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3.9 out of 5 stars
Medea [Blu-ray]
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63 of 63 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 20, 2004
I first saw Medea in college and was highly critical of it, finding it disappointing on almost all counts: terrible sound editing, cheap film stock, over bright lighting, bizarre, amateurish acting styles, inadequately edited, etc. Then there was the extended murder scene of Glauce and Creon going seemingly on forever, and then . . . wait; what's this? It's repeated all over again? Did someone get the wrong reel into the house?

Another ten years went by before I watched it again and after the second viewing, found myself emotionally drained, my jaw on the floor with the realization that I'd just finished a film that alternately horrified, fascinated and astonished me.

Medea is a grim, violent, film, minimally processed which only adds to its gruesome, wild rawness. 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.

As Medea, Callas is simply amazing. Oddly, when the film came out she was roundly criticized for not being able to transfer the magic she so naturally gave on stage to the big screen. I will strongly disagree. The more I watch this film (which is probably several times a year for well over a decade), the more amazed I am by her performance in it. Where I, too, had first been critical of her languid weirdness, I've grown to see her

commitment to the role. I've come to be riveted to her painfully expressive mask as she completely inhabits this character who is, quite literally, capable of everything (yes - everything is the right word here).

Where I was once critical of the lighting, I've grown up to realize what Pasolini did; why he chose to film at the times of day he chose, and the resulting, fascinatingly brutal and surreal luminosity that bathes the entire film and the almost palpable sense of its visual texture. Stunning. The landscapes Pasolini chose to film in are as brutal and as vital as the characters of the tale. His near excision of all spoken text ( the screenplay is nearly dialogue free) brings us into a timeless, yet somehow ancient world where all is understood without the use of verbal communication. The savage, bloody rites of sacrifices for fertility and harvest initially seem barbarous then become somehow beautiful and fascinating. Then they make one cringe with the realization of how, not so long ago, this was us.

A remarkable, savage and beautiful film.
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92 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2002
Pasolini has the dubious distinction of being the only great filmmaker who was murdered, possibly at the behest of a right-wing faction which loathed the openly gay, Marxist, atheist - and popular - artist. Whatever the facts of his death, his reputation as one of Italy's greatest talents is based securely on his poetry, novels, works of critical theory and, in particular, the 25 films he directed. They include such stylistically diverse works as Accatone (1961; adapted from his own novel about life in the slums of modern Rome), The Gospel According to Matthew (1964; a beautiful, moving film about Christ), a stunning version of the Arabian Nights (1974), and his last film, the most nauseating masterpiece I have ever seen, Salò (1975; the Marquis de Sade's 1780s novel updated to Mussolini's Fascist Italy). But Pasolini's most underrated film is his startling version of Medea (1969). Its recent release on DVD (from Vanguard-Cinema) makes this is an opportune time to revisit the ultimate incarnation of the adage, Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.
Pasolini takes a unique approach to Medea. He jettisons all but a few lines of Euripides, and begins the narrative many years before the action of the play. Most strikingly, he shoots almost the entire film in a documentary-like style. And, with a couple of notable exceptions, he creates a picture with almost no dialogue, although the soundtrack features an astonishing musical score (put together by Pasolini) of native North African wind and percussion music (20 years before Peter Gabriel's score for Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which was clearly inspired by Pasolini). If that was not enough to offend purists, in the title role he cast perhaps the most famous opera diva of the century, Maria Callas, in her only film appearance, and then gave her almost no lines (and the few she had were dubbed). Perhaps if audiences had known a bit more about what to expect from the film, they would have seen what was on the screen, instead of what Pasolini consciously - and often brilliantly - stripped away from his sources.
He opens with a witty prologue in which an unforgettable Centaur lectures baby Jason about his mythical lineage. So many gods and goddesses are mentioned in this breathless monologue, that the overwhelmed kid falls over backwards, sound asleep. (There is perhaps as much dialogue in these first three minutes as in the rest of the film.) Then Pasolini plunges us into Medea's world. In one of the film's most astonishing sequences, we witness, and feel, every moment of the ritual sacrifice of a young man, whose blood the people of Colchis smear over the plants and trees, to ensure the continued fertility of their land. Pasolini's artistry makes this event as poetic and authentic (indigenous North Africans, not extras from Central Casting, enact the Colchians) as it is gruesome. You may have read about such ancient rites in anthropology, but Pasolini depicts it unflinchingly. And he shows us, in visceral terms, exactly what kind of world produced Medea, whose revenge will be enacted years later on her faithless husband.
Throughout, Pasolini invests every shot with a haunting, ripely sensuous look, almost always grounded in a cinéma vérité style. The film literally glows like burnished bronze, with many shots done at the "magic hour," just before sunset, which naturally provides an orange/gold sheen. The major stylistic exception is the scenes in the court of King Creon (played by Massimo Girotti, star of Visconti's 1941 film Ossessione), where Pasolini drolly mimics Eisenstein's expressionistic designs from that masterpiece of political intrigue, Ivan the Terrible (1943-1946).
Much of Medea's enormous power comes from the naturalistic performances, ranging from the leads to the many minor characters. This is what the Argonauts might really have been like, a group of mostly quiet young men, doing their jobs, enjoying the thrill of battle when the opportunity arises, and gawking at the strange sights of Colchis's radically foreign culture. Giuseppe Gentile creates a complex Jason whom we believe a powerful woman like Medea could fall passionately in love with, who is devoted to his children, yet who is so fickle, not to mention hungry for power, that he would throw over his wife of 10 years to marry the daughter of his enemy, King Creon, as a backhanded way of regaining his throne.
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.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy Pasolini's Medea is to put aside thoughts of Euripides, and later versions by such dramatists as Seneca, Pierre Corneille, and Jean Anouilh, not to mention Hollywood extravaganzas like Jason and the Argonauts (whether the fun 1963 version, with Ray Harryhausen's special effects wizardry, or the bland TV mini-series from 2000). Experience Pasolini's mesmerizing film on its own starkly beautiful terms, and you will find a unique vision not only of the ancient Mediterranean, recreated with what feels like astonishing fidelity, but of the tortured interplay of love, desire, and unspeakable revenge, which can be as current as the latest crime of passion.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Legendary filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini put opera diva Maria Callas front and center in this 1969 interpretation of Euripides' tragic "Medea." It was her only dramatic film role, and so this piece has had enduring appeal for her legion of fans old and new. Making its Blu-ray debut, I think it's fair to say that this version is pure Pasolini. In other words, while it will certainly be embraced by followers of the enigmatic director and by viewers enthusiastic to see Callas perform in a different medium, it is not a film that was designed to be universally embraced. For my taste, Pasolini was always a more successful provocateur than straightforward storyteller and "Medea" is a classic example of the meeting of art and film. Aloof, sparse, sometimes stagnant, sometimes brutal--this is not a classic telling of Euripides' tale, but something that is undeniably governed by Pasolini's vision.

It follows the basic outline of the tragedy to be sure, but it charts its own course to get there. It is centered around the love affair of Medea and Jason (of Argonauts fame). From the early tryst, to the subsequent betrayal, to the fiery retribution--Callas is never less than intriguing. Methodically paced, this epic is meant for those with patience and that patience is greatly rewarded. The climatic moments of the film are accompanied by powerful imagery and a Callas savagery that you're not likely to forget. It is a great counterpoint to many of the earlier sequences that are virtually wordless. The unorthodox visual, lighting, and musical choices all lend an offbeat and unusual originality to the experience.

Blu-Ray: Restored and remastered, this is certainly the cleanest print of "Medea" that I've ever seen. It won't, obviously, compare to features that are made and released today. But the desert imagery, landscapes and ruins all done in long shots look terrific. The soundtrack is clean if not spectacular. Again, the showings of this film that I've caught through the years have been rather unimpressive and this is a transfer that is easy to recommend based on past experiences.

Bonus feature: The DVD offers up a pretty irresistible extra in a full length (92 minute) documentary about Maria Callas. So for fans of the diva, this is like a two-for-one value. The 1987 film made by Tony Palmer for British TV is a veritable treasure trove of old interviews and news footage. Plenty of music is interspersed within the piece and a lot of heavy hitting celebrities weigh in on the Callas legend whether through contemporary interviews or archival material. It is a fantastic extra for Callas fans. KGHarris, 12/11.

Film:
5 Stars for fans of Pasolini and/or Callas
3 Stars for more casual viewers

Callas Documentary:
4 1/2 Stars
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2004
Just as Pasolini said,"I draw on the mysterious sensibilities in Maria Callas". He finds Callas to be "an ancient woman" in the sense that she is directly linked to myth and legend. With very little spoken word Callas manages to convey all the pride, rage, and black art that comprises the legend of Medea. Set against an incredibly dramatic backdrop the viewer is nearly hypnotized by this savage story of lust and power.
To the reviewer who thought that the repeated scene of the death of the king and his daughter was a technical error, watch it carefully again. Medea dreams the act of revenge first, then sets it into motion and the dream becomes reality. This is in all the films of this I have seen. It is not a mistake.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2005
Previous reviewers have given much thought and details about the film that surpass what I could possibly say; instead, I wish only to share my reaction to this film.

It does not bother me that the dialogue is minimal. Anyone who really wants to know can read the original play, or listen to Callas' recordings of the operatic rendition by Cherubini. What does bother me is why Callas was dubbed. She knew Italian, and surely could have delivered the lines in a capable manner. What was Pasolini's intent?

The landscapes that we see in this film are often breathtaking. The land is harsh, often barren, but with a starkness and magnificence that beguile you.

I was also struck by how the characters moved, particularly the servantwomen, with their sudden running motions. It certainly distances you from modern-day life, to see people act in this manner.

For the DVD release, they should have interviewed a film scholar, to shed light on Pasolini's technique and artistic choices. Instead, we are just left with the film itself, without having our questions answered.

It is so jarring to see La Divina in this film. She has been mostly experienced through her recordings; in this, we SEE her, frame by frame. Her beauty is not confined to the numerous, sleek photographs taken during her singing career. She is a paragon of meditteranean beauty.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2010
I first viewed MEDEA back in the 70's in an "art house" theatre. The audience was mainly composed of Callas fans--and if you're a Callas fan you're usually a fanatical Callas fan. Personally I was more interested in the original MEDEA by Euripides (absolutely butchered in the film) & had very little exposure to Maria Callas at the time. After watching her (non-musical) version of MEDEA, I joined the fanatics.

Certainly this film will not be everyone's cup of tea. It opens with Medea blessing the fields for a good harvest. A near naked, muscular beautiful young man is bound between 2 poles. He is in a high level of intoxication. Then a third pole is used to slowly break his neck. The body is chopped up and excited farmers of all ages & sexes rush to get body parts to plant in the fields for fertility. If you make it through this scene you'll probably stay to witness the rest--not that it's the only act of brutality in store.

To write that Callas is stunning in the role is an understatement. The only person who came close to this level of performance was Greek actress Melina Mercouri who performed the traditional version of MEDEA in the famous Amphitheatre in Athens. Both women bestowed a natural regal beauty & personal power to this most difficult role of a sorceress & princess who is betrayed & kills her own children as the ultimate act of revenge.

Director Passolini (who was eventually murdered in "real" life) sets his MEDEA in a strangely beautiful & mesmerizing world. Medea considers herself to be a descendant of the Sun God, and he speaks directly to her. Medea isn't insane, but she is obsessed with Jason, the man she has betrayed her country for. Jason's goal is to steal the fabled Golden Fleece & Medea helps him do it. She has enlisted her brother's aid in accomplishing the theft, and the trio flees in a chariot in order to reach Jason's waiting ship. Medea's father discovers the sacrilege (The Fleece was a sacred relic) & sets off in his chariot in order to overtake the thieves. To prevent her father from reaching them, Medea hacks her beloved brother to pieces & tosses out his body one limb after another as an effective strategy to sidetrack the father & promote her escape with Jason.

No light entertainment here.

It's obvious that Passolini's MEDEA was a paen to Callas' commanding beauty. Unfortunately that gem is set in a very flawed ring. The other actors are more or less just props, they certainly can't act. They appear to be cataonic, unexciting. Jason, whose masculine charms drove Medea mad, is scrawny & not particular handsome. To say he can't act is being kind. Maybe the idea was not to have anyone more beautiful than Callas?

Inexplicably, the major scene in which Medea sends garments to her rival is repeated twice. The first version is more or less how Euripedes wrote it: the princess puts on the clothes & bursts into flame; her father tries to put the fire out, but he too is seared with his daughters body. So far so good, but then Passolini repeats the exact scene. but without fire. All I could fathom from this was that the first scene was in Medea's mind, and the second...who knows? It really doesn't make any sense.

Finally--and most unforgivable--Passolini has a mishmash of musical genres performed by various actors. In one scene a Greek is singing a Japanese song (no kidding!), and in another a chorus of Greek women is singing an Albanian folk song circa the 20th century. There are 1 or 2 other instances of this musical mayhem. Again. it makes no sense.

MEDEA--may be only fully appreciated by theatre buffs, Greek literature & history enthusiasts and, of course, Callas fanatics. It is worth VIEWING once just to see The extraordinary beauty of Maria Callas.

PS. You can see snippets of Melina Mercouri's Medea in A DREAM OF PASSION with Ellen Burtsyn (who plays a modern day Medea).

Dream of Passion [VHS]
Iphigenia (MGM World Films)
The Odyssey
Black Orpheus: The (The Criterion Collection)
Electra
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2006
Let me correct "cherubino", the previous reviewer of this DVD. Although the voices are dubbed over the actors, the voice of Medea IS that of Callas herself! I suspect that the dubbing was done due to the external noise that might have got into the recording when filming was taking place. But it is the voice of Callas that we hear on this film. Just a pity that the dubbing was not done very well, as we do see discrepancies between the mouth movements and the sound that is coming out.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2002
Now - Before the the stones start flying, "Divorce, Ancient Greek Style". What a concept!
For those in the dark:- Our Myth, err gal [Medea] "ups" from her native country, [helps to chop up her brother - serious stuff here - along the route to make this 'look like a brutal kidnapping'], shacks up with this semi-Grecian godlike being - Jason of the Golden fleece ilk, bears him a few kids. THEN the so-and-so starts fooling around with a local King's daughter [younger and hmmm... prettier], so our Lady, Madame Medea, plots a rather shall we say spectacular "revenge" ..... the kids are snuffed out, the other woman gets this rather beautiful wedding dress [Odd, no return address on the box], just a little problem, don't try this one on "for size", oh dear - she does, and the result is not fuzzy, but slightly, err - warm.......
There's more to this!
However, forgive the flippant tone, but that's basically the blue collar version of this saga of spectacular "revenge"? AND No, Callas, does not sing in this one!
It's quite a magnificent portrait of ancient times, seen as only Pasolini could, in very "accurate" and raw terms. Great Art direction [as usual] and Costumes [as usual]
CALLAS is superb! As is Guiseppe Gentile as JASON [the two-timing husband]. Superb visuals - the bedroom scene between Jason and Medea as he posesses her physically and we get that great close-up ......just what is he thinking? Also hints at her primitive and very different culture - wanting to "pin" the four corners of earth down so to speak.
Companions? Melina Mercouri's rather interesting slant on this - Jules Dassin's "Dream of Passion" with Burstyn - a "modern" interpretation.
We do need this movie restored and on DVD! [Along with the other missing Pasolinis]
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2001
Callas is great as Medea; that was one of her most riveting roles on the opera stage. Here one can sense what a unique artist she was, as she is incredible in this dramatic role. Other than Callas's participation, it's a beautiful piece of cinema, it's shot similarly to Oedipus Rex by Pasolini, so you wil enjoy it if you like Rex. Writing this review, I am thinking again of why films like that are not made anymore...It is for a serious movie buff, so give it a miss if you like Hollywood mass production.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2012
Long out of print, finally released and a beautiful film. This is a European film, so American audiences take note. If you think Will Farrell is funny or Mark Wahlberg is an actor or Steven Spielberg makes interesting films, then this is probably not for you. It's slow, very slow, very very slow. There's almost no music to wake you up as you fall asleep in your popcorn. There's very little violence to pump your adrenaline up and, unforgiveably, there's almost no blood. There's no nudity and no sex. Again, it's a European film.
If you appreciate Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, or Almodovar, you might like this one.
Aside from the fact that it's the only fiction film Callas ever made, it's a gem. Accompanying it is a beautiful documentary on Callas.
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