The Tales of Hoffman

THE TALES OF HOFFMAN Robert Rounseville, Moira Shearer (1951, Criterion, 2 discs, $99.95, unrated) This color-drenched adaptation of Offenbach’s opera about a dissolute soul’s amours is too rich a souffle for one sitting. It’s more rewarding to sample the piled-on decor of codirectors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes) one segment at a time, and that’s just what you can do with Voyager’s disc (the movie’s not on tape). Since it’s mostly in the CAV format, you can ooh and aah at hyper-clear still frames of each impeccably composed, goofy bit of doomed-romantic whimsy. On repeat viewings, more and more ingenious touches—a seductress’ toe rings, an orgiast’s lurid bandanna-peek through.

On the disc’s alternate audio track, Martin Scorsese enthuses about individual scenes, often illuminating their meaning, sometimes just rhapsodizing about what we see: ”That cut! This cut! Pure film!” Movie-mad historian Bruce Eder interjects biographical background, and it’s helpful to listen the first time you watch the disc. For such a gilt-glazed palace of a movie, you need the guided tour. B+

The Tales of Hoffman
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