Red Shoes/A,B

Criterion/1948/133m/FS 1.33

      A classic back stage drama, The Red Shoes is the crowning jewel of the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger collaboration. Set in the world of ballet, it is at once a story of the stage, a love story, and a tragic dissertation on the sacrifices called for by art.
     Though it's the story of a ballet company and features an abundance of dance, you don't have to love the ballet to love The Red Shoes. The conflict between the demands of art and love are the heart of the film. The characters make the dances seem all the more important. 

Shearer dances The Red Shoes ballet. ©Criterion

     The Red Shoes stands up to repeated viewings, perhaps owing to the purity of its fairy tale origins. Written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes is based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The ballet, written for the film, reenacts the story in simple terms, but the film expands the theme with splendid embellishment. Local ballerina Victoria Page joins renowned Ballet  Lermontov , is plucked from the chorus by Boris Lermontov, falls in love with new company member composer Julian Craster, and must choose between love and art.  It's a rather wonderful conceit, the story of the ballet at the heart of the film and the heart of the film, the ballet. The script glistens with backstage color and is filled out with sumptuous locales. Above all, the larger than life characters create a world set in perfect balance between the proscenium arches.
      Fortuitous casting makes The Red Shoes soar beyond the obbligato leaps and pirouettes. Moira Shearer, a stunning red-haired beauty, makes her screen debut under the tutelage of Powell and Pressburger, and it's almost as if character and actress are molded at the same time. Shearer's screen innocence may have something to do with her inexperience, but it makes for curtain calls in the role of Victoria Page, ballerina of Ballet Lermontov. The company is modeled after impresario Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, the legendary ballet company that boasted the likes of Nijinsky and Pavlova in its company. Imperious Boris Lermontov is played to  perfection by Anton Walbrook.  He wears a suit of armor molded from the daily workings of his ballet company, but through the cracks a more complex individual emerges. The speech Lermontov delivers in a stiff, cracked voice to the audience at the final performance of the film's signature ballet is nothing short of haunting.  The 36-year-old Marius Goring, playing music student and composer Julian Craster, seems a tad worn down, especially against the fresh bloom of Shearer. The rest of the cast combines stars of the ballet in impressive screen turns with seasoned actors of the British screen. Léonide Massine, Robert Helpmann and Ludmilla Tcherina all add a seal of realism to the production.
     The Red Shoes does play like stage art. This is the stuff of opera and the production elements support it with grand purpose. The intense, saturated color delivered by Jack Cardiff's Technicolor photography echoes the fervor with which Powell's characters embrace their work. Brilliant reds dominate the palette amplifying the passion to achieve driving these artists . The physical beauty of the production and the wonderful original score and standard ballet music are fused to the plot, making the film work on multiple levels. Set design is wonderful. Beyond the great, theatrical outdoor locales of Paris, Monaco and London, the theaters are dressed in authentic detail. Brian Easdale's score, including the original music for the title ballet, melds seamlessly to the classical ballet  standards sprinkled throughout the production. 
     This special film gets special edition treatment from Criterion. Film historian Ian Christies leads an audio commentary that includes the observations of Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Jack Cardiff, Brian Easdale and Martin Scorcese. These shared memories of the production challenge add to the overall experience of The Red Shoes. The Red Shoes Sketches, an animated film created from the Hein Heckroth storyboards for The Red Shoes is presented with an alternate angle comparison of the actual film scenes. A still presentation of Martin Scorcese's collection of memorabilia for the film is included, as well as production stills and publicity photos. The added value goes as Jeremy Irons reads excepts from Powell and Pressburger's novelization of the film and the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. A Powell/Pressburger filmography including film clips and stills completes the exhaustive package. 
     The transfer for The Red Shoes is likely going to be as good as you'll ever get. That doesn't make it perfect, however. There are a number of soft scenes that detract from the overall excellent quality of the transfer. The color, the amazing color, transfers to DVD with the brilliance of a flawed jewel. There is a subtle but consistent pulsing of color that distracts from its pure glory. Otherwise, the transfer elements are pretty clean, with a few patches of dirt or scratches, but nothing significant. Contrast is excellent throughout, adding to the power of the saturated color. You won't see reds like this very often. The mono sound is very clean with a slightly pinched range, but the music is a consistent delight.

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