GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS:
TALES OF HOFFMAN
(DIALOGUES: TALKING WITH PICTURES SERIES, THE TORONTO
INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 1999)
Screening date: Tuesday, September 14th, 1999, 2:30
Screening location: The Cumberland 2 Cinema, Cumberland
Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
THE TALES OF HOFFMAN
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (Based on Offenbach's operatic adaptation
of several stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann)
EDITOR: Reginald Mills
Ashton MUSIC: Jacques Offenbach
Sir Thomas Beecham, conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
PRINCIPAL CAST: Robert
Rounseville, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Ludmilla Tcherin COUNTRY:
United Kingdom YEAR: 1951 TIME: 138 minutes Black and White/35mm Print
courtesy of the British Film Institute and Le Studio Canal+
ABOUT THE DIALOGUES SERIES:
North American and international filmmakers representing all genres are
invited to attend the Festival and discuss a film that has had a significant
impact on their artistic sensibility. Previous presenters include John
Sayles, Jean-Luc Godard, John Waters, Arturo Ripstein, Agnieszka Holland,
David Cronenberg, Lawrence Kasdan, John Boorman, Robert Towne, and Hal
Hartley. Dialogues is organized and presented by Cinematheque Ontario.
SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM (from a 1951 programme for the
: The Opera House
in Nurnberg (Nüemburg). Hoffmann sits in the auditorium watching a
performance of the Dragonfly ballet. He is in love with Stella, the prima
ballerina, who seems the embodiment of all his past loves. In the interval
Hoffmann goes to Luther's Tavern. Here young students greet him. He sings
them the ballad of Kleinzack. But the sight of Stella has reopened old
wounds. "Would YOU hear the three tales of my folly of love?" lie asks.
The students gather round the punch bowl, with Hoffmann's companion, Nicklaus,
who has accompanied him throughout his adventures, and his enemy Lindorf.
The Tale Of Olympia
: As an inexperienced
student in Paris, Hoffmann was tricked by two puppet-makers, Spalanzani
and Coppelius, into falling in love with their latest creation, the doll
Olympia. Spalanzani passes Olympia off as his daughter and hopes by this
means to get some money from Hoffmann. At a ball given for her, Olympia
sings the "Doll Song" and dances a ballet. Hoffmann is entranced. Only
when Spalanzani and Coppelius fall out, and Coppelius destroys the doll
in revenge does Hoffmann realise how he was fooled.
The Tale Of Giulietta
: As a young
man of the world, he was enslaved by a beautiful Venetian courtesan, Giulietta.
Acting under the influence of the magician Dapertutto, Giulietta captures
his reflection and so gains possession of his soul. Hoffmann kills her
former lover Schlemil in a duel, to get the key to her room. He hurries
back to her, but finds she has left with Dapertutto. Mad with rage, he
flings the key against her mirror. It cracks, and his reflection reappears.
He has regained his soul.
The Tale Of Antonia :
As a mature artist and poet, Hoffmann falls in love with Antonia. Her mother,
a singer, has already died of consumption (Tuberculosis). Crespel, her
father, through grief at his wife's death, is now the half-mad wreck of
a formerly great conductor. Crespel keeps his daughter in seclusion on
an island in the Greek Archipelago and forbids her to aggravate her own
weakness by singing. He also forbids his deaf servant Franz to admit either
Hoffmann or the quack Dr. Miracle who killed his wife. Franz misunderstands,
and in turn shows them in. Hoffmann realises Antonia is ill, and she promises
him not to sing again. Dr. Miracle persuades her it is her mother's wish
she should disobey. She does so, and dies in his arms.
The Epilogue : On
the stage of the Opera House, it is the finale of the Stella Ballet. In
the tavern Hoffmann's audience is spellbound. Hoffmann's tales are told
and with the telling Hoffmann finds his true destiny as a poet. Stella
appears at the door of the tavern and looks down at him. But Lindorf, who
has also understood the meaning of the Tales goes to meet her and together
they pass out into the town.
"Now, I'm sure all of you know this, but long before
The Blair Witch Project there was this low budget, black and white
movie that came out that not only redefined the horror genre, but left
the audience scared shitless back in 1968-- I know, because I was one of
them. Today's film is the third Michael Powell and Edmund Pressberger film
that I've been asked to introduce over these past couple of years [director
John Boorman had selected The Archers' The Life And Death Of Colonel
Blimp the previous year, screened in the same cinema]...and
it is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Romero..."
WHY THIS MOVIE?
"Thank you, thank you for coming. Some of you might
be taken by surprise by my choice of this movie, but this is the movie
that made me want to make movies. The fantastic elements in it--I first
saw it I guess when was around 12, and I was just blown away. I was a kid
who was into comic books and television, so I mean, Robert Helpmann [a
character in the film] was the greatest "Dracula" I ever saw. I was relating
it to all the pop culture things I was brought up into, but at the same
time I came away with something much more than that--the idea of taking
a film--film images--and just matching them to music.
"This is a far cry from Fantasia, this was
a live action movie, a music video. And that's what I liked about it then--storytelling
through pure imagery... I hope you'll find it as fascinating and wonderful
an experience-- it's not often you get to see this film. It's a real thrill
that you guys were able to get the print. I'm happy to be up here, and
I'll talk to you later. Thank you!"
(THE AUDIENCE IS TREATED TO A RARE SCREENING OF A
NEAR-PRISTINE PRINT OF "TALES OF HOFFMAN", ARRANGED FOR THIS SPECIAL
PRESENTATION DIRECTLY FROM COLLECTION OF THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE)
EARLY MEMORIES OF THE FILM
"It's a treat for me to see it big. I haven't
seen it in several years. It's just beautiful --this film--when you think
that it's 1951 and they actually made it very inexpensively. They used
a lot of tricks, you know, a lot of curtains, transparencies, and scrims
--old-fashioned theatrical tricks. The rest of it is really just pure imagination...
anyway, I hope you liked it. For those of you who haven't seen it before,
I hope I turned you on to something.
"It definitely had an influence on me, I think. As
I said, I had never been really exposed to classical music or opera or
dance. I grew up in the Bronx, and there were a bunch of other guys from
New York whom this film had influenced-- Scorsese had mentioned it. There
was a show in New York called "Million Dollar Movie," they'd show a movie
twice a night and three times on Saturdays and Sundays. I was talking to
Scorsese about it, and it turns out he and I had watched every screening
of Tales Of Hoffmann on "Million Dollar Movie".
"And you used to be able to rent 16mm prints of a
movie at this place and I used to go get it out and find out that HE had
it out! [LAUGHTER]
He says it influenced him, and it definitely did me-- you could never have
it to watch on video in those days so a lot of is memories; a lot of those
images just stick in your mind (the film was Oscar nominated in 1952 for
Art Direction/Set Decoration). [according
to editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese watched Tales Of Hoffmann
throughout the shooting of Raging Bull to study the film's use of
movement] You can see, very clearly, in the
film how a lot of the things were done...they used scrims, double exposures,
slow motion, reversing the action...some of the backgrounds were paintings...it
gave me an idea of the PROCESS of making movies, and suddenly, the whole
thing seemed very accessible to me.
"It sure feels like they had a good time making it,
it has a real playful quality...you can tell it was a real collaborative
process. I once had the privilege of sharing an evening with Michael Powell,
during which I thanked him for his gifts, especially Hoffmann. 'Hoffmann,'
he replied, 'there's a movie that no one ever saw.'"
ON THE TECHNICOLOR PRINT
"This print is how it was released in the United
States and I'm guessing around the world. This is a new negative made from
the original three strip process, and somewhere along the line I guess
there must have been some shrinkage, because the strips weren't exactly
lining up...you could see a bit of the red edge..."
ON THE COSTS OF FILMMAKING
"(The Archers) had their own haven; they were always
looking for ways to experiment and push the envelope. Their films weren't
very expensive to produce...nowadays, unfortunately, with the economic
mandate, you find that films are costing more and more and nobody is spending
money in the "middle"...it's either extremely low budget films, or you
have films that start at thirty or forty million. I keep waiting for something
to change, I dunno...maybe video...maybe some new delivery mechanism? Some
sort of video image, or film image--transferred--that can be video projected,
so you don't have to worry about prints and go through the expense of all
[Webmaster note: George Lucas is developing such
an electronic delivery method, which will, in time, eliminate the high
cost of producing multiple film prints.]
"My prediction is that it's just gonna keep going
the commercial way, until there comes some process by which smaller films
can be distributed."
"I just finished a film called Bruiser. We
shot it here, and a lot of the people who worked on the film are here with
us today... and we just had a great time doing it. We just shot it and
it should be wrapped up around January or so..."
ARE YOU GOING TO DIRECT RESIDENT
"I dunno...the Internet says I am!
[LAUGHTER] We were attached to it for awhile.
My partner and I wrote a script. They didn't like it. So, they went with
another script and now, I have no idea.
"No fantasy has ever equaled Hoffmann's beauty, soul
or persuasiveness. I've read, and I agree, that its stylization becomes
a constant metaphor for the transforming power of imagination through art.
Well, time's up. Thank you all for coming out!"
OUTSIDE THE THEATRE, ON CUMBERLAND AVENUE, ROMERO
SEEMED MORE RELAXED AS HE SIGNED AUTOGRAPHS AND CHATTED WITH MEMORABILIA-TOTING
MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE-- MUCH TO THE CHAGRIN OF FESTIVAL SECURITY STAFF,
WHO SEEMED INTENT ON KEEPING FANS AWAY.
WHEN ASKED TO SIGN JOHN RUSSO'S "30TH ANNIVERSARY
SPECIAL EDITION" OF NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ROMERO REMARKED "IS
THIS THE ONE JACK PUT TOGETHER?", READ THE BACK, CHUCKLED, AND SHOOK HIS
THE EVENT ACHIEVED SOMEWHAT APPROPRIATE CLOSURE,
WHEN MARK BORSCHADT, DIRECTOR OF COVEN AND THE SUBJECT OF AMERICAN
MOVIE, POSED FOR A PHOTO WITH HIS IDOL--CLEARLY, AN INDICATION THAT
THE MAVERICK FILMMAKER'S BODY OF WORK WILL ENDURE DESPITE HIS FEARS ABOUT
THE CURRENT FILM SCENE...
-Robert J. Lewis
Ass't Forum Manager/Horror/Cult,