Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Price of Reflection

I watched Powell and Pressburger's adaptation of The Tales of Hoffmann again last night. I'm always awed by the beautiful fusion of opera, ballet, and film accomplished by that movie, and last night I was marvelling at the intensity of creative expression that went in every moment. The beauty of Hein Heckroth's designs, and I was also noticing the use of special effects.

George Romero's featured on the DVD talking about what an influence the film was on him, which one might perceive from the scene where Olympia's dismembered, but that's only one moment of fascinating physical trickery. There's the business with the reflections in the second tale, and Robert Helpmann turning candle wax into gems, obviously with a slight of hand artist stand-in, was reminiscent of the Beast turning Belle's tears to diamonds in Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, something Francis Coppola borrowed for his Dracula film. And tricks with the camera, too--my favourite of the physical stunts is in the third tale, when Helpmann, this time as sinister Dr. Miracle, almost inexplicably makes four columns disappear.

The menace implied by just the fact that he's a doctor is something that reminded me of War and Peace, as Tolstoy often times showed characters becoming healthier the moment they were out of reach of doctors. I'm getting the impression of a wide spread hatred for doctors in the nineteenth century. I suppose antiquated methods may have indeed often made things worse, though I'd like to see some statistics.

Anyway, the third tale is wonderfully nightmarish. There's a bit where Antonia, bed ridden by consumption, is seen running panicked across the room and out the door, only to appear again on the opposite side of the room while meanwhile black cloaked Dr. Miracle is leaning over her apparently empty bed. This reflects an earlier bit where Miracle shows up at the house and immediately begins checking the pulse of an invisible Antonia on a settee, and the impression that's conveyed is that these are deliberate affronts to physical laws that nonetheless elicit natural responses--even as the later scene is an impression of someone's frightened spirit while her body is immobile. The sickness and the doctor become two aspects of the same unnatural force.

I was also thinking about Helpmann's role of nemesis to Hoffmann, and it occurred to me that the trouble Hoffmann has with all three women is always directly tied to something about Hoffmann personally. In the first case, it's Hoffmann's delusion that Olympia's even a real person. In the second, Giuletta steals his reflection, and in the third, Hoffmann's love of music is tied to the cause of Antonia's death, as she eventually can't resist singing, thanks to the machinations of Miracle. So the three forms Helpmann takes as Hoffmann's nemesis--the maker of the spectacles that cause Hoffman to perceive Olympia as real, Giuletta's pimp, and Dr. Miracle--are embodiments of the destructive aspects of Hoffmann's essence.

When at the end of the opera, Hoffmann realises these three loves were in fact manifestations of the same woman, to me this is indicative more of the poet's realisation of the nature of himself in respect to women. In the opera, he dedicates himself to his muse at the end--the movie omits this, instead just reprising the drinking song, and one supposes alcohol may be a better lover for this guy. Though Hoffmann's friend, Nicklaus, is still a man played by a woman, suggesting the muse aspect of the plot is still real. I think omitting directly stating the result of the story while still committing to its existence is actually a very elegant idea.

Last night's tweets;

The feral boxer rides a unicorn.
Feline footpad's killed resisting arrest.
Tomato sauce in the ring gets just scorn.
Punchy Bandit's pugilism's Pete Best.

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