WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Here's an oddity. In the late 1980s, ten prominent film directors got together to produce a series of MTV-style short films inspired by world-famous arias. The result is Aria, an eye-poppingly weird and all-over-the map celebration of Eurotragedy, operatic dreamscapes, and, of course, female nudity.
Ariastarts off with Nicholas Roeg's Un Ballo in Maschera, displaying the disconcerting image of Theresa Russell in drag as King Zorg, an Albanian ruler who's been targeted for assassination. This piece is ultimately unsatisfying, even as blood splatters artfully into the snow.
Charles Sturridge's La Vergine Degli Angeli fares better, a black-and-white short-short that follows three kids joyriding in a stolen car. There's a tangible sense of despair hanging over this one.
Jean-Luc Goddard's Armide will leave you slack-jawed in disbelief. As the aria warbles, we watch male bodybuilders pumping iron and two nude women ogling them. The setting is a gym, and—unfortunately—the camera is as fetishistic of the ripped male bodies as it is of the female curves.. I dare you to keep a straight face as the clothing-free women take turns screaming "NO!" and "OUI!" Still, the female nudity in this segment alone is sufficient to qualify this disc as a keeper. (And we haven't even gotten to the Bridget Fonda film.)
In Rigoletto, Julien Temple offers up a longer piece that contains a coherent narrative. A married Hollywood couple (Buck Henry and Anita Morris) engage in infidelities simultaneously at the kitschy Madonna Inn in California. The tone is silly, and you'll probably find yourself quietly chuckling. Still, it sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest of the films.
Bruce Beresford's Die Tote Stadt features two young lovers engaged in laughable lip-syncing as they disrobe for bed. See if you can recognize a young Elizabeth Hurley as the female half of the equation. This short film has some nice scenery—inside and outside—but it's so brief that it leaves little impression except for Elizabeth's considerable charms.
Robert Altman's Les Boréades is a spectacularly awful and boring look at an opera house filled to brimming with lunatics. The less said about this one, the better.
Franc Roddam's Liebestod is thankfully next, providing possibly the highlight of the entire film. It boasts two undeniable advantages: an interesting story effectively told, and a very naked, very young Bridget Fonda. This tragic tale, set in Las Vegas, is surprisingly effective for so short a piece, and ends on a perfect note.
Ken Russell delivers his unique goods in Nessun Dorma, dwelling in topless Egyptian goddess-worship imagery as a woman is extricated from a horrible car wreck and delivered to the hospital.
Derek Jarman's Depuis le Jour marries home-movie clips with operatic imagery to tell a tale of an old woman remembering her youth. The woman in the home-movie footage is a young Tilda Swinton.
Bill Brydon's yawn-inducing Pagliacci attempts to tie all the pieces together with a silent performance by John Hurt as an opera clown undergoing a private tragedy.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Image Entertainment presents Aria in an anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. In general, the image is gauzy and grainy, and detail—particularly background detail—is wanting. Black levels are generally gray, and colors never seem especially warm. However, in some sequences—for example, in Goddard's segment—the image seems to improve. Source elements clearly play a big role in image quality here. On the plus side, I noticed no edge haloes.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc give you two audio options: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Dolby Surround track. Unfortunately, both tracks seem flat, with little dynamic range. It seems the years have not been kind to this music-oriented film. I noticed little difference between the tracks. The 5.1 track might have offered a wider soundstage, but I might have been imagining things. The differences are definitely subtle.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The disc offers a nice selection of Filmographies that covers all of the participating directors.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
You'll have to weigh the advantages of interesting and historical female nudity against the disadvantage of listening to 90 minutes of opera. I certainly wouldn't invest in Aria only for the music (which is poorly presented), nor would I splurge for the work of a favorite participating director (who, with perhaps one or two exceptions, aren't at their top form). However, the Hurley and Fonda nudity alone might make this one worth a purchase.