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Tales of Hoffmann

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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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.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Criterion
  • Release Date: Nov. 22 2005
  • Run Time: 128 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
  • ASIN: B00008YOFG
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #64,849 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Product Description

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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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: 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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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: 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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Format: VHS Tape
Scorsese says he learned how to make movies from watching this one. I am devoted to this film because I like the opera, because of the odd symbolism that permeates the film, because of its lushness, and because of Moira Shearer (of The Red Shoes). You have to see it, if only because of its oddity. Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann also have major roles. The Ashton bio, "Secret Muses" by J. Kavanagh tells a bit about the making of this film. Sorry, but I dislike the singing that's dubbed in.
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