A Unique Puppet-Theater Universe


Certain varietals of grandly gestured cinema inspire crazed, indecipherable, passionate devotion among cinephiles: The films of Welles, Oph Sirk, Leone, Scorsese, and Wong, for example, tend to magnetize our nerve endings more than our frontal lobes, and such infatuations tend to last a lifetime. Of course Michael Powell belongs on the list; it’s not a question of whether you’re in love with a Powell film, but which one. Cultists stake their ground all over, but Powell and co-artiste Emeric Pressburger were never as grand or wildly sensual as in The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), a hellzapoppin filmization of the Offenbach opera, with design by Hein Heckroth and choreography by Frederick Ashton. As intensely expressionistic as any film since Caligari, and at the same time a veritable nova of springtime élan, the movie inhabits a unique puppet-theater universe, and could seduce a eunuch. There’s just no describing this thing, which doesn’t stop fanboys Martin Scorsese (in the inevitable audio commentary) and George A. Romero (in an extended interview) from trying to articulate their age-old ardor. The DVD also includes the hard-to-see short film Powell made in 1956 of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, original production art, archival photos, trailers, and an essay by Powellite Ian Christie.

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