The Red Shoes: A Classic Portrait of Artistic Pursuit (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)
The incomparable writer/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made a number of beloved films together (aside from several others apart) that included "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," "Black Narcissus," and more, but one of their most revered collaborations has always been the unforgettable classic "The Red Shoes." Not only is it referred to as perhaps the duo's greatest work, but also as one of the greatest films having to do with the artist, and the need to pursue an artform. Following a 2009 restoration, the film was released on Blu-ray in all its glory, but now the film is getting a full 4K release for the first time thanks to the amazing folks at Criterion, so now's the perfect time to revisit Powell & Pressburger's remarkable classic and rediscover why it continues to endure.
The film revolves around a traveling ballet company headed by Boris Lermentov (Anton Walbrook). Into its orbit comes a young dancer, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), and a young composer, Julian Craster (Marius Goring), both of whom aspire to be great at what they do. Victoria immediately catches the eye of Boris, quickly climbing the ranks to become the company's top dancer, while Julius shows his genius after rewriting the score for one of their big performances, "The Red Shoes." As Julian and Vicky settle into their roles, they discover that they have quite an attraction to each other, one that, once discovered, sets off the jealous heart of Boris, subsequently leading to a shakeup for the company and all involved.
Starting with its more obvious elements, this is simply one of the most gorgeous films ever made. The craft that went into the visuals makes this a sumptuous feast for the eyes, especially when it comes to the film's stunning ballet sequences. The most well-known of these, of course, is the central performance of "The Red Shoes," in which an incredible blend of music, art direction, costumes, direction, choreography, and cinematography creates a dazzling sequence that you can't take your eyes off of. These individual elements remain marvelous throughout the rest of the film, but this is truly where they work in harmonious concert together to present the passion that went into it (from within the film with its characters, and from without with the filmmakers). With all of this beautiful artistry, it's hardly a wonder why the film took home Oscars for its production design and score.
All of its technical elements are certainly top-notch, but there would certainly have to have been a little more for the film to have endured for over 70 years. For a more complete answer, we have to consider the meaningful story being told here. On the surface, some may just see the story of a love triangle, but when you look deeper, you find a story about artists wanting to create: a composer wanting to throw himself into his music, a dancer wanting to devote her life to dancing, and a ballet owner who wants to help her be the best. As mentioned earlier, this is a film about art and the need to pursue an artform (that happens to have a love story thrown in for dramatic effect). It spoke to artists (and just about everyone else) when it was first released, and it continues to do so now, speaking volumes as to why it has continued to be such a beloved classic for nearly three-quarters of a century.
Powell & Pressburger did indeed make a number of great films, but "The Red Shoes" stands out as a remarkable artistic experience, made even more memorable by the layers of art that went into telling this portrait of artists in pursuit of their passions. With its 2009 restoration, the film looks as glorious as ever, and with its new 4K/Blu-ray re-release, there's no better time to rediscover (or discover for the first time) this incredible classic. As long as art continues to be of great importance to the human race, so will this wonderful exploration of artistic endeavor.
"The Red Shoes" comes to 4K UHD (presented in Dolby Vision HDR) and Blu-ray (in 1080p) in spectacular 4K digital master transfers (in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely astonishing in all of its Technicolor glory, with the restoration bringing out every gorgeous detail and making the film look brand new again. The uncompressed monaural soundtrack is equally stunning, giving you all of the dialogue and Brian Easdale's Oscar-winning score in outstanding quality. Overall, this is another top-notch job by the folks at Criterion, and you most certainly couldn't ask for better.
Commentary by Film Historian Ian Christie: A fascinating track from 1994 that features interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Martin Scorsese.
The Red Shoes Novel Excerpts: A recording in which actor Jeremy Irons reads excerpts from Powell and Pressburger's 1978 novelization.
The Red Shoes Restoration Demonstration (4 Minutes): Filmmaker Martin Scorsese takes you through the process of restoring the film.
Profile of The Red Shoes (25 minutes): A documentary on the making of the film from 2000, featuring interviews with film historian Ian Christie, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, camera operator Chris Challis, and family members of the production team.
Thelma Schoonmaker Powell (25 Minutes): A 2009 interview with Scorsese's go-to editor, who was also a key member of the restoration team, as well as Michael Powell's wife from 1984 until his death in 1990.
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" remains one of the great classics that explores the artist's need to pursue their passion. With remarkably stunning visual elements (production design, costumes, cinematography, and direction), a beautiful score, excellent performances from the entire ensemble, and its engrossing story of dreams, love, and jealousy, it stands as a grand achievement for the duo, one that will continue to be admired for a long time to come.
Available on 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.