The Tales of Hoffmann Screen 11 articles

The Tales of Hoffmann


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  • Hard to take, despite the clear personal commitment of director Michael Powell and the enormous amount of talent on display in the photography, set design, and choreography (1953). Powell had made The Red Shoes five years earlier; here he was clearly hoping to expand the style of the final ballet segment into feature length. But without dramatic grounding Powell's voluptuous visuals seem empty, and his manic inventiveness operates in a void.

  • Like many of their films in this period, The Tales of Hoffmann is a dark, melancholy, claustrophobic and extremely artificial looking film that is about characters who are isolated from the world that surrounds them.

  • As a performer, Helpmann is as closed off as Ryan O'Neil in Barry Lyndon, a dumb cipher walking through beautiful pictures created by masters of cinema who aren't masters of humanity. But if Hoffmann fails as an emotional journey, it is sensational as a music video.

  • [Powell and Pressburger] created a kaleidoscopic audiovisual experience, shimmering with spangly costumes and thriving on the more outré and macabre elements in the material... All of it is so creatively daring and flamboyant that you can only sit there and wonder why you’re not enjoying it as much as you’d anticipated. The directors throw absolutely everything at the screen, yet like any 19th-century opera The Tales of Hoffmann does rather plod its way towards crescendos of tragic ecstasy.

  • What makes the film so remarkable is a series of paradoxes: the fact that it virtually reinvented the freedom and fantasy of silent cinema while making full use of Technicolor and a stellar cast of dancers and singers; and that by remaining faithful to an 1880 opera, Powell and Pressburger managed to make a highly personal film that develops the themes of The Red Shoes into a more elemental statement about the fate of the artist.

  • It’s a bewitching, profoundly strange work, both radically free and conservatively stagebound. Kracauer wrote that it is both “a spectacle that transcends the possibilities of the stage”, but “built from miraculous studio effects, it shuts out any miracle the camera may reveal. The ripple of a single leaf suffices to denounce its treacherous glamour.” It’s a gorgeously suffocating work, and there’s truly nothing else like it.

  • The movie was as intensely expressionistic as any film since Caligari, and at the same time a nova of springtime élan. The exultant brio that always thrived in the pair's films was here finally and completely cut loose from reality, allowed to go apeshit in a mega-terrarium of living puppet people, greasepaint, distorted scale, dream spaces, toychest clutter, unstoppered swoonings, and free-for-all quasi-antique design.

  • When Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were working on one of their greatest collaborations, “The Tales of Hoffmann” (1951), the designer of the dazzling sets, Hein Heckroth, created a model for a grand staircase. To save the expense of building a full-scale version, Powell had Heckroth paint one in perspective on a carpet that is unrolled before dancers waltz down it as if descending stairs. The effect only adds to the magic in a dreamlike film that is filled with daring artistry.

  • The movie that inspired such diverse directors as Cecil B. DeMille, Martin Scorsese, andGeorge Romero, "The Tales of Hoffmann," directed by partners Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a dream of opera fully-realized, utilizing dance and music and extraordinary production design in ways that still seem radical and unprecedented.

  • No harm in being ahistorical—by reimagining a 19th-century opera as a magnificent, choreographed revel, Powell and Pressburger repeat their Red Shoes feat. The movie’s in its sixties, but refuses to age: screen it in schools, and all the handwringing about the limited and graying audience of certain artforms may be replaced by healthy youthful clapping.

  • The film is everything extravagant about the Archers distilled, amplified, and sustained for two hours with feverish devotion. Powell spoke of what he called a "composed film," in which vivid imagery was set to music to create an operatic cinema. They had done sequences like that before—the dialogue-free ballet in The Red Shoes, or the climax of Black Narcissus. But suppose you tried it for an entire film?

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