Movies often take viewers behind the scenes to show us how art and entertainment is created. For instance, "42nd Street," the Lloyd Bacon-Busby Berkeley musical from the early 1930s, told the inside story of a Broadway musical production, while Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's "Singin' in the Rain" gloriously celebrated the transformation of Hollywood films from silents to talkies.
But "The Red Shoes," Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's hauntingly beautiful examination of the inner workings of an internationally renowned ballet company and the creation of a new ballet, has stood out ever since its release in 1948. It was a smash hit in the United States - where it ran for 110 straight weeks in New York City - and Great Britain. The film was nominated for five Oscars, winning for best art direction and original score, and was named by the British Film Institute in 2000 as one of the Top 10 British films of all time.
Always noted for its spectacular Technicolor look, a new, high-definition digital restoration has returned "The Red Shoes" to its original luster, leading director Martin Scorsese to remark that "Our breath was taken away by the richness of the color which was still there 60 years later." Scorsese discusses the restoration process and contributes to the audio commentary on a wonderful new DVD and Blu-ray edition of "The Red Shoes."
The story revolves around a ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) - a character based on both the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the British film producer Alexander Korda - and the world-renowned ballet company he runs. A keen eye for talent and a believer that art should dominate all other aspects of life, he adds a young dancer named Victoria Page (played by real-life, 21-year-old ballet star Moira Shearer, who had been dancing with Britain's Sadler-Wells troupe) and a young composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring) to his company. The life vs. art theme develops as dancer and composer fall in love, and the impresario tries to stop their new relationship from interfering with their work.
As the ballet troupe travels from London to Paris to Monte Carlo, Lermontov and his associates create a new, 15-minute ballet, "The Red Shoes," that stars Page and is performed to the music of Craster. Whereas the behind-the-scenes preparations and rehearsals are presented with an eye to realistic detail, in the filming of the performance (choreographed by Helpmann) in its entirety, director Powell pulls out every cinematic trick at his disposal to create a dazzling visual spectacle. As the story of the ballet darkens, the images and cinematography change from bright and jovial to hallucinatory, dark and dangerous.
The new DVD offers many excellent features to enhance a viewer's pleasure and understanding of "The Red Shoes" and how it was made. In addition to the audio commentary, there's a 25-minute documentary, "Profile of 'The Red Shoes,'" on the filmmaking process, including interviews with members of the production team.
A 2009 interview with Powell's widow Thelma Schoonmaker Powell (herself a three-time Oscar-winning editor who worked on Scorsese's "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "The Aviator," "The Departed" and other films) discusses her husband's work and the restoration of "The Red Shoes."
In addition, actor Jeremy Irons provides an audio reading of both Powell and Pressburger's novelization of "The Red Shoes" and Andersen's original fairy tale. "The Red Shoes Sketches" is an animated film based on Oscar-winning designer Hein Heckroth's painted storyboards. A printed essay by film historian David Ehrenstein in the accompanying booklet is also informative. Finally, the DVD includes a collection of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos, and Scorsese's personal collection of memorabilia from "The Red Shoes," including Shearer's red ballet slippers, the original shooting script and the original storyboards - a gift to Scorsese from the Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts!
Over the years, the fame of "The Red Shoes" has ensured it would never be forgotten. The wonderful restoration of Powell and Pressburger's film ensures that a new generation of movie and ballet lovers will get to fall in love with it for the first time.
'The Red Shoes'
Not rated, $39.95 on DVD and Blu-ray