Showing posts with label 1951. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1951. Show all posts

23 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

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Fantasy, Musical
StudioCanal UK
BD Release Date:
23rd March 2015 (UK)
Rating: U
Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérinam
Buy:Tales Of Hoffmann - Special Edition * Digitally Restored [Blu-ray] [1951]

Michael Powell and his cohort Emeric Pressburger were cinematic painters; every shot in their best films has the texture and skill of the master artists. The Tales of Hoffmann comes at a transitional period for Powell and Pressburger, as they were forced into make a couple films they didn’t want to make. It’s also the last one that really has the same splendour their many wonderful films of the ‘40s had, they would make a few more films but the magic just wasn’t there.

The Tales of Hoffmann plays out as this surrealistic proto-psychedelic phantasmagoria opera. It’s based on the opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, which itself is based on the stories of the real E. T. A. Hoffmann. The film is indeed an opera and I have to admit for the majority of the running time, I had the subtitles to clarify what was being sung in case I missed a key plot point. It’s an early example of an anthology film; it’s 3 stories are fantastical in nature, all of which have their own title card.

The stories are all as strange as the psychedelic madness of the set and costume design. The first story is about a robot woman! It ends with one quite fittingly, about a woman who is forced to sign so much it kills her. It’s pure gothic storytelling with liberal amounts of fantasy, it’s no wonder horror maestro George A. Romero has said numerous times it was the film that made him want to make films. It’s all bookended by a drunken Hoffman telling the stories in a tavern.

The real wonder of the film is the work by cinematographer Christopher Challis, along with production design by Hein Heckroth, and art direction from Arthur Lawson. Powell and Pressburger had been making steps towards a film that had visuals that matched operatic music before like their masterwork The Red Shoes, but it comes into full formation here. The design work is almost reminiscent of German expressionism but in colour, each story even has it’s own colour palette. The imaginative design work is simply mind boggling at times, as Thelma Schoonmaker points out in the interview on the disc, it looks like made wigs out of celluloid.

When it came out in 1951 the world wasn’t ready for a film with such imagination on show. Over the years it’s stature has grown and it’s influence can be seen from the aforementioned work of Romero, to the fantasy of Terry Gilliam, to the use of red in Martin Scorsese’s films, to the operatic violence of Brian De Palma. We have to thank Martin Scorsese spearheading the restoration process on this, along with many other key works of Powell and Pressburger. I’ve seen a handful of the new restorations of their work and they are simply breathtakingly gorgeous, every single one.

Ian Schultz