JOSE. PH LOSEY'S film of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni ("A" Academy Cinema One) takes a giant step towards fulfilment of every film and opera lover's dream since Al Jolson's "The Singing Foot" discovered a voice for the cinema half a century ago.
Attempts have been made periodically to introduce opera and opera singers to the screen: Grace Moore, Gladys Swarthout and Lawrence Tibbett were early examples. Once even the supreme Kirsten Flagstad's Brilnnhilde made an item in a pre-war "Paramount on Parade." But Losey .working with the chorus and orchestra of the Paris Opera, and with its former director, Rolf Liebermann as his producer, has for the first time come near making the dream come true.
In Mozart's "Don Giovanni' he has admittedly one of the most beautiful opera scores in the world. The conductor is Lorin Maazei, the cameraman "our own" Gerry Fisher. Losey and Frantz Salieri have assembled a top international cast, and after launching them on a gondola in Venice, set them in Vicenza in exquisite villas and freshly green exteriors.
Losey is adamant against critics describing these beautiful buildings as Palladian in the sense of being in the style of Palladio. The villas and palaces inhabited respectively by the rascal Don (Ruggiero Raimondi) and the ladies he 'betrays — aristocratic Donna Ann's' (the handsome and splendid singer, Edda Moser), unhappy and so tiresome Donna Elvira (ravishingly sung by Covent Garden's beloved Tin i Ke Inawa) — are Losey insists, authentic 16th century buildings by Andrea Palladio himself.
The Zerlina of Teresa Berganza has been ungallantly described as a trifle matronly. But Zerlina is a peasant and the first Zerlina I ever heard was the matchless Elisabeth Schumann who was even plumper. Berganza is such a radiant artist I could only contemplate the idea Zerlina she must have been a year or two ago but she never sang the part until this film. As her "bel
Masetto", Malcolm King makes her a fine match. As Leporello, the Don's resourceful servant and accomplice, Jose Van Damm is a delight.
Losey has introduced one of two fancies, like making Donna Elvira sing her penitent aria into a confessional grille; and even more controversially. breaking up the symmetry of Mozart's finale to launch the characters out to sea in four separate boatloads. But for the most part this is high quality popularisation of classical opera.
Captions in a generally respectable English translation clarify the story of the Don's primrose path to the flames, while to anybody with a smattering of Italian the singers' diction is impeccable. What distruhution this film hopes for outside London, I don't know. But the crowds who flock to Covent Garden — and the thousands more who strive for seats there -should give a rapturous welcome to this most accessible grand art.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is the prolific young German director (30 feature films before he's forty) whose early brilliance sometimes seems to have been dissipated in experiment. But with The Marriage of Maria Braun ("AA", Screen on the Hill, Odeon, Kensington) he is back on form.
The marriage, we learn at once, lasted one night and half a day before Hermann Braun was sent off to the Russian front while Maria (Hanna Schygulla) tries to survive in end-of war Berlin, going about wearing a billboard of her husband's name.
When he comes back from prisoner-of-war camp to find her making love with a black American sergeant, Maria kills the American but her husband takes the rap for murder. Among her efforts to survive by her combination of amorous and administrative talents, Maria cling to a not unsympathetic French business-man (Ivan Desny) until Hermann's final homecoming.
Story and period are inevitably painful and sometimes distasteful, the mood of this allegory of Germany since the war, cynical and pessimistic but brilliantly handled. Maria calls herself the "Maw Hari of the Economic Miracle"; and Fasshinder's film is likely to make of Polish Hanna Sehygulla the Dietrich of the Eighties.
Woody Allen's co-writer of the screenplays of "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall" has tried to do as much for Alan Arkin in Simon ("A" Warner). "Simon" fancies he is a creature from another planet and is plunged in a think tank for deprivation and observation. Rather like Peter Sellers in "Being There" this alien from bureaucracy is pampered and consulted for his words of innocent wisdom and the simple rules he broadcasts for escape," Muzak to be stopped" — and another promising notion: "Lawyers who lose cases to go to prison with their clients"!
Simon's adventures on our Earth are endearing. If they are not as consistently inspired as Woody Allen's best, that is probably just because very few people given a bright idea can keep it up to the same level all the way. But "Simon" is one of two recent movies which made me laugh out loud (the other was "Airplane".
Very many films are very silly, but I remember few as silly as Xanadu. It is sad to see the tiny new talent of Olivia Newton John (from "Grease") strained to proclaim herself as "Muse the daughter of Zeus" and the venerable talents of Gene Kelly both as dancer and actor submerged in these neo-sub-sub-pseudo Busby Berkeley numbers.
Freda Bruce Lockhart