DirectorMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Release Date(s)1948 (July 20, 2010)
Studio(s)Janus Film (Criterion - Spine #44)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Eager young ballerina Victoria Page (played by real-life dancer Moira Shearer) sets out on the road to stardom under the tutelage of obsessive stage producer Lermontov (Anton Wolbrook) with the companionship of the ballet’s composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Caught between her love for her work and Craster, her struggle ultimately drives her to tragedy.
The Red Shoes was a more sophisticated kind of entertainment than most might have perceived it to be. Released in 1948 and made by the creative team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (whose previous successes included The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus), it’s one of those cinematic experiences that more so than not changes or even challenges the film landscape. Everything from the performances, design, color, lighting and narrative themes are all meticulously crafted and even (dare I say) put Powell and Pressburger’s previous works to shame. While the focus is primarily a seemingly innocuous and relatively straightforward look at the behind-the-scenes workings of a ballet troupe, it also contains one of film’s great set pieces: a lush and beautifully artistic ballet of the original “The Red Shoes” story that, on-screen, mixes fantasy with reality in a surreal production that many consider to be the finest representation of ballet in film.
The team behind this particular release have really outdone themselves. Created from a new high definition master that utilizes an award-winning restoration from 2009, I couldn’t be any more pleased with the A/V presentation. Shot using the three strip Technicolor film process, the color palette of the film comes to vivid life. Blacks, reds, greens and blues are all deep and lush (as they are with most Technicolor pieces). As Scorsese mentions in the video introduction to the film, this newly-produced print is much sharper and more precise than it was upon the original release. Despite all of the digital manipulation, grain is still very solid and barely noticeable throughout. While a great deal of time was spent removing color breathing and molding from the prints during the restoration process, there are still some telltale signs in certain spots. However, it doesn’t detract from the overall presentation at all, which is a presentation that is absolutely breathtaking. The original mono soundtrack has also been included, giving us a taste of what it must have been like to experience this in 1948. It’s quite an even soundtrack that leaves little to complain about. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
There are a healthy amount of extras to compliment this release, as well. There’s the aforementioned video introduction with Martin Scorsese as he explains and shows examples of the restoration process, an audio commentary with film historian Ian Christie as moderator and interviews with cinematographer Jack Cardiff, actors Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, composer Brian Easdale and Scorsese all woven together, a documentary on the making of the film: Profile of “The Red Shoes”, and a video interview with Michael Powell’s widow and Scorsese’s long-time collaborator, editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell. Also included is Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from the novelization of “The Red Shoes” and the original Hans Christian Anderson story, separate tracks and both of which can be played back during the film. Closing it all out are photographs from Scorsese’s personal collection of memorabilia from the film, ”The Red Shoes” Sketches (which also contains an animated storyboard presentation of the film’s centerpiece sequence), the original theatrical trailer and a 25 page booklet featuring essays and restoration details.
Quite obviously, The Red Shoes is one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films, but it also shows up in many cinema enthusiasts’ top ten lists the world over (including my own). The bottom line is that this film is an encapsulating experience. Pure cinema, in every sense of the phrase, it still holds a great deal of power over sixty years after its original release. With the loving care put into this Blu-ray presentation, it’s essential viewing for film fans.
- Tim Salmons