“Maria Callas for Beginners” could be the subtitle for TV docu helmer Philippe Kohly’s “Callas assoluta.” A straightforward “this was her life” take on the quintessential diva, the bio has terrific archival interviews with the great lady, but otherwise eschews any talking heads for a basic narration through the ups and downs of her life. An analysis of her art is sorely missed, though that won’t stop near-certain smallscreen play the world over.
Beginning with Callas’ fated encounter with Aristotle Onassis, docu moves back to her birth in New York and her lonely childhood before voice lessons gave her the confidence to break away from her controlling mother. It’s all here: the struggles with weight, her marriage of convenience, Onassis’ betrayal and, of course, the triumphs and scandals. But there’s no discussion of performance style, vocal problems or her relationships with conductors and fellow singers. Kohly makes a nice montage of Callas’ explanations for the Rome cancellation fiasco, and there are enough music clips for fans to rhapsodize over, but rotating costumes superimposed over set designs looks horribly cheap, and large-screen projection does nothing for mediocre digital quality.
— Jay Weissberg