Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, 1948
Last night, I had the supreme pleasure of attending the North American world premiere of the newly restored version of Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 artistic marvel The Red Shoes. The film, one of cinema’s crowning achievements in color, motion and music, has been restored by the UCLA Film and Television archive, with the support of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Louis B Mayer Foundation and The Film Foundation. Why a film that, even on shoddy VHS transfers is still eye-popping, would need restoration was the subject of last night’s opening discourse..
Thankfully the UCLA film preservationists got to work on the matter as mold had begun to deteriorate the original prints and color flickering, color fringing and misalignment turned the restoration process into a three-year labor of love. He prints are now ‘properly preserved for posterity.’
The results, I can assure you, are marvelous. It is a pity that films such as these cannot be easily seen on the big screen because the experience is truly, well, cinematic. The sheer creative energy of the late, great Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is amplified ten-fold. Anton Walbrook, whose performance is riveting enough as it is even on the tiniest of screens, in its full-scale projected form nothing short of mesmerizing. Moira Shearer’s acrobatic elegance is absolutely breathtaking on a thirty-foot screen–which turns into a swirling canvas of dreamy color for an exquisite 133 minutes.
The following is an excerpt from film historian Ian Christie’s lovely assessment of the meaning and importance of the Red Shoes:
“Seen in full-scale projection, The Red Shoes is not only one of cinema’s great sensuous experiences, but a profound mediation on the power and the price of the all-consuming spectacle. Beyond the intensity of its performances and the beauty of its images, it is this reflexive quality, shared with other masterpiece of the 1940s, that makes it a true classic, capable of being endlessly re-interpreted and rediscovered.
The Red Shoes was indeed born from a determination to throw caution to the winds. “You go too far,” the distinguished art director Alfred Jungle warned Michael Powell, whereupon Powell dropped him to take a chance on the painter Hein Heckroth, who would triumphantly unify the film’s backstage and on-stage elements. SO too with the all-important music and dance elements. Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger rejected a score by their established composer in favor of one by the young Brian Easdale, taking the same risk that the impresario Lermontov does with Julian Craster in the film’s story.
Pressburger had written the first version of the script whiel under contract to Alexander Korda in 1939. Intended as a vehicle for Korda’s future wife Merle Oberon, it was assumed that a real ballerina would double in the dance sequences. But when Powell and Pressubrger now sharing their credits as The Archers, returned to the subject in 1947, Powell insisted that the role of Vicky must be entirely performed by a dancer and that a real ballet must be created. So the rising young ballerina Moira Shearer became the star of Lermontov’s ambitious new production and the film. In Hans Christian Andersen’s savage, moralistic fairy tale, the red shoes that a girl covets lead to her destruction as they dance her to death. In The Archers’ film, the girl lives a more complex version of the story both on stage and in life, when she joins an international ballet company and The Red Shoes brings her fame and love, but also intolerable pressure to submit to the impresario’s will in order to live her dream.
What was revolutionary in 1948 was to create and show a continuous 15-minute ballet that takes us from the stage world into the subjective heart of Vicky’s desires and conflicts. Easdale’s music, Heckroth’s surreal design, Jack Cardiff’s painterly use of Technicolor, and the inspired partnership of leading dancers Helpmann and Massine with Shearer, all combined to make it a landmark in film as ‘total art,’ and immediate inspiration to contemporary filmmakers such as Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen. Standing midway between Maya Deren’s avant-garde psychodrama Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and Jean Cocteau’s poetic allegory Orphee (195), it is now belatedly recognized as a major achievement of Britain’s Neo-Romantic movement, usually identified with painting and poetry, but here triumphantly carried into cinema.”
There are five special screenings of “The Red Shoes” scheduled at UCLA July 31 – August 2. Tickets may be purchased at : https://secure.cinema.ucla.edu/onlineboxoffice/