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  • Gareth Crook

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) - 5/10

Updated: Jan 15

I’ve been digging deeper into Powell and Pressburger of late. The latest being The Tales of Hoffmann. Hoffmann (Robert Rounesville) is a flamboyant type. One looking for love in seemingly the wrong places. Although I’m wondering as we start if I’m in the wrong place. This is very theatrical, musical theatre. Opera to be precise. I’m quite partial to a musical and a spot of theatre, but this is the deep end. It’s undeniably lavish and worth making the effort for. Perhaps not least for the singing which is of the caliber that you just don’t get to hear that often these days. Although most of it is dubbed and not delivered by the actors on screen. Essentially it’s a filmed production of an opera, but one shot to look like an immersive set, like… well like a film. It’s quite a spectacle. The scenes seem unending, rarely sensing the confines of a stage, the costumes, the lighting, everything is tactile in a way that’s usually lost in cinema, but embraced here. This all said, it’s dense stuff. Colourful and decadent. Hard to penetrate if this isn’t your thing. It’s a bit much for me I’ll be honest. Hoffmann falls first for Olympia (Moira Shearer), she’s the best thing about this, she performs beautifully in the ballet sequences. It’s easy to see why Hoffmann would be taken. Unfortunately she’s a mechanical doll. Something he only twigs when her mad inventor tears her apart. A playbill helps us out at the beginning of each act. Telling a different part of Hoffmann’s life and loves. The cast returning in new rolls each time. Aside Hoffmann, the one constant, albeit with costume changes. It must be said though that Léonide Massine looks fabulous no matter what guise, he’s stunning. As are Robert Helpmann and Pamela Brown, their faces are so captivatingly expressive, they really help to pull you in. I wonder if I might’ve got on with this better in a theatre. As a film it does lose me as Hoffmann falls for a courtesan in Venice, who tries to steal his reflection, before we’re off to a Greek island where he falls in love…again, this time with Giulietta, who’ll sing herself to death. To be honest I think he’d be better off giving up, which is what he decides in the epilogue. It’s pretty sad really and to be fair stands up well for a story that’s 150 years old… but this isn’t for me. I’ve nothing against film adaptations of theatre to make it more accessible, but I think this is really only for the hardcore buffs.



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