Pasolini starts with Jason and the revelation from his centaur mentor Chiron (Laurent Terzieff) of his royal heritage and destiny. As Jason matures, Chiron transforms from centaur to human and informs the youth that the gods don't really exist. Still, Jason (Giuseppe Gentile) must undertake his legendary mission to take the Golden Fleece from Colchis, a land more savage than his own. This is illustrated with a fertility ritual involving human sacrifice. The victim is butchered -- we see the head separated from the trunk and the scattered limbs, and the blood is shared out among the people, who use it to anoint their crops. Medea (Callas) is a priestess here, and there's a sense that the people aren't grateful for the priesthood's bloody work. She and her brother are spit on, and the brother is beaten, so it probably isn't a surprise that she falls for Jason, helps him take the Fleece, and flees with him.
As I've hinted, there's little in the way of white marble and peplums here. Pasolini accentuates the exotic if not the atavistic side of "Classical" culture, loading the soundtrack with what we call "world music" now, ranging from African sounds to the "Bulgarian voices" that were in vogue about twenty years ago to what sounds to me much like Japanese string and vocal music. Everything seems intended to overthrow our assumption that Greece must embody refined civilization. Nevertheless, there's an epic sweep to Pasolini's landscapes and an epic sense of architecture seen from the maximum distance that still allows you to see people leaping to their deaths. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri in spite of the director's resistance to glamor.
But glamor is irresistible because the film's a vehicle for Callas, who had been so acclaimed as an operatic actress that spoken-word success seems assured. Yet Pasolini uses her more as an icon, both because her Greco-American features look right for the role and because she seemed like someone who could have or should have become a real-life Medea. This isn't really an actors' movie, and while Callas isn't bad, it's not proof on its own that she would have been a successful film actress. It's a director's film above all, unmistakably a Pasolini, and despite some stiff bits and some pretentiousness about the centaur, it's worth trying as a all-around sensory experience even if you've never heard of Callas and her tragedies.