- New, restored high-definition digital transfer
- Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie
- Introductory restoration demonstration with Scorsese
- Profile of The Red Shoes (2000), a twenty-five-minute documentary
- Video interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell
- Gallery from Scorsese’s collection of The Red Shoes memorabilia
- The “Red Shoes” Sketches, an animated film
- Readings by actor Jeremy Irons
- Theatrical trailer
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Christie
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WHY IT’S ON THE LIST:
The Red Shoes is the most beautiful film to have ever been made in color.
I decided to start this article off with the most extreme claim I could make. I don’t want to beat around the bush to get to my hyperbole; I’ll jump right to it. But here’s the thing: that statement is not hyperbole at all. It’s actually quite true, and I doubt anyone who has seen The Red Shoes could ever attempt to refute it. While there may be a scant few films that are as beautiful as The Red Shoes, there are none that surpass it. Especially when seen in the new restored print.
The restored print is a marvel of cinematic technology. Overseen by Martin Scorsese, the entire restoration was processed over 3 years, taking molded, decaying negatives and transformed them into a print that became even more vibrant than was originally projected in theaters. The Blu-Ray features a restoration demo hosted by Scorsese himself explaining clearly the process. It’s surprisingly understandable for the layman, as clear as a Tarantino digression explaining the flammability of nitrate prints. It’s a demonstration that is wholly remarkable, displaying side-by-side the original print with its restored counterpart. The contrast is stunning and encouraging. The idea that a film can not only be preserved, but gorgeously restored and improved upon is inspiring to the cinephile.
The Red Shoes is a fairy tale adapted from Hans Christian Anderson, and while an adaptation it remains very faithful to the theme and tone of the original tale. It is not afraid to go to dark, difficult places and confidently march to a tragic end. The story centers on talented, ambitious ballerina Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) and her rise to fame under the tutelage of demanding impresario Boris Lermentov. The Red Shoes is presented almost as a ballet or symphony in that as a story it seems to have 3 distinct movements. The first being the backstage story, the second the ascension to fame and the third as a love story with Victoria falling for talented composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). But the film’s overarching structure mirrors Anderson’s story exactly and becomes in turn, a deeply moving fairy tale for adults.
The film is one of those serendipitous moments of confluence where everything aligns itself perfectly. The film was originally developed in the 1930s as a vehicle for Merle Oberon. After years of it sitting on the shelf it was reworked, this time focusing more on dance. The creative team began to assemble. These years of development resulted in a collaboration that is absolutely stunning in its perfection. The production design, cinematography and music are all results of these years of work. One of the best choices Powell and Pressburger made was deciding to cast dancers who could act, and not the other way around. This resulted in not only beautiful technical movement, but also raw autobiographical emotion from the ensemble.
The film is a visual feast to be treasured and savored. The film was designed by painter and designer Hein Heckroth, and it oft-times feels like a living, breathing painting. The colors of the film are deep and vibrant, and the restored transfer only emphasizes their power. The film is filled with shot after shot of gorgeous, sumptuous color. Brief moments like outside the stage door of an opera house in Covent Garden are filled with all sorts of colors from flowers to painted walls and doors that heighten the vibrancy of the film.
The ballet scenes are shot with a theatrical flair grounded in cinematic storytelling. The titular ballet in particular is a 16-minute piece of cinema pur jus that is absolutely breathtaking. Weaving seamlessly between stage theatrics and cinematic flourishes, playing with the film’s fourth wall brilliantly. The camera swoops in and out of the dancers and set creating seamless scene transitions. The ballet soars to heights impossible to accomplish on stage alone, creating a synthesis of ecstasy. What this transfer does so well is capture the theatrical lighting on film perfectly. There is no bleeding, no overexposure, and no mixing of the light. The colors are distinct and clear and crisp. The sound is just as clear and well mixed.
This film and its consequent restoration are obvious labors of love from all involved. The restoration as overseen by Martin Scorsese is one of passion. One of his favorite and most influential films (The Age of Innocence’s opening is a direct homage to The Red Shoes’) Scorsese has taken every possible care to preserve the film’s deserved legacy. The restoration was also overseen by Scorsese’s long-time collaborator and editor Thelma Schoonmaker. If the restoration was a work of love by Scorsese, it must be doubly so for Schoonmaker who was married to director Powell for 6 years before his death in 1990. That love is evident in every single frame of this restored print, and we as an audience are the ones benefiting from it.
In my article on Amadeus I spoke of how watching the film on Blu-Ray is like falling in love with the film again. This experience one-ups that tenfold. Not only is it like falling in love again, it creates an all-new experience. It’s like watching the film again for the first time. That’s what this disc is perfect for: Creating an experience. This is a disc that you will want to sit people down to watch because you want them to experience the sheer joy of discovering this film. For those who know and love the film and those who have not yet had that pleasure, this offers a perfect sense of discovery. Also, the restored print is still making rounds in reparatory houses and art houses across the country. If you have the opportunity DO NOT HESITATE. You want to see this film in all of its restored glory on the big screen. I implore you, for your own benefit, if you have the chance see it in theaters.
WHY IT DIDN’T RANK HIGHER:
The film is perfect. The transfer is pristine, vivid and bright. All the technical aspects are there in spades. But the special features, while informative and entertaining are mostly recycled from previous issued DVDs. The new features include the restoration demo reel, a new essay by David Ehrenstein, a 30-minute documentary and an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker about the film and its cinematic importance. But that’s not much new considering it’s coming from Criterion. As has been stated before in these articles, Criterion has set the bar very high for itself, and even though this release is practically perfect, apart from its stunning transfer it’s lacking new and original features.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT:
The transfer. Have I mentioned that yet? Because it’s simply stunning. Other than the transfer and its incredible demo reel, the best feature would be the informative and interesting commentary carried over from the previous DVD release. The commentary is by historian Ian Christie and features Martin Scorsese, as well. But the best part is the way they work in comments by Shearer, Goring, cinematographer Jack Cardiff and composer Brian Teasdale. All these participants are now deceased, and having their commentary and perspective archived and preserved is an amazing and valuable treasure.
Oh, and the transfer. The transfer’s really good.
He’d hit it. I’d hit it. It’s just a shame that she’s dead now.
It’s like Edgar Bergen and David Niven got Brundlefly’d!
Hollow Man does it again.
Masterpiece Rophenol Theater