Review for Tales of Hoffman
Whatever your thoughts about musical adaptations, and opera in particular, there is no denying the dream-like surreal beauty of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘Tales of Hoffman. It’s a powerful film that is so visually arresting that virtually every frame would make a perfect picture poster. For me it felt like a rich-man’s version of one of those creaky old ‘Tales from Europe’ shows from the 1960’s like ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ with its hyper-real, highly stylised portrayals. Whatever the case, it looks beautiful and this 4K transfer is utterly breath-taking, even on the DVD version which is what I watched for this review.
‘Tales of Hoffman’ has long enjoyed a legendary status, especially among film-makers who fully appreciate its visual power and the expertise and consideration that must have gone into the production. Indeed, Martin Scorsese introduces the film as well as congratulating all those involved in its restoration – principally the BFI and StudioCanal but with help from other institutions too.
This adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera ‘Les Contes d’Hoffman’ was not a great commercial success on its release but its reputation has rightly grown over the years.
‘Tales of Hoffman’ could arguably be the most vivid Technicolor film ever made. Although it was filmed full-frame, which was standard for the time though jars slightly today, it maintains its visual richness from frame one through to the very last drop. But enough about how it looks – what’s it about?
Featuring many of the cast from their classic ‘The Red Shoes’ (Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann and Ludmilla Tcherina) ‘Tales of Hoffman’ is a kind of dream narrative, driven through dance (often ballet) and operatic libretto. A poet dreams about three women - a mechanical doll called Olympia, a courtesan, Giulietta, and the daughter of a composer, Antonia, who is dying. He can’t seem to hold on to any of them.
Apparently Powell completely recorded the soundtrack prior to filming so that the film became merely a silent performance to that. This was liberating because, as a studio bound piece, no consideration had to made to sound recording at all. Using Offenbach’s original score, it was entirely pre-recorded by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of the legendary conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.
The disc comes with a few decent extra features including an introduction from a brief introduction from Martin Scorsese who is clearly a mega-fan of the film.
It also comes with a close to twenty minute interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited Scorcese’s films for over thirty years. It’s illuminating and well worth a watch. It also comes with a trailer, stills gallery, and (I believe) some art postcards.
Even if you’re not a fan of musicals or operas in particular, as a self-respecting fan of film you really need to see this film. This 4K restoration is the way to go and I’m sure the Blu-Ray will look even better.