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The Tales of Hoffmann, 1951 movie


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#16 dirac

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 10:37 AM

Has anyone seen the new DVD by any chance?

#17 Richka

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 11:11 AM

I happened to come across the 1951 British film of Tales of Hoffman yesterday. (It's playing on Turner Classic.) I hadn't seen it since it was a often-repeated feature on local television stations in NYC in the late 50s. That was in black of white, of ocurfse. Now it's in its original -- and quite wonderfully garish -- color :o .

I had time to see the Olympia segment, with extraordinary performances by Moira Shearer as a gorgeous (though over-dressed) dancing doll, Robert Helpmann as Coppelius, and Leonide Massine as Spalanzani, Olympia's"father."

I never had the chance to see any of these people on stage . In this, Shearer is delicate, precise, quick-silver, and witty. Really wonderful despite the over-decorated and distracting costume. Helpmann, who appears in all three segments as I recall, is remarkably eery and sinister. Massine: fussy, fleet-footed (all those beats), and amusing. Frederick Ashton has a small role as a touching and inarticulate puppeteer. He's lovely.

Ashton is also credited as choreographer.

Has anyone else seen this recently? I'd love to hear your impressions of the dancing and the staging. And what about other ballet films -- or films including snippets of ballet -- from the period?

P.S. Ballet turns up in the oddest places. Milliion Dollar Mermaid, from the same general time period as Hoffman and also being rerun on tv recently, has Esther Williams performing in toe shoes -- and entirely underwater -- to music from the Nutcracker.

Interesting that you should mention "Million Dollar Mermaid" and the underwater ballet with Esther Williams. It 's the life of Annette Kellerman, a famous swimmer of early 20th century. But did you also notice the scene with Maria Tallchief dancing the "Dying Swan'' as Anna Pavlova? I don't think she is credited but it is certainly her.

#18 bart

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 12:27 PM

Interesting that you should mention "Million Dollar Mermaid" and the underwater ballet with Esther Williams. It 's the life of Annette Kellerman, a famous swimmer of early 20th century. But did you also notice the scene with Maria Tallchief dancing the "Dying Swan'' as Anna Pavlova? I don't think she is credited but it is certainly her.

Richka, you got me to check with imdb.com. Tallchief IS credited as Anna Pavlova. (I must have missed that bit. :o )

While we're wondering around the topic, I also noticed that the New Barlett Sher production of Contes d'Hoffman at the Met will have a choreographer -- Dou-Dou Huang, who did the choreography for The Last Emperor several years ago. Of course "choreographer" is a v-e-r-y broad job title.
http://www.metoperaf...l.aspx?id=10676

#19 dirac

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 02:49 PM

It is Tallchief. I seem to remember a publicity photo of her with Esther Williams from somewhere.

If Martin Scorsese has some time on his hands I hope he considers a restoration of Tales of Hoffmann, which could probably use the attention.

#20 Ed Waffle

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 06:26 PM

The Criterion Classics release of “Tales of Hoffman” is a wonder. It has gotten the usual Criterion treatment, with impeccable color timing and balance and ultra-sharp restoration, so that when Hoffmann is shown with a fuchsia wig in the “Olympia” act the viewer knows that Robert Rounseville lost that particular argument and wore the odd wig. There wasn’t much effort to have those appearing on camera lip-synch with the soundtrack, a good decision by Powell and Pressburger.

As noted already Moira Shearer was terrific as both Stella and Olympia, clearly knowing the ins and outs of dancing on a sound stage. Ludmilla Tcherina had little to do other than look dangerously beautiful which she carried off perfectly. Nicklaus is a role that a good singer/actor (or in this case, a good singer and a good actor) can do a lot with. Pamela Brown interpreted Nicklaus as rueful, knowing, long-suffering and always quick to help Hoffmann out of a jam even though he wouldn’t have been in the trouble in the first place if he had listened to his friend. Nicklaus was sung by the vocal star of the production, Monica Sinclair who was at the beginning of a long and distinguished international career.

Robert Helpmann almost stole the show as the four villains. Amazing acting and he moves with such elegant grace it is breathtaking. He gave us a hint in the prolog during Lindorf’s pantomime with Phillip Leaver who is delightfully described in the opening credits as “Andreas, Stella’s Servant, a rogue”. He is evil as Dapertutto in the second act, particularly while dancing to the aria in which he charms Giulietta with a gaudy necklace he creates from candle drippings. Bruce Dargavel the bass who sings the aria rolls out the low notes effortlessly. Helpmann and Tcherina make a wonderfully horrible pair—great casting. Leonide Massine was as slender and deadly as the saber he planned to use on Hoffmann. He looks coiled and ready to strike when just standing and watching the action.

When Dr. Miracle enters during the third act we know we are in the presence of pure, unexplained and unexplainable depravity. Dr. Miracle has killed Antonia’s mother and now plans to kill Antonia, simply, it seems, because he can. The mother is represented by a life sized statue which I kept expecting to do something—sing, talk, something, like the dead Queen Hermione in “Winter’s Tale”. Helpmann’s acting here has all the mugging and playing to the camera/audience that we associate with silent films and he pulls off a real coup never overplaying how depraved he is, often approaching the edge but never quite straying into caricature. Since his second act character is Giulietta’s “satanic master, a collector of souls” it was quite a stretch for Miracle to be even more malevolent. The isolation, immediacy and intimacy of the claustrophobic set in the third act helped him bring this home.

There is a lot going on throughout “The Tales of Hoffman”. Powell and Pressburger and their cinematographer Freddie Francis (credited as “camera operator” which probably doesn’t tell the entire story) made superb use of crane shots and just the sheer height available on the stages at Shepperton Studios with shots from above to begin the orgy scene in Act II and single room sets with columns that disappear into impossibly high ceilings. I will try to post a bit more about this and other stuff I haven’t even touched on after watching this disc a few more times.

#21 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 02:55 PM

Yes, please tell us more, Ed. The cinematographer on the picture was Christopher Challis if I'm not mistaken.

Pamela Brown interpreted Nicklaus as rueful, knowing, long-suffering and always quick to help Hoffmann out of a jam even though he wouldn’t have been in the trouble in the first place if he had listened to his friend. Nicklaus was sung by the vocal star of the production, Monica Sinclair who was at the beginning of a long and distinguished international career.


Powell had wanted a larger role for Nicklaus, planning at one point to reveal Nicklaus as Hoffmann’s muse. Brown had a most wonderful and distinctive speaking voice, which you don’t get to hear in ToH, unfortunately. Her career was blighted by crippling arthritis, which struck her in her teens. Powell speaks movingly about her in his book – they lived together for decades until her death.

#22 Alymer

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 02:11 AM

I seem to remember reading years ago that a scene with Pamela Brown as Hoffman's muse was actually filmed, but discarded at the editing stage. "Wrapped in gold leaf" was the description, if I remember correctly. I thought she was wonderful - one of the best things in the film, though I also loved Ashton as Kleinzak - a very Fred piece of self-casting! I loved the film and negotiated an advance on my pocket money to see it a second time.

#23 bart

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:32 AM

Robert Helpmann almost stole the show as the four villains. Amazing acting and he moves with such elegant grace it is breathtaking. He gave us a hint in the prolog during Lindorf’s pantomime with Phillip Leaver who is delightfully described in the opening credits as “Andreas, Stella’s Servant, a rogue”. He is evil as Dapertutto in the second act, particularly while dancing to the aria in which he charms Giulietta with a gaudy necklace he creates from candle drippings. [...] Helpmann and Tcherina make a wonderfully horrible pair—great casting.

Ed, you capture Helpmann beautifully. Even when I was a child watching endless reruns of this film on local tv, it was Helpmann who fascinated me the most. What a face. And how well he carried himself.

I remember being surprised to learn, later on, what an important -- and varied -- role he had played in the development of the Royal Ballet.

#24 duffster

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 09:52 AM

There was a story about Robert Helpman I had heard many years ago. He apparently had developed the talent for reading writing upside down. He would go into De Valois office just to chat. While he was speaking to her would gather information from the papers on her desk. He would later report back to his fellow company members about casting and any news about the company. What a talented and interesting man Helpmann was !

#25 dirac

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 10:46 AM

Helpmann certainly was interesting, although personally he seems to have had some less than attractive qualities. His talents are shown to much better advantage in ToH than in The Red Shoes, definitely. (A naive observer could be forgiven for wondering just how Helpmann wound up as premier danseur for the Ballet Lermontov.)

#26 richard53dog

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 06:23 PM

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.

#27 atm711

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 03:54 AM

(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:

#28 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 05:29 AM

It suggests the question, "What did the other guys dance like?"

#29 leonid17

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 06:57 AM

(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...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/...on.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.

#30 atm711

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 03:57 PM

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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