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Tales of Hoffmann


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Product Details

  • Actors: Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérina, Ann Ayars, Pamela Brown
  • Directors: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
  • Writers: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, Dennis Arundell, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Jules Barbier
  • Format: Classical, Color, DVD-Video, Special Edition, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Paradox
  • Release Date: March 23 2001
  • Run Time: 128 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00008YOFG
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #70,544 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)

Product Description

Amazon.ca

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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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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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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By A Customer on April 27 2000
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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Format: DVD
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 "Les Contes...". There are massive cuts throughout, the basics are screwed around (eg. Stella, Hoffman's main squeeze, has been transformed from an opera diva to a dancer) and it's all sung in English. But this film ranks, in my opinion, among the best opera films, up there with Losey's Don Giovanni and Syberberg's Parsifal, because Powell and Pressburger have actually tried to make an inventive, artistically challenging film, rather than merely filming a live performance. Highly recommended.
P.s. In the same vein, I would also recommend "U-Carmen", a stunning film of Bizet's masterpiece, transplanted brilliantly to a South African township.
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