Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Red Shoes (The Nitrate Picture Show)

The Red Shoes. Moira Shearer.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, UK 1948
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 134 minutes
Viewed at The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2018

NPS: "About the print

This presentation includes two nitrate prints. The museum’s own print provides most of the running time; to make up for sound problems, however, the last two reels are courtesy of Martin Scorsese’s collection held at the museum. Although those two reels are more scratched and slightly more shrunken, the Technicolor remains vibrant throughout. Shrinkage: varies, 0.75–0.95%

About the film

“It is not a film with a stage ballet included only because ballet happens to have a large following. If you want to see stage ballet you must still go to the theatre. But this is not stage ballet at all—it is ballet written for or translated for filming. And that is a very different pair of shoes altogether. . . . Now for the first time, ballet has been planned as though through the camera lens, and it could not be produced in any other way than by film.”
– Maurice Ambler, Ballet Today, January 1948

“This is the poetry of motion beautifully and skillfully photographed. There is one scene where the ballerina dances with a torn sheet of newspaper that comes to life, which is a miracle of ingenuity as well as lovely to watch. There is a story, slight but enough to hold your attention, while hoping that the inevitable tragedy of the ending may be averted.”
– Picture Show, August 1948

“This uncommonly beautiful film is one that you certainly should not miss, even if you are one of those who say ‘Ballet bores me.’ The Archers, always enterprising, once again have broken new ground. There have been pictures with ballet in them before, but never one that captured so completely the spirit of the thing. . . . All the cosmopolitan, colourful intensity, confusion, concentration, temperament, and creative fervour are there. You see a new ballet take shape out of chaos, and as you do so you learn something of the spirit of the people whose life is ballet.”
– Picturegoer, August 28, 1948" (NPS)

AA: "It's about art worth dying for" was Michael Powell's message to the international premiere at Berlin Film Festival of the 1988 restoration of The Red Shoes, the one he himself supervised. The latest restoration was supervised by Martin Scorsese and had its premiere in 2009 in Cannes.

There was a sense of the sacred in this screening. The Red Shoes has often been considered the most beautiful Technicolor film. We now saw a compilation screening of two vintage prints. The last two reels screened were from a deposit from Martin Scorsese, reportedly originating from Michael Powell himself.

The key colours are the red shoes and the red hair of Moira Shearer. They radiate a warmth and vitality into this dance of death.

What struck me in this viewing was the softness of the image and the subdued quality of the colour world. We plunge into a dreamspace of warm colour. As a rule the image is not sharp and clear. It is vibrant and radiating with warmth.

The Red Shoes still has a place of honour as the all time greatest ballet film. From Yevgeni Bauer's Dying Swan to Darren Aronowitz's The Black Swan they all share fundamental themes. But The Red Shoes is both the most direct ("to live or to dance", that is the question) and the most sophisticated.

The train motif brings to mind Anna Karenina. It also brings to mind one of the earliest train films, Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1897) by the Lumière brothers, shot not far from the Monte Carlo railway station where the tragic finale of The Red Shoes was filmed.

The unforgettable "The Red Shoes" ballet is seen twice. First with the wonderful Moira Shearer. Then with only a spotlight on the empty space in her absence.

NB. 10 May 2018. Today we heard the news of the death of Anne V. Coates, one of the greatest editors of all times. She got her debut as a second editor in The Red Shoes.

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