Musical

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, Norman Jewison)

There’s a lot bad about Jesus Christ Superstar. Some of it is casting, a lot of it is Jewison’s direction choices. He’s clearly thrilled to be shooting in the Middle East, but it doesn’t connect to his actual narrative. It connects to the subject matter, just not the film Jewison ends up making. The one where there’s little or no connective tissue between scenes and where Jewison can’t figure out where to have his actors look while they’re singing. It’s kind of important in a musical and sometimes they look to the sky–occasionally even when it’s appropriate–other times they look directly into the camera.

Or, a lot of the time, Jewison never shows them singing at all. Instead, the music of Jesus Christ Superstar is a soundtrack to their otherwise silent lives. Very silent. There’s maybe a baaa from one of the symbolic sheep. It gets to be a real problem in the second half, when a crowd is chasing Jesus (a very blond, Robin Hood-goateed Ted Neeley) and it’s clear there ought to be ambient noise. Of course, the movie’s jumped into the deep end by that time so it doesn’t really matter.

The film’s first act is the strongest, even if Jewison can’t figure out how to direct Carl Anderson’s scenes. Anderson plays Judas, who gets the opening number. Jewison’s solution is to make Anderson tiny, letting the scenery overpower. It takes Jewison until the second act to get comfortable showing his actors actually singing. With Anderson it works. Anderson acts while singing. Yvonne Elliman is phenomenal at it, even when Jewison edits her songs horribly. Neeley’s not so good. He’s a stone-faced Jesus. Though still somewhat likable.

During the second act, anyway. In the third act, when he’s just a prisoner, there’s so much other bad stuff going on, there’s no point in keeping track of Neeley.

The bad stuff in the third act are Barry Dennen and Josh Mostel. Dennen’s bad. Some of it is Jewison’s direction of the scene. Some of it isn’t. Mostel is just plain horrible. The scene’s terribly directed and probably should be offensive if Jewison weren’t just so lame at it and Mostel is horrible. If the film has any good will left at that point, Mostel burns it up. Dennen might be tolerable without him. Though the looping is atrocious on Dennen’s song.

Decent singing and performance from Bob Bingham. Not from Kurt Yaghjian.

Neeley’s got a fine voice. He can’t act but he’s got a fine voice. And it’s not like if he could act, the movie would be much better. Jewison’s got a lot of bad ideas, for symbolism, for narrative, for composition.

Good photography from Douglas Slocombe. Able if terribly conceptualized editing from Antony Gibbs–except when he’s cutting between Anderson’s final number and Neeley’s walk to Golgotha, that sequence is awesomely cut. Kind of lame as far as the cruxifiction scene plays out–Jewison lets his pretense run loose and it fails the promise of Anderson’s finale–but that editing is excellent.

Jewison just does a bad job with it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Jewison, based on the opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Lloyd Webber; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jewison and Robert Stigwood; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ), Carl Anderson (Judas Iscariot), Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), Barry Dennen (Pontius Pilate), Bob Bingham (Caiaphas), Larry Marshall (Simon Zealotes), Kurt Yaghjian (Annas), Paul Thomas (Peter), and Josh Mostel (King Herod).


Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour (2012, Laurence Connor and Nick Morris)

Besides having an unwieldy title, Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour does have quite a few things to recommend it. Within reason. It’s still just a video taping of a live performance–albeit an occasionally rather decent one, albeit with the ability to do complicated shots. Lots of crane moves and zooms. Unfortunately, taping director Morris isn’t very good. Melanie C gets some particularly bad shots during her solos and it’s clear she knows she’s being filmed, but apparently not from where.

Don’t tell me a Spice Girl doesn’t know how to make a music video.

And Laurence Connor, the director of this staging of the musical, integrates live video footage of the performance already. It’s on a big screen–it’s the Arena version after all–and occasionally you’ll see the timing on the big screen footage is better on the cuts to Morris’s version. There are five credited film editors–including Morris–so I’ll just make it easy by blaming Morris for all of that stuff. Especially all the religious imagery at the end, which is actually counter to how an audience member would be seeing the performance.

Got to make it a little more churchy for Morris, apparently.

As for the performance itself, there are ups and downs. Tim Minchin is good. There are occasional weaker moments, but he’s good. And he gives a great performance. He’s the only principal who acts. Mel C and Ben Forster (as Jesus)… well, I was going to say they perform but not exactly. Mel C performs. Forster just sort of mugs. He’s not good. Mel C is all right, but Forster is just bad. At performing and singing. And acting.

For the first act, I couldn’t stop cringing when he’d sing and then Morris would ineptly capture it.

The supporting cast has some real standouts. Alexander Hanson is awesome. Gerard Bentall is awesome. Pete Gallagher is pretty good, Chris Moyles is okay but Morris really flubs the Herod number. He also starts cutting to cheaper DV for some weak shots in the last quarter or so. Michael Pickering’s duet with Mel C is nice. He doesn’t stand out in anything else (at least, not in a good way), but their duet is nice.

I’m not exactly sure what a good taped performance of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Arena Tour would look like, but it’s not this one. Morris is either lifeless or incompetent. He’s annoyingly obvious. Though, then again, it’s not like Forster’s his fault. Apparently Forster is the fault of the great British public, who cast him through a reality show.

Connor’s production, Minchin, some of the supporting cast, they get it to the finish. The second act, even with Morris’s taping worse, is a significant uptick from the first.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Laurence Connor and Nick Morris; written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice; lighting director, Steve Nolan; edited by Morris, Brett Sullivan, David Tregoning, and Guy Morley; produced by Dione Orrom and Sullivan; released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Starring Tim Minchin (Judas), Ben Forster (Jesus Christ), Melanie C (Mary Magdalane), Alexander Hanson (Pontius Pilate), Pete Gallagher (Caiaphas), Gerard Bentall (Annas), Michael Pickering (Peter), and Chris Moyles (King Herod).


The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)

So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.

Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.

This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.

The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.

Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage musical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and ideas by George Hurdalek; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by William Reynolds; music by Irwin Kostal; production designer, Boris Leven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Gilchrist Stuart (Franz), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl) and Eleanor Parker (The Baroness).


Rock Rock Rock! (1956, Will Price)

Some of Rock Rock Rock! is awful. Director Price goes for the most boring shot every single time–with his cast members on cheap sets, never making it into location establishing shots. Just once would’ve been great. There’s some really bad acting too. Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jacqueline Kerr. Randazzo has the “excuse” of being a singer acting, but Manfred and Kerr are just atrocious. Price can’t direct, of course. When there’s a good moment from Jack Collins, it’s because he’s visibly bored and trying something with his performance.

But some of Rock Rock Rock! is great. Chuck Berry’s performance is great, some of the other performances are excellent too. Of course, these performances are when Tuesday Weld–who plays the lead in the rather strained narrative tying together live rock performances–is watching Alan Freed on television. When Weld and the rest of the cast go to their prom–Randazzo has arranged to have Freed come and DJ the prom, bringing a variety of performers with him–those performances aren’t so good. The narrative, at its most dramatic point, stops.

And it’s a bunch of groups performing on a terrible country club banquet hall stage. Still, La Vern Baker’s performance is good; the rockabilly guy seems a tad embarrassed to be situation in front of a giant paper maché fireplace though.

And Randazzo’s performance–after two generally okay in scene numbers–is weak. Probably because the film doesn’t acknowledge he’s part of the narrative. He just steps out of it for a second, even though his performance should have all sorts of dramatic overtones. Like I said, bad direction from Price.

Weld’s pretty darn good. She gets some terrible scenes, some terrible writing, but she gets through it all. She’s great at lipsyncing to Connie Francis too.

Blandine Hafela’s editing doesn’t help things–it’s amazing how there are clearly good dancers and Price and Hafela butcher their abilities.

And the film does have one excellent scene where Weld, previously played as something of a dope, outsmarts her nemesis.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Will Price; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on a story by Subotsky and Phyllis Coe; director of photography, Morris Hartzband; edited by Blandine Hafela; produced by Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Dori), Teddy Randazzo (Tommy), Fran Manfred (Arabella), Jacqueline Kerr (Gloria), Ivy Schulman (Baby), Jack Collins (Dori’s father), Carol Moss (Dori’s mother), Eleanor Swayne (Miss Silky) and Alan Freed (himself).


Grease (1978, Randal Kleiser)

The point of Grease isn’t the story, which is good, because screenwriters Bronte Woodard and Allan Carr do a disastrous job plotting. They also do a terrible job of writing their characters–ostensible protagonists John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John have the worst characterizations in a film full of bad characterizations. It doesn’t help the supporting cast does a lot better with their roles; they may all be caricatures, but actors like Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Kelly Ward and Didi Conn manage to do wonders with them.

The point of Grease is the musical numbers. The ones with Newton-John are terrible. Her acting is bad and her performing during her numbers is bad. Her singing is fine. Travolta apes well during his numbers and his singing is generally all right. When he’s got his melancholy solo, it’s a little much. Maybe because director Kleiser can’t direct the numbers when they aren’t fanciful.

But when they are fanciful–like Frankie Avalon’s number–Grease is awesome. About half of the musical numbers are good. Unfortunately, the other half tend to be tepid at best–especially the opening one introducing the protagonists.

There are some really nice smaller turns from Eve Arden and Sid Caesar. The film seems to appreciate it has solid cameo actors, but doesn’t really know how to use them. It doesn’t know how to use the main cast either, so it’s no surprise.

And after the first act, Grease moves really well. Except the inept car race sequence.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay by Bronte Woodard and Allen Carr, based on the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by John F. Burnett; produced by Robert Stigwood and Carr; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Danny), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy), Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Barry Pearl (Doody), Michael Tucci (Sonny), Kelly Ward (Putzie), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Jamie Donnelly (Jan), Dinah Manoff (Marty), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), Frankie Avalon (Teen Angel), Joan Blondell (Vi), Edd Byrnes (Vince Fontaine), Alice Ghostley (Mrs. Murdock), Dody Goodman (Blanche) and Sid Caesar (Coach Calhoun).


Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper)

Thank goodness for Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen… otherwise, someone might confuse Russell Crowe’s performance as the most inept in Les Misérables. Actually, Crowe’s quite a bit better than Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried too. Redmayne just can’t sing–neither can Crowe, but it doesn’t impair his acting too much–and Seyfried’s just misused. Director Hooper–possibly sticking to the original stage production–never bothers to establish her relationship with adoptive father Hugh Jackman. As a result, Seyfried never resonates.

As for Jackman, he’s good but the film takes place around him. It works when it’s Anne Hathaway, who’s absolutely amazing in the film and just one of her songs is worth sitting through the entire boring picture, but flops when it’s Redmayne. Samantha Barks is part of a love triangle with Redmayne and Seyfried and she’s not bad. She can’t carry the second half of the film though.

What’s so inexplicable about Les Misérables is the bad casting. Why anyone put Redmayne in it opposite someone who can obviously sing and act–Aaron Tveit–and then give Redmayne the bigger role is (artistically speaking) beyond me. Hooper mollycoddles about half the cast, which doesn’t do the film any favors.

Of course, Hooper doesn’t do it many favors himself. He can’t direct actors (child actor Daniel Huttlestone is atrocious) and he can’t direct the CG sequences either. The film looks absurdly silly at times, especially with Danny Cohen’s truly incompetent photography.

Hathaway and Jackman deserve a better production.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Hooper; screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on the musical by Boublil and Schönberg and the novel by Victor Hugo; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Chris Dickens and Melanie Oliver; music by Schönberg, lyrics by Kretzmer; production designer, Eve Stewart; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Éponine), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier), Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette).


Rock of Ages (2012, Adam Shankman)

Rock of Ages is middling. With a better script and better lead actors, it would likely be much improved. Female lead Julianne Hough gives an okay performance, but her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Male lead Diego Boneta can sing, he just can’t act. Their romance, the ostensible central story of Ages, is annoying.

The film’s salient feature is Tom Cruise. Playing a has-been rock star who finds a little redemption, Cruise is fantastic. He finds the humor of the persona, but also the humanity behind it. Once he shows up, Ages becomes about waiting for him to show up again.

The film also tracks the story of club owner Alec Baldwin and his Friday, Russell Brand. The script writes them a bunch of bad jokes, but they still succeed. They’re clearly having a lot of fun.

Also having fun is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, out to shut Baldwin down. She does a great job; even though her character’s intentionally unlikable (Ages probably won’t play well in Oklahoma, for instance), she’s a delight.

As Cruise’s agent, Paul Giamatti is good, but he’s not trying very hard. He lets his fake ponytail do the heavy lifting. Malin Akerman manages to be lifeless, but not bad. The only other bad performance is Mary J. Blige; her singing’s great though.

Director Shankman does all right. Emma E. Hickox’s editing is lousy, which doesn’t help things.

Ages is often a lot of fun. The great Cruise performance helps.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Shankman; screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, based on the musical book by D’Arienzo; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Emma E. Hickox; music by Adam Anders and Peer Åström; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant, Carl Levin, Tobey Maguire, Scott Prisand, Shankman and Matt Weaver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Julianne Hough (Sherrie Christian), Diego Boneta (Drew Boley), Russell Brand (Lonny), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree), Paul Giamatti (Paul Gill), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Patricia Whitmore), Bryan Cranston (Mike Whitmore), Malin Akerman (Constance Sack), Mary J. Blige (Justice Charlier) and Tom Cruise (Stacee Jaxx).


The Magic Flute (2006, Kenneth Branagh)

With the exception of The Tales of Hoffmann, I’m not really familiar with any other efforts to adapt an opera to film. I guess there are those Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptations (right?), but I don’t think of them in the same sense–the artistic one. Branagh’s The Magic Flute has more in common with his Hamlet then it does Hoffmann (and, I imagine, Phantom of the Opera).

Branagh sets his adaptation in a World War I setting–there are similar uniforms and trench warfare–to fine effect. The film opens with Branagh going wild with CG–something he does later–but he does it well. The film requires an indulgent suspension of disbelief immediately and it’s hard to get upset about the little CG butterfly. But after this strong opening, in the first act section, The Magic Flute falters.

Technically, the section is solid and all the singing is good. But the film introduces way too many characters in way too little time. Worse, the film takes a backseat to the concept here–the singers have English lines, but it’s frequently impossible to understand them. Whether or not any important narrative information is being conveyed doesn’t really matter–the impression exists, so it’s hard not to feel like one’s missing something. It isn’t just the unintelligibility, it’s also the way Branagh structures the first act. The Magic Flute feels very much like a gimmick–a filmed opera with CG; there’s technical competence–technical excellence, really–but without any visible artistic impulse.

Until the big trick.

I’m not sure it is a trick–I browsed the opera’s page on wikipedia but didn’t look too close–I might have just missed something. But there’s a reveal about halfway through the film, a little earlier, and immediately, everything changes.

Without trying to get through exposition–an impossible task given the storytelling techniques–Branagh and his cast get to immerse themselves in the material. It all gets very simple and very predictable and joyous to watch.

As the leads, Joseph Kaiser and Amy Carson have incredible chemistry, though the majority of their scenes are apart. Renè Pape is spectacular–he might have some of the best scenes. Benjamin Jay Davis, in the comedic sidekick role, gets grating rather fast. All of the singing is good, like I said before, as is the straight dialogue delivery.

That dialogue confused me, since I always thought operas were all singing, no dialogue. Here Branagh uses the dialogue sparingly and only in essential scenes. But there is one section at the end when I got impatient waiting for people to start singing again.

The Magic Flute has an iffy opening, a great middle and a long close. Not being familiar the opera, I don’t know if Branagh cut anything, but he should have done something with the ending. There are two or three false endings. Though they tie up all the subplot threads, the subplots aren’t important anymore after the big finish.

It’s hard to describe the middle of the film’s accomplishment; usually, artistry doesn’t show up late. It’s either present or not. But The Magic Flute is a different situation.

A lot of it is probably Branagh’s best work as a director–and it reminded me not to discount him.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Branagh and Stephen Fry, adapted for the screen by Branagh, English liberetto and dialogue by Fry, based on the opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, liberetto by Emanuel Schikaneder; director of photography, Roger Lanser; edited by Michael Parker; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Pierre-Olivier Bardet and Simon Moseley; released by Les Films du Losange.

Starring Joseph Kaiser (Tamino), Amy Carson (Pamina), René Pape (Sarastro), Lyubov Petrova (Queen of the Night), Benjamin Jay Davis (Papageno), Silvia Moi (Papagena), Tom Randle (Monostatos), Ben Uttley (Priest) and Teuta Koço (First Lady).


Mamma Mia! (2008, Phyllida Lloyd)

The first act of Mamma Mia! practically kills the entire thing. The goofy proposition of a musical set to ABBA songs engenders a lot of curiosity (one starring Meryl Streep provokes a lot more), but the first act–when it tries to be a narrative–is a disaster. The attempts at narrative and summary storytelling are atrocious. The first act would have been more successful if the movie had just started by playing the trailer to establish itself. There’s also the problem with Amanda Seyfried, who’s awful when the story centers around her. Luckily, it’s only for that first act. Later on, when Seyfried’s supporting, she’s better.

The movie starts getting entertaining–and Mamma Mia! is nothing but entertaining, the joke of it being the presence of Streep and Pierce Brosnan, both of whom are established, undeniable movie stars. It’s fun watching them have fun (I suppose Mamma Mia! is a low rent Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen as it were). Anyway, it gets entertaining when Julie Walters and Christine Baranski arrive. Once the film gets those two and Streep together, it’s a lot of fun. Baranski’s the only cast member who I’d expect to see in Mamma Mia! Watching Julie Walters in the movie is almost more disconcerting than seeing Streep in it.

I’m unfamiliar with modern musicals, so I don’t know if this “style” is the norm, but Mamma Mia! is absurd as one of the Muppet movies. It tries for humor in the same way (a line of the song leads to some amusing, literal sight gag), which is a lot different than presenting a narrative set to music. The failed first act never established itself as acknowledging its absurdity, something Seyfried’s ever-pensive performance doesn’t help.

At times with Streep and Brosnan–mostly with Streep, because Brosnan seems perfectly aware his presence in the film is silly and can’t stop grinning–there’s the implication the movie’s format is wasting its cast. Maybe Streep should have made a movie with Brosnan about middle-aged romance or one with Seyfried (well, not Seyfried, but some other young actress) about letting go of an about-to-be married daughter. But then Streep sings and brings her superior acting ability to it. Streep’s not a good singer (but better than I would have thought, ABBA songs lend themselves to enthusiasm over ability), but her performance makes it not matter. It makes the super-pop songs all of a sudden of the greatest human import. All because of Streep.

The rest of the cast is fine. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård get the heave-ho once the focus shifts from Seyfried to Streep but it’s hard to miss them. Seeing Pierce Brosnan break out into song–he seems to be trying to turn ABBA into Irish folk songs–obscures their absence. Mamma Mia! is one of the first times it becomes clear what a good movie star Brosnan has turned into–quite a turnaround for someone who was doing direct-to-cable movies twenty years ago.

The direction–which is essentially a string of music videos strung together–is occasionally annoying, as is the digitally enhanced cinematography. But it’s a fine enough hour and forty minutes… with the last number making any problems more than worth enduring.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; written by Catherine Johnson, based on her original musical book, originally conceived by Judy Craymer based on the songs of ABBA; director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos; edited by Lesley Walker; music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Craymer and Gary Goetzman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Stellan Skarsgård (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie) and Christine Baranski (Tanya).


The Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

In honor of Dennis Arundell’s translation of The Tales of Hoffman‘s lyrics (into English), how visually flawless, how totally heartless.

Hoffmann is not an adaptation of the opera, rather a filmic performance. Depending on your opinion, this approach is either the benefit or failure of the film. The performances–hopefully–were meant to be judged on their singing and dancing, because there’s no real acting going on. No characters being created, no conflict being charted. I spent the entire film looking at the clock.

The film is beautiful. The Archers do color German expressionist–but manage it well, with a few moments Fellini lifted. Except Fellini added human conflict to the moments, making them more than pretty. There’s a few really amusing moments when they concentrate on one of the supporting characters, not because she’s necessary, but because they can’t totally ignore the dramatic need….

Powell and Pressburger are so good–so beyond good–everyone ought to be a completist, making The Tales of Hoffmann a necessary viewing. If you like opera, you might even enjoy it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell, Pressburger and Dennis Arundell, based on the libretto by Jules Barbier and the stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Jacques Offenbach; production designer, Hein Heckroth; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Robert Rounseville (Hoffmann), Moira Shearer (Stella and Olympia), Ludmilla Tchérina (Giulietta), Anne Ayars (Antonia), Pamela Brown (Nicklaus), Léonide Massine (Spalanzani, Schlemil and Franz), Robert Helpmann (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr. Miracle), Frederick Ashton (Kleinsach and Cochenille), Mogens Wieth (Crespel), Lionel Harris (Pitichinaccio), Philip Leaver (Andreas) and Meinhart Maur (Luther).


Scroll to Top