"The Tales of Hoffman" was an opera originally preformed in 1981. Powell and Pressburger have a vast taste in art, and it is clear they are a big fan of Broadway shows. They were very fond of the opera, and were very careful to be faithful. However, since The Tales of Hoffman was created primarily for an English-speaking, therefor the language of the opera needed to be changed. At times the lyrics don't seem quite write, but if you put that aside - you will enjoy the film.
I believe the main reason The Tales of Hoffman was made was to go behind the stage. When you watch an opera you sit in a far seat on a stage. However in The Tales of Hoffman we move around as the character are restrained to one small stage.
Hoffman is an elegant and handsome poet. One day he goes to see his new love, Stella preform in a ballet. After the ballet he goes to a tavern and recounts the stories of his failed attempts at love. There are several distinct and bizarre reasons for these failed attempts. For example, one of the women he loved was revealed to be simply a mechanical doll.
Hoffman soon learns that there is more than just misfortune responsible for these failure with love. In fact, there may be an evil presence seeking vengeance against Hoffman.
Everyone who has watched a Powell and Pressburger film is familiar with their usage of Technicolor. It is not used with more skill in The Tales of Hoffman, but I believe it fits the story more. Powell and Pressburger's theory on the use of colour was that it should be used if they had enough money in their budget. This at times lives us with a film that does not benefit from Technicolor, such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. However, The Tales of Hoffman uses colour to make people, objects and scenes go beyond reality into a realm of dreams. That is perfectly suited for the plot and style of The Tales of Hoffman.
Whenever there was a close-up on a character in The Tales of Hoffman I felt very distracted. Powell and Pressburger give the direction to slobber their actors and actress in make-up to the point when they look like cartoon characters. This is especially strange considering this is completely unnoticeable in the long shots.
The Tales of Hoffman is filled to the very peak with extravagant and luscious costumes. Overall, they contributed to the fantasy of the story. However, in a large-budget Powell and Pressburger film, what can you expect? I would have disappointing if the costumes were a little less than they were. Yet, they were still very impressive.
A majority of the actors and actresses in this film act as if they were in a silent film. That statement may seem as if it were positive... so let me elaborate. When the characters in silent films over acted to demonstrate their emotions it was done for a reason, to convey the characters feelings when they could not say "Gee... I'm hungry." However, The Tales of Hoffman is not a silent movie. Although all the dialogue is through song, the words convey their characters thoughts perfectly. There was no need for this over-expression of emotion.
I have a problem with the casting in The Tales of Hoffman. As we learned in this film and even before in The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer is a fabulous dancer. She is also a marvelous actor. However, she is not a beautiful singer. In order to adapt "The Tales of Hoffman" there is a certain kind of voice that is required. Moira Shearer does not have this voice. In fact, it is my belief that she was hired because of her other contributions with Powell and Pressburger. They most likely had a good relationship since 50% of the films she acted in were Powell and Pressburger films.
There are several overlapping themes in Powell and Pressburger films. Once I noticed after I watched The Tales of Hoffman was how the two filmmakers enjoy drawing comparisons between two characters by having two separate actors or actresses play them. In The Tales of Hoffman Moira Shearer plays Stella, Hoffman's current love and Olympia, one of his loves. However, like all Powell and Pressburger films there is one film where a current theme in used best. This is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp were Deborah Kerr plays several of Colonel Blimps lovers.
At this point I have neglected to mention one of the most jaw-dropping aspects of the film. The Tales of Hoffman contains beautiful styles of dance. I am no expert dance, in fact I cannot even point out what was good about it, I can just tell you there was a great deal of dancing talent within the cast.
Powell and Pressuburger are more concerned with style over film making with The Tales of Hoffman. There is not a single unique camera angle or camera movement. The entire film is practically a compilation of long-shots, mid-shots and close-ups. The Tales of Hoffman positions it's camera and makes us watch with no personality of the camera.
My final point is about the transition of a stage opera to a film opera. If you are an opera fan, I suggest watching the opera over seeing the film. There is a stage presence that can only be captured on stage. There is a feeling of seeing live humans preform the art that can never be captured on camera.
Powell and Pressuburger's The Tales of Hoffman misses greatness but certainly dwells as a 'good' film that uses elements we've seen before in their films.
The Tales of Hoffman,
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Powell,
Starring: Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann and Robert Rounseville
1. The Tales of Hoffman