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Essential Art House: Tales Of Hoffmann

4.4 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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(Sep 15, 2009)
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Editorial Reviews

Jacques Offenbach's opera becomes a cinematic feast for the senses in the hands of the brilliant British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus). Featuring the amazing Moira Shearer in multiple roles, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN is a splendid Technicolor fantasia of dreams and nightmares that incorporates ballet, song, and stunning visual effects.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérina, Ann Ayars, Pamela Brown
  • Directors: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
  • Writers: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, Dennis Arundell, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Jules Barbier
  • Format: Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: September 15, 2009
  • Run Time: 128 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002E01MAQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,794 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Essential Art House: Tales Of Hoffmann" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
As a member of a couple of film societies I'm often asked "What is your favorite film?". To which I usually respond that I like many different films each having its own merits and I can't really choose just one. Yet if I had to take one film to a desert island it would be this one, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1951 extravaganza THE TALES OF HOFFMANN. No other film has managed to combine most of my favorite elements the way this one has. It has fantasy, classical music, dance, stunning camerawork, editing, and imaginative visuals all blended into a seamless whole. In fact this film is really the first music video as the score was recorded first and then the movie was shot to fit it afterwards which makes it essentially a silent film. This allowed the filmmakers total freedom to do what they wanted from a visual standpoint as cameras and performers could be manuevered without fear of making noise. I think I can safely say that no other film looks like this one.

It also doesn't hurt that Jacques Offenbach's opera on which this is based is one of my favorite classical works (although this version edited by Sir Thomas Beecham is not for opera purists) while E.T.A. Hoffmann is one of my favorite fantasy writers (three of his stories THE SANDMAN, A NEW YEAR'S EVE ADVENTURE and RATH KRESPEL are used). This makes it even more remarkable that a single film could do justice to so many of my favorite likes. The new DVD release from Criterion is up to their usual high standards offering a crystal clear picture with excellent sound plus a host of extras including subtitles for all the dialogue and arias which enable you to understand what is going on with the story. I have had this film on VHS for years and have waited patiently for it to come out on DVD.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
It is true that, as other reviewrs have asserted, this may not be "Tales" as Offenbach originally concieved it. A case can be made that the current 2nd act was originally intended as the final act. (where can you go after loosing and retrieving your soul?). And the english translation used in the film has some awkward phrasing - Crespel to Antonia: "Now did you not swear that that you'd not do?". This said, The film nevertheless stands as a brilliant, imaginative interpretation in its own right.
The current issue on VHS states that it restores scenes eliminated prior to its release. This is not the case. (I attended the initial release in Southern California). The restored scenes are those eliminated from the film for its application to U.S. television release - a real hatchet job to its last act. As might have been expected it had no home on American TV.
In addition to making it whole with the initial theatrical presentation color has been substantially improved as compared with the original VHS release. This makes it true to what was seen in comercial release and well worth the price of admission.
However, there are still scenes tantalizingly referenced in the video packaging which wound up on the cutting-room floor before comercial release of the film and which do not appear on the VHS video. First is Franz's aria "Day & Night I Am Always Slaving" and brief exchanges with Crespel which serve to establish his deafness (These can be heard on the London LP recording of the sound track, and a still of Massine during this aria appeared in the color program which was sold at the Premier). Second was the scene in which Nicklaus became Hoffmann's golden-gilded muse.
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Format: DVD
I saw Tales of Hoffmann years ago at an arts center in Columbus and fell in love with it. While this film is responsible for engendering in me a great affection for opera, and while Offenbach's music is lovely, powerful and timeless, this is more about the brilliance of filmmakers Powell and Pressburger than it is about the brilliance of the composer. If you want to see a great production of the opera, watch the Kultur DVD staged at the Royal Opera House by John Schlesinger. If you want to see a glorious example of cinema that just happens to have great music, then watch this film.

The sets, costumes, acting and choreography are colorful, surreal and almost unbearably beautiful. Director Powell must have empathized with the protoganist Hoffmann's plight of lost love, because there is a romantic aching to this film that transcends music, that is entirely visual. As much as I love Offenbach, watching this film with the sound off would be almost as entertaining.

Other attempts have been made to transfer opera to film, but most of them come off as just that, filmed opera, not especially cinematic, too respectful of the music to take chances. Rarely has a filmmaker utilized the full potential of film while making a movie of an opera. Zefferelli's La Traviata and Bergman's The Magic Flute are a couple of the success stories. But this is the greatest of them all.
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Format: DVD
"The Tales of Hoffmann" (1951) - a beautifully photographed film version of Jacques Offenbach's opera, his final masterpiece is a magic (and there is no other word to describe it) blend of Adventure / Romance / Fantasy / with an endless stream of gorgeous melodies, seductive and tender love scenes, bizarre characters - comic, romantic or villainous, and tragic climaxes. The film was a follow-up to "The Red Shoes" (1948) a fantasy/musical/romance/drama set in the world of ballet with the same directors, stars, and production designers.

In "The Tales of Hoffmann", Robert Rounsevill stars as E.T.A. (Ernst Theodore Amadeus) Hoffmann, the poet and writer who tells three stories of his great but unhappy loves all ending tragically thanks to the meddling of his enemy, a supernatural villain (Robert Helpmann as quadruple evil, Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr Miracle). Objects of Hoffmann's love and admiration include Olympia the wind-up doll (Moira Shearer who also plays Stella the dancer, the fourth and yet another Hoffmann's misadventure), Giulietta, the Venetian courtesan who sails away after trying to capture Hoffmann's soul (Ludmilla Tchérina -absolutely brilliant as the siren and the seductress who elegantly walks over the dead bodies, literally), and Antonia the beautiful opera-singer with the fatal voice and deadly illness. One of the greatest choreographers and dancers of the last century, Léonide Massine shines in three absolutely different roles demonstrating his talent as a dancer, strong emotions and tremendous humor.
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