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After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.
This a film version of the opera "The Tales of Hoffmann", however it is NOT just a film of a staged performance. 'Michael Powell' & Emeric Pressburger (and the rest of "The Archers") work their usual magic here. The opera dramatises the three great romances in the life of the poet-hero presented in a series of flashbacks. Hoffmann's tales depict the struggle between human love and the artist's dedication to his work. Hoffmann loses each of the women he loves but gains instead poetic inspiration -- the ability to transform painful experiences into art. Written by
Steve Crook <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A 4K digital restoration has been made of the film by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. This includes some scenes that were missing from recent prints and an unseen section introducing the actors and singers. Like the other restorations they have done of Powell & Pressburger films this isn't just a new print. They went back to the original material, digitised & cleaned up every frame & the optical soundtrack. Bear in mind that for a 3-strip Technicolor film that's 3 frames for every frame you see on screen. Then they put them all back together, checking the registration and restoring the old Technicolor look and feel. This restored version was premièred at the 2014 Venice Film Festival and has since been shown at the Lyons & London Film Festivals to be followed by other festivals and cinema screenings around the world. There will also be a DVD/Blu-ray release. See more »
During Olympia's song, Moira Shearer isn't miming for quite lengthy sections - as she is pirouetting quite fast in some of these sections, it is understandable that she'd want to concentrate on her balance. See more »
Chorus of Students:
Some drink, drink, drink, drink, drink: do you hear us about? You lazy lout! We want some beer; we want some wine! Pour out the wine, and drink and drink till morning. Pour out the wine for drinking is divine. It is divine. We want some beer; we want some wine. We want some beer; we want some wine.
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THE TALES OF Hoffman (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1951) ***
I'm not a fan of ballet but I've always loved Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948); so, naturally, I've been looking forward to this one ever since it was first announced - years ago - as a Criterion release! However, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN features the added element of opera; indeed, the entire film is sung!
On first viewing, my reaction to it was mixed: it's impossible not to be impressed by the visuals (particularly the stylization of Hein Heckroth's colorful and imaginative designs) but, since I'm no expert in classical music, I wasn't bowled over by Jacques Offenbach's score (apart from the celebrated "Barcarolle" piece) - especially since the lyrics, despite being an English translation, aren't easily followed! However, listening to it with the Audio Commentary, I could better appreciate the way it was made and the special effects that were adopted; especially interesting was the fact that it was filmed silent, thus allowing freer camera movement. The main cast, apart from Pamela Brown, is made up of ballet performers and opera singers - with the former, mostly recruits from THE RED SHOES, carrying the more compelling screen presence.
The framing story - featuring an additional ballet composed by the film's conductor Sir Thomas Beecham - is a bit short, so that we mostly learn about the characters played by Robert Rounseville (as Hoffmann) and Robert Helpmann through their various guises in the former's three tales (which are themselves variable in quality):
i) the "Olympia" sequence, highlighting Moira Shearer and Leonide Massine, is overlong but quite charming; Helpmann's distinctive features are rather buried under some quaint make-up - though his violent destruction of Shearer (who plays a doll) makes for a quite unsettling moment!
ii) "Giulietta" is the best and most interesting sequence, but also the shortest: Ludmilla Tcherina is a very sensuous heroine, while Helpmann and Massine are wonderful (and wonderfully made up) as respectively an evil magician and a (literally) soulless officer under both their spell; this sequence features some incredible imagery - like Tcherina's reflection in water picking up the aria she is singing, her walking over sculptures of dead bodies, Rounseville and Massine's saber duel set to music (i.e. presented without any sound effects) and the scene in which Rounseville loses his reflection when tempted in front of a mirror by Tcherina
iii) the "Antonia" sequence is again too long (it was severely cut in the original U.S. theatrical release) and, because it's mostly straight opera, emerges as the most labored segment: Massine is pretty much wasted here, while Ann Ayars is nowhere near as captivating as Shearer or Tcherina; however, Helpmann's belated entrance as the satanic Dr. Miracle takes the sequence to another level, and especially memorable here is the scene where Ayars exits a room only to re-enter it from another door (which must have inspired a similar incident in Mario Bava's KILL, BABY, KILL! ) and the one where Ayars and Helpmann's dancing figures are divided into four to fill up the entire screen - with the latter taking each of his guises in the different segments and, likewise, the former being replaced with the heroines of each tale (Moira Shearer appears twice here as she also plays Stella, Hoffmann's love interest in the framing story!)
The Archers' films are among my favorites - though I was somewhat underwhelmed by I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945; I still haven't purchased the Criterion SE), THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE (1956; amazingly, both of my two attempts to view it in the past have only managed to put me to sleep!) and, now, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN. I've yet to watch 4 of their collaborations - CONTRABAND (1940; I've been tempted, time and again, to buy Kino's bare-bones DVD but the over-inflated price always got in the way!), THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL (1950), GONE TO EARTH (1950; this troubled production isn't likely to see the light of day on R1 DVD anytime soon, but is at least available via a budget-priced R2 edition), and their last 'musical' together OH, ROSALINDA! (1955). I would also like to watch Powell's solo films HONEYMOON (1959) and BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (1964), which are yet two more musically-oriented ventures.
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