, where a group of well-developed body builders pump iron and a pair of barely dressed young women do cleaning chores. Temple, with cinematographer Stapleton, shows off some of the bravura camera work delivered in ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS in a segment set to Verdi's "Rigoletto." His is the most entertaining and comical of the episodes, set in the gaudy Madonna Inn of San Luis Obispo, California, which follows two couples as they spend a sexually charged evening together. Roddam set his tale to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," paralleling the passionate, perfect love of two innocent teenagers with the cheap, gunshot marriages of Las Vegas. He actually created a miniopera about perfect love that is strengthened by his choice of location--the loveless Las Vegas. Episodes by Russell and Jarman are visually delicious, but their connections to opera are pretty slim. Sturridge offers a pleasant piece that is more of a moral tale than an operatic one. On the down side are the episodes by Roeg, Beresford, Altman, and Bryden. Masterminded by producer Boyd, ARIA is a noble attempt to bring together the talents of some of today's more notable directors. Unfortunately, some of today's more notable directors aren't up to much more here than third-rate trash that would be jeered at any film school screening. The film has been called MTV for opera fans, but that does a disservice to the infinitely more daring rock video directors. One would think that giving free reign to a director would encourage taking a few chances, but only Godard does so in his attempt to make a connection between sound and image, addressing the very root of opera--music and visuals--and in a popular setting. Roddam, although his approach is a bit saccharine, has at least given us a story that is operatic. Temple also shows the visual and storytelling energy that one expects from opera. The remaining directors, however, failed to meet their cinematic challenge. What ARIA proves is that the top composers and stagers of opera today (Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, John Adams and Peter Sellars) are taking far greater steps in stretching the boundaries of their medium than this collection of supposedly top filmmakers are in stretching theirs. Instead of being a signal to other art forms that film too is an art, ARIA is a pitiful display of the current lack of artistic imagination in filmmaking.