Two Films Justly or Unjustly Neglected

Franco Zeffirelli, friend of Callas and Toscanini(Photo: AP)
Franco Zeffirelli, friend of Callas and Toscanini(Photo: AP)

You decide.

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli has been making movies for 60 years. Two of his last have had very limited release in the U.S.

One is virtually unknown, except for the trivial fact that it was Elizabeth’s Taylor’s last film.

Callas Forever is a rip-off of the last years of Maria Callas. I’m not saying its a bad film, but it’s not a good film. It is worth seeing for Fanny Ardant’s performance of the title role. She was living as a recluse, more and more addicted to prescription meds. Her long time lover Aristotle Onassis (Jackie was a diversion) had died and Callas’s voice was gone. She  was quoted as saying, “Every day is one day less, thank God.” Terrible.

Zeffirelli decided that Jeremy Irons should come into the diva’s life and as a rock promoter and make her a movie star. It was decided to film Carmen with Callas lip-synching to a recording she had made years earlier:

This nearly happened in real life (but with Tosca, not Carmen). The Carmen scenes show Zeffirelli’s magnificent excess and has Ardant/Callas flinging herself around while attempting an off-stage seduction of the hunky young tenor. It’s a mess and it’s an embarrassment and Callas Forever is a guilty pleasure.

Elizabeth Taylor and the Zef had been buddies for years. They worked together — with Burton — on a terrific film of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Zeffirelli wanted to film the young years of Toscanini, before the maestro became an icon. Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) began his career as a cellist in Milan and Buenos Aires. He called to conduct Aida at the Teatro Colon on very little noticed. He had never conducted an opera. Voila, a star was born. Elizabeth Taylor, God love her, played the evening’s diva (that’s her in the dark body paint) with the voice of Aprile Millo helping out.

I can’t comment more on The Young Toscanini because I’ve never seen it. Neither have you. If it turns up, call me and we’ll make a night out of it.

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