Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Red Shoes

For several days now I have been held under the spell of "The Red Shoes" - in
the newly restored version playing film festival circuits, but still not available
on DVD in the United States (why? It's been available in England for close to
a year now).

As I've been reading nothing but raves about its new appearance and the restoration, and with not a single word about a U.S. release (again, why?) I headed over to Amazon.UK.Com and snagged a copy of this deluxe 2-disc set for the grand total of $12.01 (yes, that included international shipping from the U.K.!) This really is the crowning achievement of the Powell & Pressberger films and all I can say is: C'est magnifique . . . and give me The Red Shoes!

"Stunned" isn't nearly strong enough a word for my reaction as I had gooseflesh sustained for pretty much the film's entire 133 minutes. First off; this new print is nothing short of remarkable with a life-like vividness that (literally) must be seen to be believed. The color saturation is without a doubt the richest I've ever seen in any restored old film - the Technicolor restored as gloriously as promised (though achieved with today's digital technology making a very convincing argument for whatever process they used).

Since childhood, I have had a few problems with the end of this film - nearly two hours of sheer amazingness and character development followed by a rushed, forced and not entirely believable denoument with Vicky as "monkey in the middle" as she's torn emotionally assunder by Lermontov and Julian each making their bid on her life. Still, that's a minor quibble.

Moira Shearer probably never looked lovelier in her life than here - she is freaking delicious - an odd combination of ingenue but with a bit of Nora Desmond in her eyes. It's a wonderful effect.

"Put on the Red Shoes, Vicky!" When Anon Walbrook as Lermontov utters these words to her on the train - it sent a chill down my spine just as it did the very first time I saw it as a kid. Walbrook's Lermontov is one of the most richly detailed villains in all of film (I hate calling him a villain at all). Offering both subtlety and super-sized obviousness Walbrook has a field day creating this wonderfully complex monster.

The "Red Shoes Ballet" looks simply spectacular and one can only watch in marvel and wonderment at how its brilliant effects were achieved. Visually, it is one of the most incredible, eye arresting things I've seen created for the screen. A marvelous, surrealist nightmare/dream - portions of it reminded me (very strongly) of the expressionist silent masterpiece "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" - so much, in fact, I couldn't help but wonder if it might not have been borrowed from . . . or at least inspired by it.

With two disc sets, I'm finding that often I'm a bit let down by the "extras" (and was so here as well). Nevertheless, this is one of the better efforts for this sort of thing and definitely has some features of interest. The short (23 or 24 minute) documentary about the making of the film was more than merely fascinating - and could easily have been an hour longer and held anyone's attention.

In it I learned the film was actually HATED by the producers, at its first showing to them (they walked out in disgusted silence), and panned by the British generally as a "failure" and a mess. We learn about a theater owner in New York who asked to show the film and was given a copy - and played it to sold out houses over the next two years. (This is where Scorcese first saw the film as a child). tTwo years after it premiered, Universal thought the film should be a hit, picked up and marketed across the globe and the film entered that rarified status very few films ever achieve.

The most fascinating extra of all however, is the 17 minute film made of "The Red Shoes Ballet" - in which the score for the ballet is wed to the storyboard's color paintings by the film's production designer, Hein Heckroth (assisted by Ivor Beddoes) which was shown to the producers, etc. to get the project off the ground. It is in and of itself amazing - and even more so to consider that the actual production would look nearly identical to the paintings.

All in all, this is a truly remarkable achievement which took years to put together and was the centrepiece of the Cannes Festival last year.

Just to keep it "topical" - we should not forget the third wheel in this story is the young composer, Julian Craster (Marius Goring) Vicky's romantic interest who hopes to achieve fame with his opera "Cupid and Psyche" (sounding a bit like Barber)- which we get to hear the "world premiere from Covent Garden" over the radio. Of course the entire story has a "Vissi d'arte" "I live for art" feel about it which should still resonate strongly with those of us who believe - one way or another - that indeed we do!

This new print really must be seen and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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