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Tales of Hoffmann

Moira Shearer , Robert Rounseville , Emeric Pressburger , Michael Powell    Unrated   DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 115.99
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Jacques Offenbach died with his masterpiece not quite finished, and that has made The Tales of Hoffmann a predestined victim for adapters who have dropped some numbers, inserted others, altered the plot, fiddled with the casting, and changed the order of scenes. It has survived and kept its essential identity through many adaptations because its music is so witty and compelling, its imagination so vivid and varied, its story of the poet Hoffmann's unhappy loves so intriguing they can transcend such tinkering.

A critical performing edition prepared by musicologist Michael Kaye has made it possible to come close to Offenbach's original intentions after more than a century of misunderstanding, and major companies have begun to use that edition, but so far no universally satisfying production of it has reached video. An Opera de Lyon production, using Kaye's research but with a radically untraditional staging, has won wholehearted approval from some fans but unequivocal rejection from more.

As adaptations go, this 1951 film is the best compromise currently available on video and will always be a classic in its own right, even when a more faithful treatment becomes available. It drops some of Offenbach's music and includes some that is spurious, and it changes the plot (Hoffman's beloved Stella is made a dancer--Moira Shearer--not a singer). But at least it treats the story with affection, imagination, and technical expertise. The music presents only highlights of the score, but it is in the hands of a great conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. The movie is essentially the work of the same team that produced The Red Shoes (directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger); it has the same kind of imaginative appeal and its technical resourcefulness is still exciting, still on the cutting edge despite its age. I expect eventually to add a more faithful Tales of Hoffmann to my video collection, but I will never stop enjoying this one. --Joe McLellan

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A BENCHMARK FOR OPERA ON FILM Oct. 2 2003
By Rene
Format:VHS Tape
It is true that, as other reviewrs have asserted, this may not be "Tales" as Offenbach originally concieved it. A case can be made that the current 2nd act was originally intended as the final act. (where can you go after loosing and retrieving your soul?). And the english translation used in the film has some awkward phrasing - Crespel to Antonia: "Now did you not swear that that you'd not do?". This said, The film nevertheless stands as a brilliant, imaginative interpretation in its own right.
The current issue on VHS states that it restores scenes eliminated prior to its release. This is not the case. (I attended the initial release in Southern California). The restored scenes are those eliminated from the film for its application to U.S. television release - a real hatchet job to its last act. As might have been expected it had no home on American TV.
In addition to making it whole with the initial theatrical presentation color has been substantially improved as compared with the original VHS release. This makes it true to what was seen in comercial release and well worth the price of admission.
However, there are still scenes tantalizingly referenced in the video packaging which wound up on the cutting-room floor before comercial release of the film and which do not appear on the VHS video. First is Franz's aria "Day & Night I Am Always Slaving" and brief exchanges with Crespel which serve to establish his deafness (These can be heard on the London LP recording of the sound track, and a still of Massine during this aria appeared in the color program which was sold at the Premier). Second was the scene in which Nicklaus became Hoffmann's golden-gilded muse.
Should this film be released on DVD, which it certainly deserves to be, some effort should be made to find these missing pieces so the film can finally be seen as Powell & Pressburger originally intended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Opera Becomes A High Class Fantasy Film Feb. 25 2003
Format:VHS Tape
The same producers behind the magic of the 1949 film, "The Red Shoes" (about a ballerina doomed to dance to her death), bring you the colorful 1950's film adaptation of the Offenbach French opera "Tales Of Hoffman." The Tales Of Hoffman was Offenbach's last opera and his most revised work. In this production, there have been alterations and only the highlights from the opera are showcased. An extraordinary cinematic sequence is the entire "Venice Act", featuring the famous Barcarolle and a sumptuous display of costume and color. Moira Sheer (the heroine in "The Red Shoes" and herself an accomplished ballerina, appears in this film as Stella. They have changed Stella's original career as an opera singer to a ballerina (in an effort to show more ballet sequences). None of this really matters, nor does it ruin the opera as film. In fact, French opera tradition has used ballet sequences in the grand operas of Meyerbeer (Robert Le Diable, La Prophete) and Gounod (Faust).
Moira Sheer's performance is excellent, an equal match to her previous performances with this director and his team. Hoffman is genuine, romantic and effectively portrayed as the dreaming artist. Every scene is full of magic, full of rich and colorful fantasy (the Doll Olympia has her moments) and striking visuals make this film worth going after. If you enjoy ballet, if you enjoy opera and if you are interested in this particular style of film (surrealist, fantasy) then you will enjoy this film. Even more specialized for fans of "The Red Shoes", for which this film is a follow up.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Put Away Your Dismay and Be Gay" April 27 2000
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
Jacques Offenbach died before he could finish Tales of Hoffman, and no definitive version of it exists. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger used that fact as an opportunity to take quite a few liberties with it. It's sung in English translation, and the directors have dropped the sung and spoken prologue in favor of a pantomime with orchestral accompaniment. Stella is now a ballerina instead of a singer, and Linsdorf never speaks at all. These changes muffle the composer's intended theme that Hoffman's love life was getting in the way of his work and that the Muse of Poetry always frustrated his relations with women. The directors, however, seem to want to promote a different idea. The over-the-top decor, the costumes, and the mannerisms of the film create an atmosphere that is frankly gay, and the depiction of the female characters is determinedly misogynistic. All of them, from the female dragonfly to Antonia (Nicklaus is supposed to be a boy), are vain, egoistic, venal, or empty-headed; the only possible exception is Stella, and she allows Linsdorf to lead her away at the end. The only true place for a male poet apparently is with his drinking buddies.
Tales of Hoffman is an engaging film nonetheless; Offenbach had a talent for catchy melodies. Also, Moira Shearer's light-footed Olympia makes it difficult to watch anybody else in the role, especially a hefty well-fed singer. The lip-sync and the recording are good. The only dissonance is Nicklaus's wide hips. If this is ever issued on DVD, it could use English subtitles.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Michael Powell's Vision of the Arts as "art!" Oct. 18 2000
Format:VHS Tape
I like to think Leonard Maltin did not himself view - or review - this film. If he had, he wouldn't use terms like "engages in bizarre dreams" because, afterall, the entire story is a "dream" and a "fantasy" to begin with. I am biased! I am a Powell and Pressburger fan! And, having said that, I believe this movie is simply the most creative work of cinema ever achieved. Powell and Pressburger, and their team, The Archers, truly have combined all of the major Arts into a comprehensive whole - a "composed" art form which is almost too beautiful to look at! Even if opera and ballet are not one's taste, this film should be seen for the exquisite sets, costumes, make-up, cinematography etc. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger are sorely missed today! Amen.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Oldie but Goody
Knowing that I would be seeing the opera live, I thought it best if I prepared for it by seeing this DVD. Glad I did. Moira Shearer's Doll Song alone was worth the price.
Published 6 months ago by Marlene Cherun
4.0 out of 5 stars triumph of opera-on-film
This is a must-have for anyone who enjoys great film makers creating cinematic art out of opera. It's definitely not the right DVD if you're looking for an accurate document of... Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2010 by Brian David Wall
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic combination of music and dance
Being very familiar with the opera, I found this combination of music and dance fascinating. Acting and singing of the singers is superb as is the dancing. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2006 by alberto Behar
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extravaganza of Music, Color and Beauty
As a great lover of art, music and ballet, I have to say that this is my absolute favorite dance film - a true must-see, and must-own. Read more
Published on March 5 2004 by Danielle Bennignus
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful film
This is a wonderful film - I only wish it were available on DVD!
Published on Feb. 19 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Please Criterion - WHEN?
I've owned this as a vhs and view it often. Perhaps Powell and Pressburger's most beautiful film, the scenes with Ludmilla Tcherina are spellbinding - especially walking on the... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2003 by manfromlamuncha
5.0 out of 5 stars Eagerly Waiting
I want this on DVD, not VHS. That's when I will buy it. Pass the word along!
Published on Aug. 26 2002 by Richard M. Teeter
an extraordinary perfomance
of this visualy and musically exceptionalOpera
Published on Jan. 20 2002 by ARISJ. PETERSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic theater
I have seen this many times many years ago. The combination of ballet and dubbed-in singing - for example, in the second act Moira Shearer dancing and singing a coloraturad aria at... Read more
Published on April 21 2000 by Jan Mattson
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