Before Madea There Was Medea, and Hell Hath No Fury. Happy Birthday Pier Paolo Pasolini & Hats Off to "The Great Beauty" Oscar Win
It seems fitting somehow that this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film should go to the Italian nominee, The Great Beauty. The film is certainly worthy in its own right. As the voice-over during Sunday's Academy Awards reminded us, it is also part of a long legacy of achievement from the Italian film industry, which includes work by masters like Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, De Sica, Leone, Wertmuller, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who would have celebrated his 92nd birthday today had he not been murdered in 1975 for reasons that remain mysterious.
Before becoming a film director, Pasolini was already a famously controversial poet, novelist, and essayist. Although the literary critic, Harold Bloom, considers him one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century, his work continues to stir controversy. His first film, Accatone, was about the life of a pimp. Pasolini's subject matter also included Christ, cannibals, sexual depravity, and great works of classical Greek drama like Oedipus Rex and Medea. A member of the Italian Communist Party, he was not a slave to the party line and often expressed his disagreement with it.
To honor him on his birthday, here is Maria Callas in a nine-minute clip from the English-subtitled version of Pasolini's Medea, which he released in 1969. Yes, it's true. Long before Tyler Perry gave us his Madea, there was another with a similar name. That Medea is probably the single most brilliant example of the old saying: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." And she did not need a frying pan to make her feelings known either.
Also, if you're wondering why The Great Beauty garnered this year's foreign language Oscar, the trailer for that film is offered here as well.
Ann Patchett , Julie Harris, Georges Seurat & Maria Callas Give December 2nd a Good Name - Happy Birthday
Born this day in 1963, she is NOT the author of Bird by Bird, though Ann Patchett says she is sometimes mistaken for Anne Lamott at book signings. The reason people line up to see her is that she made them fall in love by turning out one beautiful novel after another. Best known for the prize-winning Bel Canto, she has also given us The Patron Saint of Liars, Run, State of Wonder, and (one of my favorites) The Magician's Assistant. It was just a few weeks ago on November 19th, that she spoke at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, where her warmth, intelligence and insights left no doubt as to why her fans wait for her latest book and line up outside bookstores for her autograph. Here she is in a YouTube reprise of that delightful event.
In her 87 years on the planet, this actor gave us many memorable performances, which have set the bar for any others who attempt roles she made her own. It is difficult to imagine anyone else in The Belle of Amherst, for instance. When I wonder what poet Emily Dickinson looked and sounded like, it's Harris who comes to mind. The year she spent studying theater at the Yale School of Drama served her well. She moved easily from Tony Award-winning performances on Broadway to film adaptations of the same material. Carson McCullers' A Member of the Wedding and The Last of Mrs. Lincoln come readily to mind. Nominated ten times for a Tony, she won five of them and received many other awards during her brilliant career. Here she is with James Dean in the screen adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden.
Even if you've seen Sunday in the Park with George a zillion times or tacked posters of his pointillist paintings to your dorm-room wall, you will not be prepared for the way Seurat's work envelops you. It's a little like falling in love the way it happens one dot at a time until all of a sudden you're completely involved. If I could bear the winters, I would move to Illinois to be near the Chicago Art Institute for the pleasure of seeing his massive A Sunday on La Grande Jatte at least once a week. Here's one of those delightful 7-minute clips from SmartHistory with more. Thanks again to Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. By the way, Seurat was born this day in 1859.
Listen to the following recording of "Ave Maria," and you will understand why this soprano was known as La Divina (The Divine One). It is a matter of record that she gave up her career in opera after falling in love with shipping magnate Aristotle Onasis, who basically dumped her some time later for Jacqueline Kennedy, whom he eventually married. But that is not the record that will stand when we think of Callas, who would have turned 90 on this day. Thanks to the fine art of digital remastering, some of her best recordings are now accessible and can be fully appreciated on decent stereo equipment. My personal favorite is "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma. So what the heck - I've been on vacation for a few days - why not throw that in too. Enjoy!
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