As the decades continue to pass, the films of Powell and Pressburger continue to fascinate and educate film fans and filmmakers around the world, and "The Red Shoes" is arguably the British writing-directing team's best film. A brilliant fusion of technique, dynamic storytelling, character archetypes and rich music, "The Red Shoes" is one of those rare films that elevates a movie to a work of cinematic art, and Criterion's presentation backs it up with plenty of supplementary material.
Replicating the contents of their 1995 laserdisc release, Criterion's DVD offers a sharper transfer of the film (supervised by cinematographer Jack Cardiff), improving on the magnificent Technicolor palette and cleaning up some of the minor scratches and blotches present in the laser transfer. Though the laserdisc still measures up quite well today, the subtle colour flutters are minimized even more on the DVD, and the sound remains a clean mono, with sharp dialogue and music cues.
Criterion's commentary tracks have always been exceptionally organized, often playing like a concise radio show that could easily function without the film segments. Ian Christie acts as Emcee, bridging ideas between director Martin Scorsese, stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, composer Brian Easdale, and famed Technicolor cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
Christie (who also penned the booklet's liner notes), keeps the facts flowing, and there's plenty of anecdotes from ballerina Shearer (who rejected Powell's offer several times before accepting her first feature film); co-star Goring (who's a bit difficult to understand at times, but always very genial); Brian Easdale's brief recollections on getting the job after composer Allan Gray's dismissal; and Jack Cardiff, who doesn't get overly technical, but explains his visual approaches to key scenes, and the magnificent "Red Shoes" ballet. (Note: admirers of Jack Cardiff should read his autobiography, "Magic Hour," published in 1996 by Faber & Faber, which features detailed chapters on "The Red Shoes" and "Black Narcissus.")
Martin Scorsese chimes in a few times to let us know why Powell and Pressburger still matter, and he admits to mining inspiration from "The Red Shoes" when he tackled the boxing world in his 1980 film, "Raging Bull." The DVD's still gallery also includes memorabilia items from Scorsese's personal collection (posters, lobby cards, and Pressburger's personal script), plus various production stills and publicity art.
Like the laserdisc, the DVD also contains a secondary commentary track, with actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from "The Red Shoes" novel, written by the writer-directors in 1978 (and published by Avon). Irons also reads the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale over the original animated ballet short, "The Red Shoes Sketches/Planning The Ballet," which the directors commissioned as a visual and editorial guide, using Easdale's recorded ballet and Hein Heckroth's beautiful colour sketches. Unlike the laserdisc, the DVD's multi-angle feature permits the viewer to watch the animated short with corresponding film snippets for a fascinating scene-by-scene comparison.
The DVD is filled to completion with the film's trailer, and a Powell and Pressburger filmography, featuring selected film clips and stills - just enough to whet any cineaste's appetite.
The directors' next film would be the gritty little postwar drama The Small Back Room (1949).
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan