Monday, April 13, 2015

The Tales of Hoffman

I really should do a good Powell & Pressburger binge at some point, although I've got the nagging feeling that somebody among the Brattle, Harvard Film Archive, and Museum of Fine Arts has done it recently enough that I can't expect someone else to make all the arrangements for me. It turns out that I didn't particularly enjoy The Tales of Hoffmann, but I don't regret spending a couple hours looking at it.

I do wonder just how well-regarded this particular entry is. I love that the Somerville occasionally books stuff like this that you wouldn't expect from a regular first-run theater, but do sort of wonder why it's not at one of the places where you might expect it instead, especially since they were apparently only able to get a DCP rather than a 35mm print. It almost seems to serve as a placeholder between Furious 7 and IFFBoston.

The Tales of Hoffman (1951)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (special engagement, DCP)

There are probably a great many movies that inspired and influenced both Martin Scorcese and George Romero, but The Tales of Hoffmann - a 1951 production by the great team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger - is one of the places where they've gone on record as saying as much. Scorcese is the one behind the new restoration that is popping up in theaters, and it's easy to see how it could leave an impression on young future filmmakers. It's also a thing that you might need to be in the right mood for.

The Hoffmann of the title is a poet in Nurnberg, in love with the ballerina Stella (Moira Shearer), though he has a rival in the wealthy Lindorf (Robert Helpmann), who intercepts the love note Stella sends during her performance. During the intermission, Hoffman (Robert Rounseville) regales the rest of the audience with stories of the women he loved before meeting Stella: An automaton (Shearer) in Paris, a Venice courtesan (Ludmilla Tcherina), and an ailing opera singer (Ann Ayars) on a Greek island.

Though Powell & Pressburger made other films in between, it's easy to see this as a follow-up to The Red Shoes, their 1948 film starring ballerina Moira Shearer; it's another gorgeous Technicolor production built in even larger part around the sorts of performance that are not exactly motion picture staples. As with The Red Shoes, it feels like a special presentation, using cinema as much to present other performing arts in a new way as to simply tell a story.

Full review on EFC.

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