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Red Shoes (Full Screen)
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A glorious Technicolor epic that influenced generations of filmmakers, artists, and aspiring ballerinas, The Red Shoes intricately weaves backstage life with the thrill of performance. A young ballerina (Moira Shearer) is torn between two forces: the composer who loves her (Marius Goring), and the impresario determined to fashion her into a great dancer (Anton Walbrook). Criterion is proud to present The Red Shoes in its DVD premiere.
While Powell and Pressburger's classic adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes is a luscious film, this new Criterion treatment of the restored version gives us all a special reason to rewatch this dance nightmare yet again. With Martin Scorsese's explanation, on disc 1, of the huge task accomplished in its restoration, one not only marvels at how such a fine feature was allowed to accrue mold and scratches, but also at how lucky we are to have a clean Technicolor-like copy available to future viewers. Perhaps some of us are normally underwhelmed by studying cinematic restoration, but in this case the compare and contrast between old and new is astonishing.
Criterion's addition of an entire second disc of extras relating to The Red Shoes' conception, execution, and restoration gives the viewer a holistic glimpse into what is arguably the finest ballet film ever made. This second extras disc, including lengthy interviews with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell (Powell's widow and the film's editor) and audio commentary by Ian Christie, stars Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese, giving one the typical multifaceted view of conditions that made the film possible. A half-hour long documentary, also called "The Red Shoes" (2000), fleshes out further the history of adapting a short story into cinema that feels like theater. But the most unique gems here are the creation and restoration tales surrounding the movie's finest scene: the dance sequence in which Vicky is swept away by her charmed red slippers. "The Red Shoes Sketches," an animated film made from Hein Heckroth's painted storyboards, is a fascinating look at this ballet sequence, as it shows how closely the set design emulates the cartoonish, fantastical original conceits. Jeremy Irons's reading of the fairy tale over the film is also mesmerizing. The only corny inclusion in the extras is a slide show of Scorsese's collection of Red Shoes memorabilia. In all, Criterion's treatment of this film about passion turned obsession does well to mimic The Red Shoes thematically by studying the movie with an equally passionate stance. --Trinie Dalton --This text refers to the Blu-ray edition.
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Balletophiles often praise THE RED SHOES, but one need not be a fan of ballet to be amazed by the film's emotional power and extraordinary staging. On the Criterion DVD, the saturated reds that represent the artist's blood sacrifice, and the cool aqua-blues that represent the (false) promise of life and romance outside of art, appear with unmatched vividness. Powell is a master of color, and has influenced a generation of filmmakers (through the advocacy of his admirer Martin Scorcese) with his theories about how color and music contribute to the thematic impact of a film.
Anton Walbrook, who plays the impressario Lermontov in THE RED SHOES, is one of Powell and Pressburger's favorite actors, appearing to stunning effect in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP as well. Moira Shearer, the actress/dancer who plays the lead, made her reputation on THE RED SHOES. She also dances in one segment of the rarely-seen Powell/Pressburger masterpiece THE TALES OF HOFFMAN.
The Criterion DVD has the beautiful sound and picture we've come to expect from the Voyager Company. Interesting disc features include: an audio track of Jeremy Irons reading from the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, the complete text of Powell and Pressburger's novelization of the movie, an extensive collection of Scorcese's memorabilia, and a comparison of the Red Shoes Ballet with the filmed storyboard sketches the directors used as a guide. One wonderful addition for Powell and Pressburger fans is their filmography -- brief descriptions with cast lists and dates for all their films, most of which also have film clips included. It's a chance to see scenes from some of the long-lost works in their catalogue.
Later I acquired the RCA SelectaVision CED video disc edition (two parts) in the early 1980s. The CED issue unfortunately was prone to frame skipping, occasionally syncopating the ballet sequences. Still later, I obtained the Paramount VHS hi-fi release (1987). There was no frame skipping with the VHS tape, but the tops of all the frames tended to be somewhat bent and fluttery. Alas, I found no remedies for these problems.
Without question, this DVD release is the best of the lot, technically. And, I liked the additional background material contributed to this DVD edition. The DVD has great color with clear, well focused images. The only deficiency, in my opinion, is the movie sound track which sounds dated (1947), however it's on par or better than the forementioned VHS release.
Overall, I would class this DVD movie as one I would have to take, along with others, to a desert island on which I subsequently became marooned.
At the heart of the movie is Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the imperious impresario of The Ballet Lermontov. He can be cold, charming, ruthless. At a party he says, "If some fat harriden is going to sing, I must go. I can't stand amateurs." He's enigmatic except for his dedication to ballet. At that same party he meets Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), a young ballet dancer, and is intrigued by her.
"Why do you want to dance?" he asks her.
"Why do you want to live?"
"I don't know exactly why, but I must," he says.
"That's my answer, too."
He brings her into his ballet company and also hires Julian Craster, a young composer. Later, with three weeks to create a ballet, he has Craster compose the music to the story of The Red Shoes. Victoria Page will dance it. It is a triumph, but Page leaves the Ballet Lermontov to marry Craster. Lermontov is outraged and swears he'll never see her again. She needs to dance, though, and Lermontov slowly realizes he wants her back, completely dedicated to dancing, because he can make her a great dancer. He subtly woos her back to dance the ballet again, with tragic results.
The ballet of the red shoes is the story of a young girl, engaged to be married who loves to dance and longs to go the village fair. She spies a pair of red dancing shoes in the window of a shoemaker. Despite the reluctance of her fiance, she dons the shoes and begins to dance. She has a joyous time. As she tires, however, the shoes won't let her stop dancing and she can't take them off. She dances until she dies.
The movie works so well on so many levels. Anton Walbrook is marvelous. He can be cold and demanding and devious as Lermontov, but he conveys exactly Lermontov's utter dedication. At the end of the movie when Lermontov, alone on the stage, announces to the audience Victoria Page's death in a strangled kind of breaking screech...well, you'll sit up straight. Moira Shearer, who was in fact a young ballet dancer at Sadlers' Wells and had to be coaxed to take the role, is a gorgeous creature and a first-rate dancer. She carries off the acting requirements very well. With her flaming red hair, she is just a wonder to look at and appreciate.
And then there is The Red Shoes Ballet itself. This was the first time a movie's story line was interrupted for an extended dance piece. The music by Brian Easdale is so memorable that I doubt anyone who hears it will forget the main theme. Powell directed the ballet as a surreal fantasy. It starts on the stage of the theater, then shifts to a stage that was never built in a real theater, then shifts into pure cinema. After The Red Shoes, other musicals suddenly had to have ballets -- An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, and on and on -- but none has ever been better than this.
The Red Shoes is a magnificent movie. It deservedly remains one of Powell's and Pressburger's great accomplishments.
The Criterion edition is just about flawless with true color and great clarity. The commentary that accompanies the movie is fascinating.
The story of the Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen forms the basis for the story of aspiring dancer Victoria Page, aspiring composer Julian Crasster, and ballet company impresario Boris Lermontov, who takes on the latter two under his wing. Crasster's involvement begins when portions of his work Hearts Of Fire is appropriated in a ballet, and he's given the job of orchestra coach, when he confronts Lermontov. Page comes to the attention of the maestro when the latter snubs an offer by the girl's aristocratic aunt to see her dance. To the Russian, ballet is more than poetry and motion, but his religion, and hence, not an audition. He tries her out at a separate audition, where she makes the final cut.
Lermonotov decides to stage his next ballet based on Andersen's tale, with Victoria as the principle (Victoria Principle? just kidding) and Crassner as the composer. The ballet is a hit, for Lermontov and the whole film, as it's the highlight of the entire movie, with Victoria's flaming red hair a marked contrast to her pale skin and outfit, the ruby red shoes forming a near-symmetry, as they are on her toes. The choreography as well as the music is masterful. Despite Lermonotov and Crassner's insistence that "the music is all that matters," for us the film viewer, it's also the colours and dancing that do as well. Indeed, though the cinematography missed an Oscar, the score and art-direction/set decoration did not.
However, as demonstrated by the departure of his previous star, Irina Boronskaya due to marriage, the authoritarian Lermontov takes this personally, almost a heresy to his religion of ballet. To him, a dancer relies on the doubtful comfort of human love. Once that doubt is removed, goodbye dancing shoes, tights, exercise bar, hello high heels, stockings, and kitchen. He is determined to make Page a master dancer, and anything that comes in the way, he sees as a detriment to himself.
As for the original story, it's of a girl who puts on a pair of enchanted red shoes that keep on dancing even when the girl doesn't want to. This movie is a reinterpretation of it, where the ballet soon turns to real life.
This was Moira Shearer's debut film, and first of only six movies, and the young Scot creates a vivid but fragile and fairylike Victoria, aspiring dancer, the subject of her Svengali-like mentor, and emotionally tortured between being a dancer and a housewife. As she did ballet from age six, an ideal choice. And Ludmilla Tcherina, who plays Irina and who just recently died, was a former prima ballerina of the Monte Carlo ballet, so another great choice. And admire or hate his petty authoritarian personality, Anton Walbrook's powerful personality drives the movie. But Leonide Massine as the flamboyant, camp dancing coach Grigori Lyubov steals the show. Shearer, Massine, and the two directors would be reunited in The Tales Of Hoffman.
A visual triumph in the dancing scenes, as is the foreign location footage. Oh, and the Archers team wasn't the only one inspired by Andersen's tale, as Kate Bush created a reinterpretation of it in her The Line, Curve, and Cross short film.
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