Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Technicolor masterpiece 'The Red Shoes' was unveiled May 15 at Cannes Film Festival in a newly restored version completed under the impetus of Martin Scorsese. A Blu-ray release is scheduled in the UK for June 29. Criterion's partner Janus Films has also participated in the restoration, so a US edition may follow.
The reaction to the restoration was enthusiastic. Charlotte Higgins wrote on The Guardian from Cannes: "The colours of the restored Red Shoes absolutely leap from the screen. Moira Shearer is all icy skin, palely freckled. And then there is her hair, that miraculous sheet of red-gold fire. ... Imagine you possess a faded, tattered photograph of someone you love, and then, quite unexpectedly, you see them again, solid, living and breathing. That was what watching the restored Red Shoes felt like."
The Guardian also has an interesting video interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, longtime Martin Scorsese editor and widow of director Michael Powell, where she discusses the restoration and what the film means for Scorsese and for her, and some before-and-after restoration images are shown.
According to the press release issued by The Film Foundation and the restoration booklet, the film has undergone an extensive 2-year 4K digital restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with the British Film Institute, ITV Global Entertainment Ltd and Janus Films. The restoration was funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation.
Restoration work began in the fall of 2006. The original nitrate 3-strip camera negatives have been used for this restoration to obtain the highest possible image quality, despite the preservation problems they suffered from.
Robert Gitt, Preservation Officer, UCLA Film & Television Archive and responsible for the restoration, puts it in painful detail. "Sixty-five per cent of the film had bad color fringing caused by differential shrinkage and sometimes by mis-adjustment of the camera during shooting; 176 shots contained color flickering, mottling and 'breathing' because of uneven development and chemical staining; seventy sequences contained harsh optical effects with excessive contrast; and throughout there were thousands of visible red, blue and green specks caused by embedded dirt and scratches. Worst of all, mold had attacked every reel and begun to eat away the emulsion, leaving behind thousands of visible tiny cracks and fissures."
Extensive digital restoration was the only practical solution. Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging and Prasad Corporation Ltd. were chosen to undertake the immense task of digitally scanning 579,000 individual frames directly from the three-strip camera negatives, re-registering the colors, removing visible specks and scratches, mitigating color breathing, solving contrast issues, performing shot-to-shot color correction, and finally recording all 134 minutes back to 35mm Eastman color internegative stock. To obtain uniformly high quality results, 4K resolution was employed at every stage of the digital picture restoration work.
Digital techniques were also employed by Audio Mechanics to remove pops, thumps, crackles and excessive background hiss from the film's original variable density optical soundtrack.
For Martin Scorsese, 'The Red Shoes' was a "seminal" work. "It expresses so much about the burning need for art, and I identified with that feeling the very first time I saw the picture with my father. I was so young then. It put me in contact with something in myself, a driving emotion I saw in the characters up there on the screen, and in the color, the rhythm, the sense of beauty—in the filmmaking."
The next Powell&Pressburger title up for restoration is 'The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp', for which The Film Foundation is still looking for funding.
'The Red Shoes' will be released in the UK by ITV DVD on June 29, initially as an exclusive for HMV. In the meantime, film lovers might want to check out the other P&P movie available on Blu-ray, 'Black Narcissus'.