After receiving an extensive restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Film Foundation, and a theatrical release, Criterion presents Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
I revisited Criterion’s original DVD not too long ago and must say it wasn’t as bad as I remember it but it still had a large number of issues that detracted from the viewing, both with the materials used and the digital transfer itself. The new high-definition transfer presented here offers an enormous advance in picture quality over that DVD’s presentation, significantly improving upon every little facet of that release, and managing to outdo my expectations.
According to the many notes and comments found in this edition on the transfer the original three-strip Technicolor negatives (three representing each colour: red, green, and blue) were each digitally copied and then repaired frame-by-frame, removing mold stains, marks, scratches, jumps, and then had the colours corrected (the original DVD shows some problems with colour separation.) Despite all this digital work it retains its film look, grain is still present but not heavy, and detail is absolutely stunning. Colours look far better with beautiful saturation, retaining its Technicolor look, and blacks looks fairly inky and deep.
The condition of the original materials were apparently quite awful but you’d never know it here; I don’t think I can recall one moment where a blemish of any sort appears, a far improvement over the DVD’s original transfer which was littered with defects. It’s a beautiful looking restoration and Criterion presents it perfectly. 10/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion doesn’t port everything exactly from the original DVD edition, though they do add some new items to this edition.
First carried over is the 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.
Also carried over from the original DVD is the Novelization which features actor Jeremy Irons reading the 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 hid 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.)
The remaining supplements are found under the supplements section.
First is a presentation about the restoration demonstration featuring an interview with Martin Scorsese. This quick 4-minute feature breaks down the restoration and describes all the hard and painstaking work that went into it. Examples are given, and there are plenty of before-and-afters. I’ve always liked these and I found this one particularly interesting because it gets heavier into the technical details. It’s also interesting just how bad the original materials looked and it makes the finished product that much more impressive.
New to this edition is a short 25-minute documentary made in 2000 called Profile of “The Red Shoes”, which features interviews with Pressburger’s grandsons Kevin and Andrew Macdonald, historian Ian Christie, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, cameraman Chris Challis, production designer Hein Heckroth’s grandson Christian Routh, and dancer Darcey Bussell. The documentary manages to cover a lot of the same material found in the commentary, particularly the project’s origins, the 17-minute ballet sequence, Shearer’s reservations about starring in the film, and Cardiff’s original feelings that ballet was nothing but a bunch of “sissies prancing about.” But it offers more information on the film’s special effects, which were done in-camera, presents plenty of photos, the producer’s original reaction to the film, and also has more information on Walbrook. This material, plus the fact it is pretty short and swift, makes it worth viewing.
Also new is an interview with Michael Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, which was taken at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where the new restoration premiered, and lasts 15-minutes. She talks a bit about her husband and the film, but focuses mainly on the restoration, the raising of the money, and the help of all of those involved like Martin Scorsese. She then talks a bit about working with Scorsese in the editing room on his films (apparently with a TV in the background tuned to TCM) and talks a bit about what would have been the upcoming Shutter Island, even pointing out a direct homage to The Red Shoes that appears in that film (and it was nice to have my suspicions confirmed.) She also talks a bit about art and the current state of films, and then mentions that money was being raised for restorations for other films, singling out The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. It’s a great interview and I’m glad Criterion included it, even if a lot of the material didn’t relate to The Red Shoes directly.
Criterion includes a stills gallery presenting various production and publicity photos along with a couple of shots from deleted scenes, all of which have been carried over from the previous DVD. Criterion has added some new ones as well, presenting plenty of designs, sketches, and paintings made in designing the film.
Martin Scorsese’s Red Shoes memorabilia is presented again in a gallery, though unfortunately not everything has been carried over. There are posters and lobby cards, along with some sketches, though close-ups of the sketches are missing, and for whatever reason a couple of books haven’t been included. The original DVD presented a “Red Shoes Ballet Book” and pages and pages of photos of the content, but for some reason this is all missing here. We do get some new material, though. It appears Scorsese was given the original red shoes used in the film (signed by the cast) and he also has what looks to be the shooting script for the film with an inscription by Powell. There are also storyboards present. It’s a little disappointing everything hasn’t been ported over, but the added material is rather good. Like the original DVD this section is navigable using the arrows on your remote.
Red Shoes Sketches is similar to the multi-angle/multi-audio feature found on the original DVD. As mentioned in the commentary and in more detail in the documentary, a short film was put together using the paintings by Hein Heckroth representing the Red Shoes ballet sequence with the music and this is supposed to be it. Running 16-minutes it’s basically a slideshow presentation of the paintings to Easdale’s score. One improvement is the short film has been restored, removing a lot of the scratches and damage and improving colours. There is also a multi-angle feature allowing you to switch to a split screen comparing the actual ballet sequence in the film (using the newly restored film for the comparison) on the right to the paintings on the left. The presentation also stretches the split screen out to fill your widescreen television (the original DVD’s was made for a 4:3 television.) There is also an alternate audio option presenting Jeremy Irons reading the original Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Red Shoes”. Though a cool feature (and I’ve always liked the multiple presentations) I have to say how shocked I was in the speed of switching angles. The DVD angles switched rather quickly on a regular DVD player but here, even on a PS3 which is usually very fast, there is a rather large lag in the angle switch.
The disc then concludes with the same theatrical trailer found on the original DVD, though slightly restored and with no macro-blocking (the reds in the trailer on the DVD were horrendously blocky.)
Missing here, which was found on the original DVD, is a filmography for Powell and Pressburger, but considering we live in the age of imdb it’s not a huge loss.
The booklet comes with a great essay by David Ehrenstein on the film and its production history, followed by more notes on the film’s extensive restoration. Missing is Ian Christie’s essay found in the insert of the original DVD edition.
I’m a little disappointed that everything didn’t make it over, specifically the missing material from Scorsese’s collection of memorabilia (I’m not concerned about the filmography,) but I guess it is minor. Everything else made it, including the excellent commentary, and the new stuff certainly adds value. In all it improves upon an already excellent set of supplements. 8/10