Wednesday, July 14, 2010

THE RED SHOES Reissue/Revisited - #44

The following review is of the technical aspects of the new double-disc set of The Red Shoes. I reviewed the film already, and you can read the text for that here.

A couple of months ago I had the extreme pleasure of getting to attend a theatrical screening of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes in advance of a rare reparatory run. The movie was touring the world, touching down in a few lucky places to give cinephiles a chance to see the new digital restoration of the 1948 movie on the big screen. This new print came on a wave of a lot of positive buzz. The UCLA restoration team went back to the start and worked with the earliest archival building blocks to put The Red Shoes back together in as close of a way as possible to the original printing, and then followed that with a computer scrub up, going into the movie and cleaning it frame by frame with digital toothbrushes and binary-based soap.

The result was stunning. As I wrote in my earlier review, it was like seeing The Red Shoes for the first time. Now that the movie has come back to DVD, being reissued by the Criterion Collection using the new materials, I can enjoy the thrill of the dance all over again. As can everyone else.

The new double-disc The Red Shoes is put together as a celebration of the classic ballet picture--and no better cause for celebrating could there be. As hoped, the DVD looks wonderful, providing a proper showcase for the restoration so home viewers can see this movie as it was intended to be. The first disc even starts with a demonstration of the full process of bringing the color back to the cheeks of this delicate beauty. It's hosted by Martin Scorsese, and he takes us step by step through the various stages of cleaning up The Red Shoes. For instance, who knew some of the problems with older prints was due to mold?

Beyond Scorsese's demonstration, it's pretty easy to see how different this DVD could look by just watching the documentary about the movie on the second disc. The clips in the program are pretty representative of what viewers are used to seeing. Also, by way of illustrating my point, below find a couple of comparisons using screengrabs I took on my computer:







There are many differences between the picture on the older Criterion DVD, released eleven years ago and the new one. Sharpness of detail, consistency of color, even tiny scratches and flecks of debris--all of this has been improved, the image cleaned, the flickers in the Technicolor stabilized.

In addition to the restoration featurette, Martin Scorsese also shows up on the DVD audio commentary and his extensive collection of Red Shoes memorabilia is used for a gallery on DVD 2. Both of these features are carried over from the earlier Criterion. The full-length commentary is well worth a listen. It was put together by Ian Christie, and in addition to the soundbites from Scorsese, he draws from audio interviews with actors Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and composer Brian Easdale. This creates a far more nuanced portrait of the production than we usually get from a single commentator.

Other holdovers from the earlier edition are a gallery of press materials and a truly enchanting animated program using the painted storyboard's Hein Hecktroth used to lay out the dance sequences. Viewers have the option of watching this with a screen comparison showing the actual filmed sequences. There is also an alternate audio track that features actor Jeremy Irons reading the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on which the ballet was based. Additionally, Irons lends his voice to an audio track for the main feature, allowing viewers to watch portions of The Red Shoes while listening to him read from the novelization the Archers wrote decades later.

As a side note for collectors, a Powell and Pressburger filmography has not been carried over from the previous edition, perhaps because now there are many more of the team's films on DVD than there were when the 1999 disc was released and was demed unnecessary. It may also be a rights issue. This extra was by no means essential.

To replace this, Criterion does offer two new bonus features, both of them on DVD 2.

The first is a documentary called "Profile of The Red Shoes." Made in 2000, it gathers together surviving crewmembers and some of the film's admirers to talk about the movie's unique history. It's short, but absent of filler. It gets right into the thick of it and is full of good stories, such as the details of Moira Shearer's involvement in the movie and the revolutionary idea of having a painter as the set designer.

The second extra is a recent video interview with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, the widow of Michael Powell and one of the leaders of the efforts to have the Archers filmography restored. This piece was shot at Cannes last summer, where the restored The Red Shoes was being shown. A longtime Scorsese collaborator, she also talks a little about Shutter Island [review], which was still in production, including Marty's homage to the staircase scene from The Red Shoes.

I know DVD collectors are always worried about getting screwed when they double-dip on a movie. Too often we've been given upgrades that aren't much of an upgrade at all. Such is not the case with The Red Shoes or, for that matter, it's companion release, Black Narcissus [review]. Buy these new discs with confidence. If you're now a Blu-Ray consumer, both of these films are also being released in that format, and I guarantee you there hasn't been a better reason to re-buy a movie on Blu-Ray than The Red Shoes.

This is truly essential cinema, and no film library is complete if The Red Shoes is absent from its shelves.

This disc was provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.

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