Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#317: The Tales of Hoffman

(Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1951)

Ah, the opera. As I've mentioned before, the opera and I are not especially simpatico. Like the other popular entertainment of the 19th century, non-playoff baseball, the opera is a pleasant trip out to a beautiful venue in person and a crushing bore at home on your television. The Tales of Hoffman is like a midday game at Fenway webstreamed at the office: beautiful to look at, better than work, but ultimately I'd rather just see it in person.

Of course, seeing this production in person would be impossible, since Powell and Pressburger did a number of things that are impossible (or inadvisable) to replicate in a live setting. The most obvious are the sweeping grandiose sets that morph and breathe throughout, but the ambitious camera work and soundtrack that is entirely dubbed (with many of the performers playing roles to which other singers lent their voices) make the film a notably different experience than an equivalent live performance. For a film lover who is also an opera lover, this alone makes The Tales of Hoffman worthwhile, in much the same way that The Mikado was so valuable simply because it captured a roughly representative performance of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for posterity.

And to be sure, even a young jaded opera hater such as myself cannot deny how beautiful The Tales of Hoffman is, and what an inspiring accomplishment it is. Based on a classic French libretto, the songs have been translated into English here so people would follow along with the story of a poet who is continually foiled in his romantic pursuits by the muse of art, insistent on making him love only his work.  The story follows Hoffman as he recounts three moments of lost love from his past - each more beautiful than the last, as Powell and Pressburger really pull out all the stops, turning the proceedings into one long extended version of the dance sequence in The Red Shoes, only shifted from surreal to fantastical.

Still, despite being entirely convinced that the film is a total success, this is just not a film for me. Only because this is a casual blog where I am simply throwing out my own impressions of my viewings - rather than formally reviewing a work - would I even think to offer an opinion on this film. Simply put, Very nice, but not for me.

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