The Tales of Hoff­mann

The Tales of Hoff­mann, mu­si­cal, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Michael Wade Simp­son

What do Ge­orge A. Romero, direc­tor of Night of the Living Dead, and Taxi

Driver’s Martin Scors­ese have in com­mon? They were both ob­sessed early in their ca­reers with the movie The Tales of Hoff­mann, the 1951 rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Of­fen­bach’s opera, by Michael Pow­ell and Emeric Press­burger, the team re­spon­si­ble for the twisted clas­sic ballet film The Red Shoes. What may have at­tracted Romero and Scors­ese to The Tales of Hoff­mann, newly re­stored in all its gar­ish Technicolor glory, was the de­ci­sion on the part of the di­rec­tors to cast ballet dancers in al­most all the singing roles.

To call this the first lip-sync­ing mu­sic video (on film) is to do an injustice to the rad­i­cal idea that dancers would be more fully able than singers to in­habit the char­ac­ters in an opera. With si­lent-movie-style act­ing, an edited Of­fen­bach score, and sets that flow like a dance — in­clud­ing a se­ries of cur­tains open­ing onto dream­like spa­ces, the re­sult is a mind-blower, as over-the-top and vis­ually bizarre as movies come. The film achieves what opera of­ten claims to be — the syn­the­sis of mu­sic, theater, and dance. But weirder.

Opera fans will know the story — the re­count­ing by the poet Hoff­mann (played by tenor Robert Roun­seville) to his drink­ing bud­dies of the three lost loves of his life: Olympia, a me­chan­i­cal doll (Moira Shearer, the leg­endary star of The Red Shoes); Gi­uli­etta, a Vene­tian cour­te­san (the al­lur­ing bal­le­rina Lud­milla Tché­rina); and An­to­nia, an opera singer dy­ing of con­sump­tion on a Greek is­land (so­prano Ann Ayars). Each ro­mance is pre­sented as a sep­a­rate act, with char­ac­ter names and pho­tos dis­played on-screen be­fore each sec­tion like in a theater pro­gram.

Along with a cast of drink­ing cho­rus men, waltz­ing hu­man­like mar­i­onettes, and Ital­ian orgy par­tic­i­pants are Rus­sian chore­og­ra­pher and ballet dancer Léonide Mas­sine and Bri­tish chore­og­ra­pher Fred­er­ick Ash­ton tak­ing on danc­ing du­ties and lay­ing down a num­ber of creepy char­ac­ter roles with rel­ish. Per­haps the most strik­ing per­for­mance is that of Aus­tralian dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Robert Help­mann, Mar­got Fonteyn’s on­stage part­ner. Help­mann plays mul­ti­ple vil­lains in the movie, and his odd­look­ing face and huge eyes cre­ate, in close-ups, an un­set­tling im­pres­sion that no amount of makeup could pro­duce.

The Tales of Hoff­mann of­fers none of the mu­si­cal pu­rity of a Metropoli­tan Opera pro­duc­tion nor are the danc­ing and act­ing par­tic­u­larly first-rate. But the film, re­port­edly pro­duced in 17 days, of­fers some­thing dif­fer­ent: a kind of wild cre­ativ­ity that never seems to make it to the screen any­more. Think Night of the Living Dead meets The Phantom of the Opera, with Sal­vador Dalí as art direc­tor and Ni­jin­sky as chore­og­ra­pher. The Tales of Hoff­mann de­serves its own cult fol­low­ing.

What’s up, Tiger Lily? Moira Shearer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.