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Helene

Tales of Hoffmann

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On Fresh Air today, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviewed a new DVD release on Criterion of Michael Powell (The Red Shoes) and Emeric Pressberger's film version of The Tales of Hoffmann. In it, dancers (mainly) and actors lip-synch and portray the main characters.

The cast includes:

Moira Schearer: Olympia, Stella, and Antonia

Ludmilla Tcherina: Giulietta

Robert Helpmann: the four villains

Leonide Massine: Spalanzani, Schlemil and Franz

Robert Rounseville: Hoffmann

with Frederick Ashton, the choreographer, performing several comic roles. Thomas Beecham conducted.

It's available through amazon.com.

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If I remember right, this was the movie that Moira Shearer said gave some idea of how she really danced -- that she was pleased with.

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i believe that over the years, shearer went on the record saying that if anyone wanted to see her dancing on film, this was the film she preferred, far more than THE RED SHOES

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It’s a curio. I imagine Shearer feels that way because TofH presents fairly long sequences of actual dancing, whereas in The Red Shoes you see mostly bits and pieces, albeit well selected ones. The Red Shoes ballet lasts twenty minutes, but in it Shearer mostly strikes poses (lovely arabesque) and there is no pretense that what we’re seeing could happen on a stage. TofH also shows her neat footwork.

Shearer also does a brief dance in Powell's later film "Peeping Tom," looking hardly a day older than she did in Red Shoes. Also check out "Story of Three Loves" where she dances to the same music Ashton used for Rhapsody.

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It's on my list! Thanks.

This was a film that was endlessly repeated on one of the local NYC stations in the 1950s, at a time when the Hollywood studios were witholding their own films from the new rival, television.

It made a huge impression on me when I was a child -- musically and in terms of dance, decore, costume, style. Oddly, the only visual impression that remains strongly with me is the image of Robert Helpmann's face: blank, cold, dangerous, and incredibly exotic (to a suburban pre-adolescent, at least).

P.S. I heard the Fresh Air review mentioned by Helene. The reviewer referred to the film's "super-saturated" color. I recall very odd colors, some garishly bright, some almost colorlessly dark, as well as muddied borders between different colors. Was this an accident? a failed attempt at a new technique? an effect actually sought-after by the art director?

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Lloyd Schwartz's nearly 8-minute long (nice!) review is online here.

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Thanks, kfw. I heard only half of it originally, while navigating down a rather wild stretch of the I-95.

The Amazon site has some rather interesting reviews. Most are very positive. But I was struck by a mixed review that made me even more anxious to acquire and watch this version again.

QUOTE:

"Preposterous, yes--but I have to admit that it is as stylish as it is preposterous. It is full of memorable, even haunting imagery. In the Olympia sequence, for instance, Moira Shearer is photographed from a high angle as she dances over a just-unrolled carpet that becomes a long stairway by sheer stage (not movie) magic. Marvelous!--but just a stunt. More than that, it is a stunt purely for its own sake, and utterly irrelevant to the opera or, indeed, the film. ... "

QUOTE:

"This is a film of an opera made by people who are pretty evidently indifferent to opera. They are ballet people, and they have done their utmost to turn the opera into a ballet. To start with, the performers onscreen, in true ballet fashion, are not making music, but responding to it. Even Robert Rounseville, who actually was a singer, is shown with closed mouth while his voice rises and falls on the soundtrack. Then, since balletic time and operatic time are quite different, all sorts of bits and pieces have been snipped away from the score to smooth the stop-and-start time of opera into the continuously flowing time of ballet. ... "

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