The Red Shoes

Robert Helpmann and Moira ShearerÊin Michael PowellÊ& Emeric PreFrom Nov. 6-19, Film Forum will present a stunning restored print of Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film “The Red Shoes.” The restoration represents the best that this 61-year-old-film has ever looked.

“The Red Shoes” has under gone a nearly three-year long restoration. The original three strip Technicolor negatives of “The Red Shoes” were in such an old and moldy state that the film could not have been restored to the degree it has been without the use of digital technology. Simply put, the film was scanned into the digital world, turned into ones and zeros, and then when fixed, put back out onto a new negative. Scratches and dirt were removed, color problems resolved and shot to shot color corrections made.  Care was taken to refer to an original Technicolor dye transfer print for color accuracy.  The challenges also included solving problems caused by negative shrinkage over the years and mis-adjustment of the camera during shooting.

The end result is that “The Red Shoes” has been saved, improved and preserved for new generations by a process of which Powell and Pressburger never could have conceived. Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Repertory Director, spoke before the press screening I attended and said it was the finest restoration of a film that he had ever seen.

“The Red Shoes” took the Technicolor process in a different direction. Technicolor was known for its strong brilliant colors in movies such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” (both 1939).  In “The Red Shoes,” Technicolor – under the painterly direction of Director of Photography Jack Cardiff – is used to create a palette that is breathtaking yet subtle, emotional and psychological.

The use of color here is integral to the story and the feelings it expresses concerning the devotion and sacrifices that have to be made for art, in this case ballet and music. It could just as easily have been about film.

In fact, director Martin Scorsese, whose organization The Film Foundation was involved in restoring “The Red Shoes,” recalls seeing the movie at age nine and being struck, even then, by the film’s statement about the demands art can make on the lives of those who practice it.

The story’s antagonist, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), is a martinet ballet impresario who demands complete devotion from those who work under him. Lermontov gives opportunities to passionate neophyte ballet dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) and to composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). When romance blooms between Victoria and Julian, Lermontov forces Victoria to choose between art and love.

Much as the story of “The Red Shoes” is about passion in art, every shot in this film is artfully striking. From the melting candle’s flame that starts and ends the story to the centerpiece ballet sequence, the “show within the show” and its psychological implications for Victoria, everything has been gorgeously orchestrated in terms of color and design. “The Red Shoes” is a beautifully made piece of film history not to be missed.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 7, 2009, in Classics, Film Forum. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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