THE RED SHOES Blu-Ray Review

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948) is an adult fairy tale with an operatic romanticism that is completely absent from contemporary cinema.  It remains a singular work that continues to influence cinema (just look at the recent stills from Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan). Criterion released a fine DVD of the film in 1999. A new Blu-Ray with a restored transfer renders that old standard-def release completely and utterly obsolete.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) is a passionate young ballerina who becomes a protégé of a domineering ballet director named Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Lermontov molds and shapes Victoria into his image of a perfect dancer. He also takes on Julian Craster (Marius Goring), a cocky musician who is obsessed with becoming a great composer. Boris Lermontov offers these two young artists the chance to make their names in an adaption of Hans Christian Anderson's The Red Shoes, which tells the story of a young dancer who becomes entranced by a pair of magical red ballet shoes. During the creation of the ballet, Victoria and Julian fall in love and get married. Lermontov doesn't like this at all; he thinks that Victoria should devote all of her attention to becoming the best possible dancer. As the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that Victoria's destiny mirrors that of the character she portrays in the ballet. 

 

The Red Shoes follows a model laid out by its predecessor Black Narcissus. The story is ultra-melodramatic, the staging is lush and innovative, and Jack Cardiff provides technically stunning Technicolor cinematography. The giant difference between the two films is that The Red Shoes heightens every single element into a new level. The film is about unexpurgated desire: the desire to create, the desire to express oneself, and the desire to use others to achieve those goals. This romantic vision of the artist's craft is not only reflected in the story: it comes across in the way the film was made and presented. Costumes, color schemes, set design and locations are all carefully picked to create a fantastic environment that overloads the senses. There is no way to look at this film and not be awed. This is particularly true of the film's centerpiece -- a lengthy staging of the titular ballet that bridges the art of dance, theater and cinema to create one of the most beautiful sequences ever committed to film.

The best part of the Criterion Blu-Ray is the gorgeous transfer, which is the result of a three-year restoration process. In a short demonstration video included on the disc, Martin Scorsese explains how the shrinking mold-ravaged negatives were save from destruction. It is hard to believe the massive difference between the before-and-after footage, but The standard-def DVD was great, but it is impossible to be satisfied with that after seeing the 1080p transfer. As an aside, I saw this restored version projected theatrically in 4K in December 2009. Don't pass up the chance to see it in theater.


New extras for this Blu-Ray release include the restoration demo by Martin Scorsese and an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell. The rest of the extras are derived from the 1999 DVD, including Ian Christie's somewhat unique audio commentary; Christie discusses the scenes while comments by various people, including Scorsese, Jack Cardiff, and Moira Shearer, are spliced in.

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