Color, 1987, 88 mins.

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, Bruce Beresford, Charles Sturridge, Julien Temple, Ken Russell, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Robert Altman, Franc Roddam, Bill Bryden

Starring Theresa Russell, John Hurt, Elizabeth Hurley, Bridget Fonda, Buck Henry, Anita Morris, Beverly D'Angelo, Tilda Swinton, Marion Peterson, Valerie Allain, Gary Kasper, Peter Birch, James Mathers, Andreas Wisniewski, Angela Walker, Sophie Ward / Produced by Don Boyd

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)

Letterboxed (1.78:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital Surround

Usually dismissed as an attempt to meld MTV stylistics to the classical form of an operatic aria, this truly deranged film actually hearkens back to those loony European ombinus movies of the 1960s in which some producer with too much money would tell a few notable French and Italian directors to go shoot some short films around a common theme. Well, here we get ten directors, and needless to say, the results are highly uneven but often surprising and worth checking out if you're in a tolerant frame of mind.

Like the literal translation of its title - "air" - Aria is essentially a cream puff of a film that kicks off with Theresa Russell in male drag as King Zorg, a ruler in love who becomes the subject of an assassination attempt at an opera house. Typical of Nicholas Roeg, this sequence ("Un Ballo in Maschera") makes little sense but is fun to look at, with plenty of arty shots of blood flying onto Austrian snow. Of course, this looks downright commercial compared to Jean-Luc Godard's adaptation of "Armide," in which two naked girls frolic around a gym amidst oblivious studly bodybuilders. Julien Temple takes his shot at "Rigoletto" by transplanting the look of his Earth Girls Are Easy into the story of a married couple (Buck Henry and Anita Morris) whose infidelities in a kitschy tourist trap are caught by a very, very long Steadicam shot that even manages to work in an opera-singing gold lame Elvis. If you're looking for celebrity skin, of course, this "superbly sensual experience" (according to the box) definitely delivers, with a young and almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Hurley doffing it all for Bruce Beresford's beautifully shot and laughably lip-synched version of Korngold's "Die Tote Stadt." So how many of these sequences are actually good? Well, the highlight is probably Franc Roddam's visually arresting "Liebestod" which presents Tristan and Isolde as a teen couple in Las Vegas living out a death pact. Making her film debut, Bridget Fonda doesn't keep clothes on for long either, enough to ensure this film's popularity on cable for the past twelve years, but Roddam's clip is a beautiful work in and of itself. Ken Russell also goes all out for "Nessun Dorma" by drawing a striking parallel between Egyptian goddess worship and a beautiful blonde being salvaged from a car wreck. The late Derek Jarman presents his usual skillful melange of austere theatrics and home movie footage for "Depuis le Jour," with his usual muse, Tilda Swinton, making a welcome appearance. Less impressive, unfortunately, are Robert Altman's draggy period version of "Les Boréades" and Bill Bryden's dull "Pagliacci," which attempts to tie everything together by showing John Hurt throughout preparing his clown makeup. Even at its worst, the film is never less than beautifully shot, however, and seems best designed for viewing on the small screen, particularly on DVD when the viewer can simply skip around and avoid the dull parts.

Originally unrated on its theatrical release, Aria was subsequently rated R without any cuts for its lackluster video version from Academy. Long out of print, the film now looks far better on DVD, most likely derived from a hi-defintion source intended for European transfer and thankfully presented as an anamorphic transfer here. The running time is about two minutes shorter, thanks to the PAL source origins, but has no discernable effect on the film. The European 1.78:1 standard framing looks accurate, and the detail and richness of color easily blow away any other version released in the U.S. The sound is quite good, considering, and should give any surround system a decent workout. A nice demo piece, and anyone with an interest in European cinema or just bizarre films in general should find this well worth a look.

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