The Man Who Loved Dead Women

28 Aug 2013: The Tales of Hoffmann (DVD, 1951, Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)

Something in me revolts at least a little nowadays whenever I watch films that give no choice as to where attention should be directed, even when it’s within sets and performances as expectedly magical and fantastic as those of Powell & Pressburger. Perhaps because of the often flat and backdropped materials to the rear, shots tend to center on individual characters, and the camera directly follows their motions – there is a lot of cutting between different people rather than allowing viewers to pick out details from a broader frame (i.e., the way one traditionally watches an opera, and also many a great movie) except in a few instances. But the magic and the fantasy well outweigh those concerns, besides the inventive costumes and the dazzling ballet sequences added for the film: camera tricks, editing and an overall ambiance of otherworldliness that evokes parts of The Red Shoes and Jean Cocteau (Scorsese pointed that out on the commentary) all heighten the mood of rarefied transportation well beyond the typical world of the mundane and even the movies.

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