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The Tales of Hoffmann, 1951 movie

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Reading the posts on this thread intrigued me to dig out my DVD of the film and watch it.

I didn't get all the way through it the first time, I couldn't get past the Olympia scene. It was still not that easy but I stuck with it.

I guess the big problem I had was with the Technicolor and also the color schemes used. The Olympia scene really makes me almost queasy with all the yellow

sets and Shearer's costume. It just looked really unpleasant to me and Shearer in particular seemed to blend into the background. Plus the clash with her hair!

Anyway I got over myself and watched more closely tonight . there really is lots of clever detail, ok some of it is layered on with a trowel, but it's a fantasy piece.

Once I got past act 1, I had an easier time watching and I did really like the use of the huge soundstages and the special effects. And Shearer looked lovely

in the Stella scene. I can see why she found this a better showcase for her dancing than RS.

I liked the shot of Tommy Beecham at the end! It was a classic moment.

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(A naive observer could be forgiven for wondering just how Helpmann wound up as premier danseur for the Ballet Lermontov.)

....or the Sadler's Wells, for that matter :wink:

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(A naive observer could be forgiven for wondering just how Helpmann wound up as premier danseur for the Ballet Lermontov.)

....or the Sadler's Wells, for that matter :wink:

Sir Robert Helpmann started late for a ballet dancer and joined the Sadlers Wells Ballet in 1933 he was by all accounts, a reasonable technician and a remarkable dance actor.

“When Helpmann arrived in London in 1933, Rawlings (Margaret Rawlings actress and friend) sent off a letter of introduction to her friend Ninette de Valois, who was starting her own dance troupe. That introduction with Rawlings's high praise was enough for the normally imperious de Valois. There was no audition, and she acted as if Helpmann had already joined her new Vic-Wells Ballet company. Helpmann would later say that de Valois needed male dancers and any man standing upright on two legs would probably have been welcomed. De Valois had, in fact, cast her cold eye over Helpmann's strengths and weaknesses and saw potential. If he fell short in technical aspects of his ballet training, she could see that his theatrical savvy could cover that shortcoming until he learned better. Taking in his look and attitude, she diplomatically did not mention his flamboyant wardrobe choices for street wear. She did famously remark, "I could do something with that face." (See http://www.glbtq.com/arts/helpmann_r.html )

His breakthrough with the Vic-Wells company came (1933) when he replaced Anton Dolin in De Valois “Job” performing the role of Satan. With this performance, he had arrived as a potential leading dancer and the following year he was cast opposite the companies leading ballerina Alicia Markova in De Valois’s, “The Haunted Ballroom”

Aged 40 and some what past whatever technical peak he had reached, he partnered Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty when the Wells Company visited New York for the first time and he achieved international status overnight. The New York press took this stellar pair to their hearts and referred to them as Bobby and Margot.

Helpmann prior to New York had danced leading roles in more than twenty ballets, staged his own works and established a remarkable partnership with Fonteyn. He acquired another string to his bow with his cinematic appearances, the first being “The Red Shoes. See http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0375818/ where his early English TV performances are also listed.

Broadway called him on a number of occasions See credits at http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=15086 and as an actor he appeared with the Old Vic Company and toured Australia with Katherine Hepburn.

I first saw Helpmann in 1964 as the Orator in wonderful performance of “A wedding Bouquet” and later in “Checkmate”and Cinderella.” Though no longer a dancer, he had a powerful theatricality that came from his ability to project in a way that I have found to be unique. I feel this ability must have contributed to his convincing successes as a in the lead roles in classical ballet. Indeed, the critic and author Arnold Haskell wrote, "[Helpmann] is the only man I know who was an indifferent dancer from a purely classical point of view, but who could act the role of a danseur noble so perfectly that he carried conviction from the moment he appeared on stage."

PS

Re: Mel's question, "What did the other guys dance like?"

Anton Dolin performed with the company and the "virtuoso" Harold Turner joined the company in 1935 and the outstanding Michael Somes shortly after, but whose early technical potential was somewhat affected by war service and subsequent injury.

It is important to remember that London did not have the advantages that New York had, with having more than a handful of Ballet Russe dancers settled there to establish companies. De Valois and Rambert were virtually starting from scratch as far as male dancers were concerned.

Amended:***

I do not know how I forgot to include Stanley Judson especially as I met and chatted with him on a good number of occasions. Judson was a very good technician and as an early member of the de Valois company he partnered both Alicia Markova and Lydia Lopokhova in leading roles.

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Demeaning Robert Helpmann was not my intent. I saw him in two roles that I greatly admired; Hamlet (a short ballet he choreographed) and Miracle in the Gorbals. Hamlet was particularly engrossing. It was a short work, perhaps 15 minutes or so, the story was out of context as seen through a desperate mind. It was a brilliant performance. If I am not mistaken, I think he also choreographed Gorbals, which was not as successful as Hamlet.

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This is so exciting -- alongside the dance aspect, the Powell/Pressburger films were incredibly influential on the next generations of filmmakers.

Here's a little more information from the British Film Institute about the new print, here's the trailer, and here's a short comment from George Romero about the film.

"It's almost a horror film"

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This is so exciting -- alongside the dance aspect, the Powell/Pressburger films were incredibly influential on the next generations of filmmakers.

It's funny but my impression is that the Powell/Pressburger films had little influence among filmmakers in the US until it was retroactively conferred on them by Martin Scorsese – and George A. Romero. Godard/Breathless, Penn/Bonnie & Clyde, and Cimino/Days of Heaven were more likely to be the key influences that young filmmakers would cite in the old days.

Except for Red Shoes, the Powell/Pressburger films had little distribution in the US where they were considered filmmic oddities, overwrought and creepy in way that even Psycho wasn't.

Did it never occur to Michael Powell that he could suggest something rather than trying to control every inch of screen space and time (at least in Tales of Hoffmann)? Even Joseph von Sternberg left some room over for the imagination to relax in.

Sorry for being a grouch on this – Scorsese's a good filmmaker but he is a bit of a stage mother to film history.

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I do see your point, but De Palma and Coppola have also cited the Archers as an influence, and of course "The Red Shoes" has been widely influential. It is true that several of their pictures qualify as curios, although not necessarily in a bad way.

"Peeping Tom," directed by Powell but not written by Pressburger (that was Leo Marks), was the "Psycho"-like movie whose reception, particularly in Britain, more or less put paid to Powell's career. Certainly Hoffmann and Shoes both contain horror elements as well. I actually find it to be less distasteful than Psycho, although it's not as good, or let's say effective, a movie.

Scorsese has championed Powell's but in doing so I don't believe he's attempting to rewrite history but rather to bring attention to a filmmaker who was not only a great influence on him but with whom he had a personal connection - as noted above, his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, is Powell's widow. I tend to share Scorsese's admiration, so I have that bias.

I hope anyone who attends the Film Forum showing will tell us about it!

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You're right dirac - I overreacted a bit and it's not a genre I'm fond of. Psycho is interesting in that it's two films, the first half hour might be the better one. Peeping Tom seemed like a Rod Serling or early tv half hour but without the neat closure. It was an orphan film for years until the "slasher film" era.

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The first half hour of Psycho is virtuoso stuff. You also have to give Hitchcock credit for being the first director to figure out what to do with that off-kilter quality of Tony Perkins. In fact I was sorely disappointed by Peeping Tom - Scorsese's eternal enthusiasm is endearing but it can also be misleading, and like you I have small taste for the genre. Moira Shearer is in it, looking more or less ageless, and does a little dance, so that's a plus.

Powell is over-the-top, and I'm not sure if I could actually sit through ToH without Shearer and Ashton to look at. I suppose the artifice of The Devil is a Woman is at least as suffocating, but it's more fun.

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According to her interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," Schoonmaker said, "Marty not only gave me the best job in the world, but the best husband as well." Powell was an Artist at Residence at Dartmouth, and he would call Scorsese's editing room to chat when he was feeling alone. Schoonmaker would answer the phone and talk with him, and then one day Scorsese said he was coming for dinner and asked her to join them, and that was it for her:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5069962

It's a great interview.

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"Peeping Tom," directed by Powell but not written by Pressburger (that was Leo Marks), was the "Psycho"-like movie whose reception, particularly in Britain, more or less put paid to Powell's career. Certainly Hoffmann and Shoes both contain horror elements as well. I actually find it to be less distasteful than Psycho, although it's not as good, or let's say effective, a movie.

Scorsese has championed Powell's but in doing so I don't believe he's attempting to rewrite history but rather to bring attention to a filmmaker who was not only a great influence on him but with whom he had a personal connection - as noted above, his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, is Powell's widow. I tend to share Scorsese's admiration, so I have that bias.

I generally agree with Quiggin's statement ["Except for Red Shoes, the Powell/Pressburger films had little distribution in the US where they were considered filmmic oddities, overwrought and creepy in way that even Psycho wasn't."]. However, there are a couple other films by 'The Archers' that are truly classics, imo, and the film community never actually forgot them:

Black Narcissus

A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven)

The general public would be a different matter, of course. A Matter of Life and Death has been making the rounds on TCM in the last couple of years, so I expect people are finding out about this unusual film now. And both 49th Parallel and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp are worthy efforts - well worth seeing.

I'll just mention that the Leo Marks who wrote the screenplay for Peeping Tom is the same Marks who wrote the moving "Between Silk and Cyanide", his account of his days as Head of Codes for the British S.O.E. during WWII.

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However, there are a couple other films by 'The Archers' that are truly classics, imo,

Very true. Black Narcissus is wonderfully overwrought, what with David Farrar in his shorts sending the local nuns into erotic tizzies, and Jean Simmons as a saucy native wench. The color photography, as has been widely noted, is ravishing. (It, too, has some horror elements.)

All of these movies used regularly to appear on public television years ago. In a sense these and other old movies are actually less immediately accessible than they used to be, an apparent paradox given the availability of DVD and select cable channels. It used to be that you couldn't avoid old movies on television, as they were frequently used as filler for late nights and afternoons. Now you generally have to seek them out -- a task that is now much easier, of course.

Blimp has always been a favorite of mine. A sweet movie, and it stars Roger Livesey, another favorite of mine. Another Powell-Pressburger picture I've always liked is the romance I Know Where I'm Going, with Wendy Hiller and Livesey.

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All of these movies used regularly to appear on public television years ago. In a sense these and other old movies are actually less immediately accessible than they used to be, an apparent paradox given the availability of DVD and select cable channels. It used to be that you couldn't avoid old movies on television, as they were frequently used as filler for late nights and afternoons. Now you generally have to seek them out -- a task that is now much easier, of course.

I was thinking about how few vintage film series you find in theater programming now. When I was in college, there were a handful of different series going on at any one time -- curated, and in some cases introduced or written about by the people who made those choices. It was a fabulous film education. You can see the films now, of course, on Netflix or the wild of the internet, but you don't necessarily get the thoughtful discussion that went alongside.

Another Powell-Pressburger picture I've always liked is the romance I Know Where I'm Going, with Wendy Hiller and Livesey.

Ah, Wendy Hiller!

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Blimp has always been a favorite of mine. A sweet movie, and it stars Roger Livesey, another favorite of mine. Another Powell-Pressburger picture I've always liked is the romance I Know Where I'm Going, with Wendy Hiller and Livesey.

Yes, two thumbs up for both Hiller and Livesey!

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Like Sandik I remember college film festivals, memorably a Girard Philipe festival at UCLA set up by two political science majors who later ended up in DC. After college there was a great series Tom Luddy curated in SF, based on studio's than a director's work, very radical then. The Columbia studios series included the Bitter Tea of General Yen, She Married her Boss, and Gilda which I saw there or at he Los Feliz idouble billed with Lady From Shanghai, a most satisfying evening. You became aware of the production values of the studio, the lighting (dull at MGM, brilliant at Paramount), costumers, general ambience.

Peeping Tom was shown one afternoon at college by someone who was good at digging up prints of obscure films -we were warned that it was strange, the first time I remember such a warning. Also at another college series we were shown, completely unannounced, Genet's Un Chant d'Amour. Dead silence for a few minutes, then many, many cigarettes lit up all at once.

Yes there's something about seeing movies in a personal series where you know the programmer - or even now in specific movie theaters (as opposed to on your tv) like seeing Ballet 442 a month ago at the Embarcadero theater and hearing bits of dancer talk in the row behind afterwards.

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I shouldn't complain -- we have some excellent presenters here (Seattle) and access to a lot of different ideas, but I think, now that we can see almost anything at any time, we don't get as excited about certain rare things.

(I'm sounding old and crabby, I think)

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Like Sandik I remember college film festivals, memorably a Girard Philipe festival at UCLA set up by two political science majors who later ended up in DC. After college there was a great series Tom Luddy curated in SF, based on studio's than a director's work, very radical then. The Columbia studios series included the Bitter Tea of General Yen, She Married her Boss, and Gilda which I saw there or at he Los Feliz idouble billed with Lady From Shanghai, a most satisfying evening. You became aware of the production values of the studio, the lighting (dull at MGM, brilliant at Paramount), costumers, general ambience.

Peeping Tom was shown one afternoon at college by someone who was good at digging up prints of obscure films -we were warned that it was strange, the first time I remember such a warning. Also at another college series we were shown, completely unannounced, Genet's Un Chant d'Amour. Dead silence for a few minutes, then many, many cigarettes lit up all at once.

Yes there's something about seeing movies in a personal series where you know the programmer - or even now in specific movie theaters (as opposed to on your tv) like seeing Ballet 442 a month ago at the Embarcadero theater and hearing bits of dancer talk in the row behind afterwards.

A digression: Kenneth Tynan told a story about showing Un Chant d'Amour at a dinner party he hosted for the Snowdons, the Harold Pinters, and the Peter Cooks. For the uninitiated, the movie depicts, among other things, convicts fantasizing about disporting in their birthday suits amid the beauties of nature. The evening had got off to a frigid start when Vivien Merchant was pointedly rude to Princess Margaret and her consort, and the sight of nude gentlemen waving their johnsons about did not appreciably warm the atmosphere. Peter Cook saved the day, or the night, by improvising a commentary to the movie that treated it as an extended commercial for Cadbury's Milk Chocolate,

I think it is worthwhile to seek out theater transmissions where they're available. You're seeing the movie as it was meant to be seen, and I think there's a certain intensity of attention that is paid. It does get harder when you leave college, though, and if you're not living in a city or very close to one.

There used to be a repertory movie theater not far from me that would show three or even four Golden Age movies a day with serials and cartoons, in the old style. You could see Young Dietrich/von Sternberg, mid-period M/V, and decadent M/V, all in one day.

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Peter Cook saved the day, or the night, by improvising a commentary to the movie that treated it as an extended commercial for Cadbury's Milk Chocolate,

Ah, an early version of Mystery Science Theater 3000!

There used to be a repertory movie theater not far from me that would show three or even four Golden Age movies a day with serials and cartoons, in the old style. You could see Young Dietrich/von Sternberg, mid-period M/V, and decadent M/V, all in one day.

Now that's a series!

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Returning to the Tales of Hoffman for a moment. A fascinating film for all sorts of reasons. It was shown in a restored print at the BFI not so long ago and if I recall correctly the credits state that Massine danced his own choreography.Clearly he chose steps that still suited him, in fact they look very similar to the sort of choreography he generally set for himself in his own ballets. His dancing is pretty impressive for someone born in 1894.

Then you have Ashton who undertook some of his early training with Massine.We know that Ashton worked for Nijinska and he acknowledged her influence on him but Massine's influence tends to be forgotten. Massine's works are rarely if ever danced today and it is difficult to recall that he was the choreographer whose works were dominant in the late nineteen twenties and during the thirties and who, as a demi character dancer, was perhaps the best known male dancer of the period in the West. Alexander Grant, who was in a position to know, said in an interview that Massine was the great unacknowledged influence on Ashton and that in order to understand Ashton you had to know Massine.

It seems to me that Helpmann's dominance as a male dancer in the Vic Wells company makes no sense if we look at their repertory in the light of modern performance practice. It makes greater sense in the context of the idea of ballet as a theatrical art form in which ballet performance are not judged simply on the technical execution of steps but on how those steps are danced in the context of the ballet as a whole and the knowledge that the bulk of the company's repertory was made in house. The company created a modern repertory which had a high theatrical /demi character content and its nineteenth century classics were set and danced according to the notation brought from Russia without the addition of male dancer display pieces.The company did not remove Benoit form Act II Swan Lake until the late nineteen fifties, early 1960's. Helpmann was no technician but he had great theatrical skill; he was a good partner and as an Australian he was not called up during the war.While de Valois made sure the entire company were evacuated from Holland in 1940, she did not think it right to try to exempt the men in the company from being called up for military service..

The roles that were made for Helpmann, such as the seedy bridegroom in a Wedding Bouquet, a man whose past seems to include all the female wedding guests, or Mr O'Reilly the drunken theatre owner in the Prospect Before Us ,fitted him like a glove. There are still a few people around who say that certain roles such as the Rake have never been danced as well as they were by him. There were a few fine dancers in the company before the war and one of Ashton's greatest skills was to create ballets in which you are so interested in what you see on stage that you don't spend your time identifying the technical skills of the originators of the roles.As far as Helpmann's theatrical skills are concerned, he worked as a professional actor and appeared at Stratford. There is a review of him playing King John in which the critic complains that the way that Helpmann looked round the stage on his first entrance made the rest of the play redundant because it told you everything that you needed to know about the King's character.

As for Moira Shearer it is nice to see the dancer on whom Ashton made most of the role of Cinderella in action.I recall reading that Shearer said that she felt that Tales of Hoffman gave a much better impression of her as a dancer than the Red Shoes did because the dancing in Tales was shot in much longer sections than the dance sections in the Ted Shoes so that she was actually dancing rather than starting and stopping.

The film is fascinating period piece and of great interest to anyone interested in dance history or so it seems to me.

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I agree on all counts here -- as time passes, we become less and less aware of the influence that Massine and the Ballet Russe had on the development and direction of ballet in the war and post-war years. Thinking about the recent Ric Burns documentary about ABT, so much of their earlier rep was a part of that dance theater tradition, but the connection isn't underlined for us very clearly now.

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