The Criterion Collection is one of the most prolific collections on the market. The films it contains are revered and it’s this love for classic cinema that constantly draws collectors. Through the Criterion Collection I have found classics that I have always loved, and have discovered titles I never heard of before. In so many ways Criterion should be regarded as the best of the best and if one were to make an argument for that point they could simply turn to The Red Shoes.
Originally released for Criterion on DVD in 1999, The Red Shoes was a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film from 1948. The film has been remastered for a high definition presentation and today we’re looking at the much anticipated Blu-ray release. The presentation quality of this disc is fantastic, and it’s loaded with bonus material, but before we get into that let’s take a look at the film itself.
To describe The Red Shoes simply would do it a great injustice. The complex script, well developed characters, and impressive production values stand out even 62 years after its release. If I had to summarize it shortly, I would say that it’s about passion for art, and what one is willing to do to create that art. In the case of The Red Shoes the art is dancing and in the case of main character Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), dancing is life.
The film starts out with an aspiring ballerina, Vicky, who receives an opportunity to meet with famed producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). She makes an impression on Boris with her response to a loaded question and soon finds herself among the new recruits in his latest production. It’s a dream come true for Vicky and she’s thrust into the spotlight shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, a young composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring) finds himself involved with Lermontov after hearing one of his compositions played by his mentor. Julian has great potential, and one can almost see the wheels beginning to turn in Lermontov’s head as he watches Vicky and listens to Julian. Eventually he brings the whole troupe together for a ballet called “The Red Shoes,” which is based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. The ballet is a story about a girl who loves to dance and happens upon a pair of red shoes. The only problem is the shoes love to dance as well and the girl’s vanity gets the best of her. The tale becomes tragic as the enchanted shoes eventually dance her to her grave.
As the film moves forward there’s a love story in the air along with the sense of betrayal. Vicky soon finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place as she is forced to choose between the person she loves the most and the reason she lives. In that sense The Red Shoes is analogous to the tragic ballet it represents.
The Red Shoes is a powerful film and it’s an experience that sticks with you long after the end credits roll. It’s a piece of cinematic magic that should be considered timeless. The saying “they just don’t make them like that anymore” totally applies to this film, and its message of living for one’s art hits home by the end. It’s beautiful, haunting, and memorable from start to finish.
The Red Shoes is presented on Blu-ray with its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. To say that the picture quality on this Blu-ray is nothing short of stunning would be an understatement. Appreciation for the transfer here builds once you check out the introductory restoration demonstration with filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Seeing the before and after of the digital work was simply mind-blowing in many respects. The restoration aside, the video here is sharp, detailed, and loaded with an impressively vibrant palette.
For audio, The Red Shoes presents an English LPCM Mono track as the film’s only sound source. Monaural is the original presentation for the film, so it’s really no surprise that it was kept intact and just cleaned up a bit. Everything here sounds great from the dialogue to the sound effects and beautiful score. The music in this movie really sets the emotional and dramatic tone, and I was quite pleased that every chord was crisp, clean, and free of flaw. English subtitles are included on this release.
Bonus features are plentiful for this Blu-ray release. For lighter content there are some photo galleries with pictures of the film’s production, cast, and costume designs. A trailer for the film is included and there’s a nice storyboard of sketches worth checking out as well. Packed into the case is a 24-page booklet with information about the restoration and an essay called “Dancing For Your Life” by David Ehrenstein.
For meatier supplemental content there is an audio commentary with Ian Christie, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer, Jack Cardiff, Brian Easdale, and Martin Scorsese. An audio recording of “The Red Shoes Novel” is included here as well. This feature is available to play over the film and has Jeremy Irons reading pieces from the novelization of the film. A documentary for the making of the film (“Profile of The Red Shoes”) is included here. “Thelma Schoonmaker Powell” is a feature with Michael Powell’s widow talking about the film, her husband, and the restoration. Marine Scorsese is a big fan of the film, and “Scorsese’s Memorabilia” looks at the fascinating collection of items from the movie. Scorsese also talks about the restoration in a little demonstration video.
The Red Shoes is an important and powerful film that remains as moving today as it was in 1948. It’s a beautiful production with a heartfelt script, great performances, and a vision like no other. It’s a classic among classics and it’s about as timeless as films can get. This Blu-ray disc is equally as impressive as the film itself. The restoration of the movie is a sight to behold, the extra’s menu is bountiful, and all around it’s clear that Criterion put great care into the release. This release is an absolute must buy!