Mario Lanza as "The Great Caruso"

 

I have been thinking of the movies of my childhood and “The Great Caruso” starring Mario Lanza came to mind when I thought about the flicks that have in some way “steered” my life. I first saw this film when I was around 9 years old and home from school for some reason and watching the afternoon movie on one of the three TV stations we could get with our rabbit ears atop our black and white Zenith. I had earlier discovered Caruso while listening to old Victrola records in my grandmother’s attic. I was in short, already in love with Caruso. If you haven’t seen “The Great Caruso” it’s really worth your time and a click with Netflix. Of course Mario Lanza had matinee idol good looks like the young Placido Domingo and Caruso did not. But Lanza has the voice and in some moments sounds eerily like Caruso. What’s clear is just how much Lanza loved the great tenor from Naples. And that’s what I love about the film: it’s a devotional study rendered in music of the joys of influence in art. In short the film is poetry. By God. We are once more in love.

 

S.K.

0 thoughts on “Mario Lanza as "The Great Caruso"

  1. Great literature is rife with themes of family rivalries, shame and the burdens of atonement — it’s as if they are problems that we haven’t quite figured out yet to our collective satisfaction. Orr’s experience gives him a chance to explore these themes with first-hand experience. His amphetamine-addicted physician father had shot and killed his best friend when he was a boy, and no one told Orr that until just after he shot and killed his brother. Wow, explore that!
    Carlos Amantea has a rather unorthodox, but astute review of “The Blessing” Orr’s 2004 autobiographical account of his life.
    http://www.ralphmag.org/BZ/blessing.html
    Amantea, in his review, writes almost less about Orr, than about his own personal experiences of amphetamine use as an adult, and of, deliberately, almost shooting his sister as an adolescent. This seems to me a good way to approach the material. Orr is the only one who is close enough to the material to honestly explore it. He is the only one who can look, not only at the exterior events, but also at his feelings when the events occurred. If Orr is like the rest of us, he probably discovers that he absolutely, under no circumstaces, meant to kill his brother, and will regret and pay for this act for the rest of his life. And, also, if he is human, he also realizes that he absolutely meant to kill his brother, for his own personal benefit, and is happy to this day that his brother is dead. Humans are funny that way, full of contradictions, all of which are necessary to survive.
    Here, also, is an interview with Gregory Orr about “The Blessing”:
    http://www1.american.edu/cas/lit/folio/spring2004inter.html
    Here’s his poem called Father’s Song:
    http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19235
    Here’s his poem called To Be Alive
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/audioitem.html?id=381

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  2. In that era in Hollywood, amphetamine was promoted as a wonder drug, which was a convenient lie told by and to people who needed a competetive edge. Steroid derivitives seem to be the latest performance enhancement drug of choice. If Lanza had committed to opera circles instead, he could have perfected his craft, and the people around him would not have cared if he’d gotten as plump as a peach on wine, cheese and lovely Italian cooking. But fundamentally, this all ends up being related to the eternal conflict between performance vs. maintenance with regards to a person’s physical machinery.
    “The God of Amphetamine” doesn’t seem to be on the Internet anywhere, except some short references to it, although some of Orr’s other poems are, as is his biographical overview. I like that he’s interested in exploring gaps between life and the expression of it, especially with regards to the honest exploration of trauma. As you might have noticed, people’s unwillingness to fully explore situations is one of my frequent themes, too. I usually take the darker side of issues, just because most others seem to dwell so obsessively on brighter truths to a degree, I believe, that it increases their potential to detrimentally skew both their perception of reality and their decision-making processes. Orr’s story of his father’s amphetamine abuse and unwillingness to talk about trauma and adversity, although much more extreme, reminds of a personal family anecdote. In my forties, the name of my childhood housekeeper, a Catholic African-Brazilian madwoman (madwoman by my estimation), came up in converation with my father. He casually remarked, “Oh yes, she was the one who had the problem with diet pills.” Oh well, thanks, Dad, that explains a lot, I am thinking.

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  3. Yes, Lanza was a classic study in the vagaries and tragedies of talent and sadness. I’ve often thought that had he taken up a serious opera career he might well have been happier. But yikes! Amphetamine is a dark god. Have you ever read Greg Orr’s poem “The God of Amphetemine”?

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  4. SK, I don’t like to harp, but I do nonetheless. (In fact, I have a memo in my personnel file from many years ago that forbids me from “harping” at administrative staff, so it’s probably better if I get my need to harp out of my system on POTB.) Mario Lanza is probably not a bad example of my hotly contested over-achiever / depression theory. Wow, he was incredible — absolutely dedicated to excellence far beyond what his body could possibly accommodate. Really, corporality can be such a drag sometimes! When his body said, “Hey, slow down (i.e. be depressed for a while)”, he ate…and ate…and ate to shoosh it up. When he started getting fat, he found an even better medication: amphetamines. Dead at 39 of a heart attack. But also as a good example, if one could dig Mr Lanza up, sit him down and have a nice talk with him, in retropect, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to do anything much differently — Well, there’s some speculation that perhaps he might have preferred in hindsight to pursue the opera angle more than the Hollywood path, but I suspect that even if he had pursued this, he still might have chosen to tread quite close to the edge of the Great Dark Abyss nonetheless.

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