The Red Shoes: Criterion Collection
July 15, 2010
The Red Shoes (1948) is steeped in the rich tradition of backstage musicals but instead of making a comedy – the norm for many musicals – filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger opted for a drama. The project actually began in 1934 when producer Alexander Korda wanted to make a biopic about dancer Nijinsky. The plot was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes with Pressburger hired to write the screenplay. However, the arrival of World War II forced Korda to shelve the project. Pressburger still wanted to make the film and bought it from Korda. By that time, Pressburger had formed a partnership with Powell and in 1946 they decided to start work on The Red Shoes.
The Red Shoes takes us backstage for a behind-the-scenes look at a ballet company. At a dinner party after a performance, Lady Neston approaches Boris Lermontov (Walbrook), the imperious owner of the ballet company, and asks him to see her niece, a young dancer named Victoria Page (Shearer). He’s also approached by Julian Craster (Goring), an aspiring composer. He plays him part of an opera he’s been working on and Lermontov hires him to coach the orchestra.
Powell and Pressburger do a masterful job of showing the hustle and bustle of a large ballet company getting ready for a performance on a daily basis. We see stagehands assembling sets, performers rehearsing and musicians practicing. We also see the clashing of personalities between egotistical dancers. Victoria and Julian are thrown into the mix as they try to impress the powers that be in the hopes of getting a shot at the big time. At first, no one gives them the time of day. Fortunately, they both make the cut and travel with the company to Paris. Lermontov decides to mount a production of The Red Shoes and enlists Julian to write the adaptation and Victoria as the principal dancer.
The dance sequences are masterfully staged as Powell and Pressburger utilize the vibrant Technicolor look to make the images leap off the screen thanks to Jack Cardiff’s stunning cinematography. Amidst all of the backstage drama, a love triangle develops and Powell and Pressburger do an excellent job weaving all of these storylines together seamlessly. The entire cast performs admirably with Moira Shearer as a particular stand-out playing a young, up-and-coming ballerina. The Red Shoes has been painstakingly restored over the course of two-and-a-half years where it was finally unveiled at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It’s safe to say the film has never looked or sounded better. One of the true classics of cinema has been preserved for future generations to study and enjoy.
For a landmark film such as The Red Shoes, the Criterion Collection has gone that extra mile in the extras department.
The first disc features a “Restoration Demonstration” as Martin Scorsese takes us briefly through the process of restoring The Red Shoes and just how challenging it was to do. He shows a clip from the damaged original and how it was restored digitally. The restorers did an amazing job on this film and the proof is in the final results.
There is an audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie and interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Scorsese. The veteran director talks about the use of colour and how it drew him to the film. Cardiff talks about how he got involved. Initially, he hated the ballet but soon grew to love it. Goring talks about the blend of fairy tale and reality in the film. Unlike Cardiff, Easdale was a long-time fan of the ballet and speaks of the origins of the music. Shearer says that she took some convincing because she was enjoying a successful run as a dancer and found the film’s script dreadful. This is an excellent track that covers all aspects of The Red Shoes.
“The Red Shoes Novel” features actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from the 1978 novelization of the film as you’re watching it. He has a great voice which really enhances the prose.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with “Profile of The Red Shoes,” a 25-minute retrospective documentary. It starts off giving some background to the genesis of the film and takes us through its production with surviving crew members sharing their memories and relatives of those who died recounting stories as well. This is an excellent look at how The Red Shoes was made.
Legendary film editor Thelma Schoonmaker is interviewed at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. She had been married to Michael Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990. She talks about the film’s restoration and also comments on what the film means to her. She speaks quite eloquently and very knowledgeably.
Also included are six stills galleries covering the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes in London, Paris and Monte Carlo, deleted scenes, and production and costume designs.
“Scorsese’s Memorabilia” is a gallery of items from the filmmaker’s personal collection. It’s quite impressive with things like the red ballet shoes worn by Shearer in the film, and posters and lobby cards from various countries.
Finally, there is “The Red Shoes Sketches,” a collection of production designer Hein Heckroth’s original colour storyboards animated and set to Brian Easdale’s score. You can view them on their own or as a side-by-side comparison to The Red Shoes ballet as seen in the film with an optional audio track of Jeremy Irons reading excerpts of the original Hans Christian Andersen story.