The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition of Powell and Pressburger’s classic and influential The Red Shoes presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc.
The original materials for the film have deteriorated over the years and all editions of this film, prior to a few years ago, had rough presentations of the film. Coming back to this DVD I was surprised to see it’s actually not as bad as I had remembered. Transferred from a negative made from the original Technicolor separations it can be a fairly sharp looking image but not without its problems.
Damage is still fairly heavy, with marks, stains and debris appearing constantly, along with problems with colour separation and pulsating throughout. Colours vary because of pulsating issues, but a good chunk of the film appears to lean towards a reddish-yellow hue, though not always, and flesh tones vary because of this.
The digital transfer itself does have some problems as well. Jagged edges can be noticeable and there are a few instances of ghosting. But detail levels are pretty good when the print allows and the picture can look quite sharp. Noise and artifacts are unfortunately a bit of an issue but only get heavy and distracting a few times throughout.
Though the recent Blu-ray editions available from ITV and Criterion improve drastically over this and other previous DVD editions (the Blu-ray’s transfer coming from a new, vigorous digital restoration of the film, leading it to be the best looking Blu-ray I’ve seen for a Technicolor film) this DVD’s presentation isn’t too bad in the end, despite some of its flaws. 6/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The new Blu-ray from Criterion does top this edition, but at the time I still considered a fairly strong, and cool edition.
First is an audio commentary put together by film historian Ian Christie, which includes excerpts from interviews with Martin Scorsese, stars Marius Goring and Moria Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and composer Brian Easdale. This is a great track, with Christie acting as a sort of moderator I guess you could say. He provides general information about the film and production, even offering some analysis, then cutting to recordings from the various individuals mentioned to support his comments. Scorsese looks at how the film inspired him and other directors, recalling how the dance sequences helped him when choreographing the fight scenes in Raging Bull, while the other subjects talk about the production in more detail. Cardiff mentions his initial reluctance in doing a ballet picture and then talks about working out the look of the film, while Easdale covers the music. Goring and Shearer offer their own reflections, Shearer mentioning her initial reluctance that stemmed from many factors, including the fact she thought the script was terrible. Christie gets into detail about the production history, how it was a project originally for Alexander Korda and how Powell and Pressburger ended up getting it away from him, and then covers its initial reception and how its popularity grew over the years. It’s an incredibly packed track, filled with great information that covers every aspect of the film and its production. If you haven’t heard it before (it was originally recorded for the Criterion laserdisc in 1994) it’s certainly worth listening to.
Next, and one of the more curious features I’ve ever come across, is the The Red Shoes Novel which features actor Jeremy Irons reading Powell and Pressburger’s collaborative novelization of the film as alternate track that plays over the film. Irons only provides excerpts but despite some obvious jumps in narrative he’s able to hide some of the gaps rather well. The novel appears to stay very close to the film, though there are a few additions here and there, such as more focus on Victoria during the dinner party where she’s to perform for Lermontov, who actually comes off a little more detestable in the novel. Iron’s reading is good, his voice being one of those that can keep one’s attention no matter what he’s saying, even if he’s slurring his lines in something like Dungeons and Dragons, though I’m not sure if some may find a couple of his characterizations offensive. I wouldn’t say it’s something that’s necessary to listen to but it offers some intriguing additions to the film, even in some of the inner-monologues presented (like Victoria’s during the Red Shoes sequence.)
Under “Archival Material” are the remaining features.
First is the film’s original theatrical trailer, in rather awful shape here, also suffering from a severe case of macro-blocking.
A stills gallery presents a decent sized collection of photos taken during filming, presenting plenty of behind-the-scenes material. These have been divided into a number of sections, including “Filming in London,” “Filming in Paris,” “Filming in Monte Carol,” and then “Deleted Scenes.” The Only a couple of photos are presented for the deleted scenes, with notes, the one of note being Victoria getting ready for her hopeful recital for Lermontov. The new Blu-ray edition from Criterion presents these same photos plus photos of sketches related to the respective parts of the shoot.
Martin Scorsese’s Memorabilia is a collection of photos of some of the material that Scorsese has collected over the years related to the film. This feature is replicated on the new Blu-ray edition, but Scorsese seemed to have picked up some new stuff, like a copy of the script signed by Powell, and the actual red shoes used in the film, signed by the cast. Unfortunately not everything made it from here to that new edition, including some lobby cards and what looks like to be an almost complete set of photos of an original copy of a book on the making of the film. This disc also offers close-ups of some of the panels present on wallpaper based on the film, which are missing from the Blu-ray’s gallery (though a shot of the wallpaper is still there.)
The Red Shoes Sketches is a multi-angle/multi-audio feature presenting sketches done for the film. As mentioned in the commentary a short film was put together using the paintings by Hein Heckroth representing the Red Shoes ballet sequence, presented with the music and this is supposed to be in it. Running 16-minutes it’s basically a slideshow presentation of the paintings to Easdale’s score. The multi-angle feature allows you to switch to a split screen comparing the actual ballet sequence in the film on the right to the paintings on the left. There is also an alternate audio option presenting Jeremy Irons reading the original Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes. A rather cool feature and I’ve always loved the presentation.
The disc then closes with a very interesting filmography section that never made it over to the Blu-ray edition as well. In it you’ll find information about a few of the films by Powell and Pressburger, including The Spy in Black, Contraband, 49th Parallel, ’…one of our aircraft is missing’, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going!, A Matter of Life and Death, and Black Narcissus. Each one presents a collection of text notes and credits, and all but three (The Spy in Black, Contraband, and aircraft is missing) present short clips from the films, with those three presenting stills (I assume because of rights issues.) Though I guess in the age of IMDB this feature isn’t as needed as it once was, it was still a rather cool inclusion and presentation at the time.
The release then concludes with a decent if short essay on the film by Ian Christie, basically repeating some of his material from the commentary.
Though improved upon since it was actually still a very satisfying set of supplements at the time, and on of Criterion’s more innovative releases during their early DVD days. 7/10